Bill Shugarts is the 2017 Libby Hatch Volunteer Recognition Award Recipient
The Libby Hatch award is annually awarded to a volunteer who has shown outstanding commitment to preserving the legacy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This year’s Libby Hatch Award recipient is Bill Shugarts.
For many, The Wall (The Vietnam Veterans Memorial) in Washington, D.C. stands as a symbol of honor and recognition to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. For Bill Shugarts, The Wall also symbolizes hope and education for future generations. Shugarts is a Vietnam veteran who also serves as a Wall and National Park Service (NPS) Volunteer. Shugarts’ position as a Wall Volunteer gives him the opportunity to interact with people who visit The Wall everyday, which he relishes. While Shugarts has had the opportunity to experience and listen to a variety of different stories as a Wall volunteer, his own incredible journey has come full circle.
Shugarts grew up in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and graduated from Wilmington College in 1967. Military service ran in the Shugarts family with Bill’s father, William Shugarts Jr., serving in World War II and his grandfather, William Shugarts I, serving in World War I. When the Vietnam War came around, Shugarts knew he was going to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces as his father and grandfather had done before.
“I always knew I was going to enlist,” Shugarts says. “My Dad and Grandpa had served in both World Wars and I wanted to follow their footsteps and fight for my country. I thought it was my duty to serve.”
While Shugarts was originally commissioned as a transportation officer in August 1968, he was shocked to learn he was reassigned when he arrived in Vietnam in August 1969.
“When I got into Vietnam and went into the office (in Cam Ranh Bay) they looked at me and immediately told me that I was not supposed to be there,” Shugarts remembers. “I insisted that I was a Port Operations Officer but they told me to go fly up the country to the combat center.”
Shugarts was reassigned to as a 1st Lieutenant to the 23rd Infantry Division-also known as Americal upon arriving at the combat center in Vietnam. He was to help lead the runnings of re supply convoys to American bases. Shugarts served with the Americal division from 1969 to 1970 and mainly ran convoys. While on duty in Vietnam, Shugarts narrowly survived a helicopter crash and decided to return to a reserve unit in the United States once his tour ended in 1970. While Shugarts’ service in Vietnam had ended, his relationship with the war and the country had only begun.
After the war, Shugarts served as an executive for Westvaco and two other Fortune 500 companies.
In February 2004, Shugarts’ Vietnam journey came full circle when he went back to Vietnam for the first time since the war with VVMF founder Jan Scruggs and his delegation of former veterans.
“Going back to Vietnam was life changing and overwhelming,” says Shugarts. “It brought on a lot of memories, but a lot of healing too.”
While returning to Vietnam helped provide some form of healing, The Wall in Washington D.C. holds a particularly special place in Shugarts’ heart. While he visited The Wall for the first time in 1987, Shugarts’ involvement with the Memorial and the military community picked up in 2004. He has since founded a Military Outreach Ministry at Christ Church in Fairfax Station, VA and has volunteered with the USO and other military organizations. Shugarts became a Wall volunteer in 2007. He helps gives tours and educates the six million annual visitors to The Wall. Shugarts uses his position as a Wall Volunteer to help people feel and learn from the Wall in the same ways he did when he first visited.
“When I first visited The Wall in 1987, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions,” Shugarts recalls. “Seeing all the names…the actual names was the most powerful part of my first visit.”
While The Wall left a powerful mark on Shugarts, he hopes that it makes the same impression on those who visit in the future.
“I want anyone who goes to The Wall to understand that this was the cost of sacrifice,” Shugarts says. “And I want any veteran, especially the young ones from recent wars, to see this Wall as a symbol that we will never forget their service.”
For Shugarts, The Wall also symbolizes the need to honor all veterans not just those from Vietnam.
“We always need to honor our warriors,” Shugarts says, “We do not have to agree with the war but we have to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices that these warriors are making for our freedom. Every veteran needs to be appreciated, especially with all of these young soldiers returning home today from various other conflicts in the world. We need to let them know we appreciate their sacrifice.”
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This blog was written by Scott Lynch