The Western Queens native enlisted in the Air Force in July of 1965, and flew Reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam and Okinawa for almost a year before returning home.
“When Vietnam vets came back to the states, we faced many issues and did not get a warm reception,” said Rowan, who lives in Elmhurst. “We got blamed for the war by both sides; the leftists called us ‘baby killers’ and the right wing called us ‘losers’.”
In 1981, when the Queens Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America was formed, Rowan became the organization’s first president. Under his tenure, the group addressed issues such as toxic exposure, compensations, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Back then, said Rowan - now the national president and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America - few people understood PTSD, or how to treat it. “We played an important role in recognizing ‘post-traumatic stress’ as a disorder and not simply ‘post-Vietnam syndrome,’ as it was called at the time,” Rowan said of the Queens chapter.
Today, Rowan still works on the issue while addressing a host of other challenges facing veterans of the war. He said his organization remains very active.
“Just last week I was at the White House for the signing of a Bill that we worked on for four years,” said Rowan. The Advanced Appropriations Bill would allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to stabilize its budget one year in advance.
Rowan said his organization also works closely with the V.A. to help ensure that veterans of all wars get compensation for service-connected illnesses. According to Rowan, it is common for veterans to be unaware that their illnesses are service-related.
“We work with all generations of veterans,” he said. “Our motto is, ‘Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another’.”