Denise Doring VanBuren is the 45th president general of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The DAR, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit, nonpolitical women’s volunteer organization that promotes American history and patriotism and emphasizes support for U.S. veterans. Membership is open to any woman 18 years or older who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.
A former radio and television news anchor, VanBuren was editor-in-chief of the DAR’s award-winning American Spirit magazine and Daughters newsletter for 15 years. She is married to Christopher G. Barclay and has three sons. She lives in Chelsea, New York.
Under VanBuren’s leadership, the DAR has been an enthusiastic participant in the 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration. She discussed the organization’s initiatives to honor Vietnam veterans.
Why did you decide to join DAR?
I come from a long line of family history-tellers and amateur historians, who made me love history from my childhood. My mother and sisters already joined in DAR in the mid-1980s, and when I moved to a new city in 1988 for a new job, they suggested it would be a great way for me to meet new people. Obviously, they were right!
During my three decades of involvement, I have met the most amazing women through DAR—smart, kind, hardworking and generous Daughters devoted to our country and its people. The friends I have made in DAR have been one of the greatest rewards of my lifetime.
Tell us about your patriot ancestors.
I joined DAR on the line of Jacob Plattner, a miller, and his son, Marcus Plattner, who both served with the Albany County Militia. Also I am descended from Simon Freer, who in 1775 signed the Articles of Association in Dutchess County, where I live today. These patriots are all on my mother’s line. Her family lived along the Hudson River since it was New Netherlands. I hope to research more on my father’s side once I fully retire, with the hope of finding more patriots.
Both my parents are deceased, so it is bittersweet to no longer share this historical journey with them, though my three sons are avid history lovers too. It must be genetic! Once you uncover ancestors with connections to events in American history, every chapter of their story takes on new meaning and life to you. It’s exhilarating. I wish more people would research their family histories so that they might find the same type of connection to our shared past.
As DAR president general, you’ve made it a priority for DAR to support Vietnam veterans. Why?
DAR members are supportive of all our active duty military and veterans, as we feel it is part of our patriotic obligation to thank these men and women for their service to our nation.
Vietnam veterans hold a special place in the hearts of DAR members, because we recognize they were never properly thanked when they returned home from the war. In fact, many of them were mistreated for wearing the uniform of our nation. Many of us had fathers, sons, brothers, uncles or other relatives who served.
My eldest first cousin on my mother’s side, Stanley Myers of Colonie, New York, was an engine mechanic who was deployed to Vietnam during the height of the war, so for me it is deeply personal and important to thank members of the armed forces who fought during this era, often times sacrificing the best years of their young lives to do so. My cousin has passed away, but there are thousands of Vietnam veterans and their family members who are still alive—and who deserve to receive demonstrations of gratitude from fellow citizens.
On a personal note, I am the first Blue Star Mother to also serve as president general of the DAR since our founding in 1890. My eldest son is a U.S. Army captain and Army Ranger stationed at Fort Carson [Colorado]. Supporting active-duty military and our veterans is a foremost priority in our lives for obvious reasons.
What are some projects and initiatives you have brought about as president general to recognize Vietnam veterans?
The most popular way our Daughters have been involved is through local recognition ceremonies to thank Vietnam veterans—presenting official pins and certificates but most importantly saying “thank you”— two short words that mean so much.
In addition to hundreds of local ceremonies, our members are in involved in many other efforts, including collecting oral histories, sewing Quilts of Valor, serving as VAVS [Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service] volunteers, participating in Wreaths Across America and escorting Honor Flight participants.
Among various types of organizations offering support to Vietnam veterans, what makes DAR unique?
It is my understanding that we are one of the most active organizations partnering with the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration as part of the formal effort to locate and honor Vietnam vets.
We have nearly 3,000 chapters around the world, virtually all of them located within the United States. Those chapters are populated with nearly 190,000 members—engaged, vibrant women committed to our mission of service.
Wherever you find a DAR chapter or member, you find American citizens willing to support our purpose of promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. We are devoted to the United States and particularly to those who have worn its uniform in strange and foreign lands to protect not only our national interests but also the country for which our ancestors fought and died.
Is it possible for Vietnam veterans’ groups to organize events with local DAR chapters? If so, what is the first step?
Certainly! They need only search the internet or visit our website to find the chapter closest to them. We also have a volunteer who heads our official Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War who can help direct them to the correct contact: National Vice Chair Grace Ellsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are there any particular Vietnam veterans who have had a special influence on your life?
While I grew up farther upstate, I have worked or lived in Beacon, New York, for over 35 years. I am the five-term past president of the local historical society, my DAR chapter is based here, and I raised my three sons here, where they have long family roots that reach back to the American Revolution. So, Beacon is home.
There are nine names on the Vietnam Wall of boys from Beacon, a poignant reminder of our small city’s sacrifice in the war. It is a bittersweet pride to read their names each time I visit the memorial in Washington, D.C., proud they served but so very sad that they never returned. As a Blue Star Mother, my heart aches in particular for mothers who never welcomed their sons home from combat, as I did when my son returned safely from Afghanistan in 2018.
What are some Vietnam-oriented initiatives you hope to accomplish in the future?
It would be my goal to have every DAR chapter become an official partner with the Vietnam War Commemoration. We are all volunteers, but we are getting there! Hundreds have already become partners.
What would you like Vietnam veterans to know about DAR?
DAR is a remarkable women’s service organization. We share a joyful obligation to fulfill a promise not only to those who founded our nation but our own posterity who will inherit it. Through our work to promote historic preservation and patriotism, we hope to unite citizens through love of country.
We encourage anyone who would like to know more about who we are and what we do to find out more at www.DAR.org. Also invite a local chapter member to your group to highlight the many rewards of DAR membership.
We are always looking for new members. We have volunteers who can help with genealogy and the application process. Trust me: documenting your family history may not be easy, but it sure is fun. And it makes all of American history come to life once you connect your own family to it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are grateful to be an official commemorative partner of the Vietnam War Commemoration. It speaks to the very essence of being an active, engaged citizen.
We recognize that our Vietnam-era veterans are passing away an alarming rate, and we are honored to take part in a program that locates and recognizes them, and their families, for their service and sacrifice.
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