2008 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Vietnam Veterans
of America. Originally conceived without thought to membership,
VVA was organized as a guerilla force to storm the halls
of Congress on behalf of the nation’s veterans of the
Vietnam War. But the intended targets repeatedly asked, “How
many people do you represent? How large is your membership?”
this issue, we profile the first thirty chapters. Well, make
that the surviving thirteen chapters. The path of every successful
venture is littered with failures. Of the original thirty
VVA chapters, seventeen were stillborn, only existed as a
number, or met with a quick end.
But others prospered,
sometimes struggled, and survived. We asked those original
survivors to recount their histories and discuss their challenges.
These are their stories.
Rutland, Vt., Chapter 1: Mobilizing Locally
By Jack Crowther
“Together then, together now.” That was the idea
that drove Don Bodette, the Rutland, Vermont, man whose experiences
in Vietnam and whose commitment to veterans shaped VVA’s
national organization. Bodette was a Marine who had earned
the Purple Heart in Vietnam. His veterans’ advocacy
efforts began in the 1970s when memories of the Vietnam War
were still fresh. It would be years before post-traumatic
stress disorder and Agent Orange would be recognized as part
of the war’s legacy. Many veterans felt the pain of
psychological and physical injuries as well as the stigma
of having served in an unpopular war.
worded newspaper ad read: “Vietnam
veterans, we need to talk.” It began efforts to help
veterans cope with a variety of war-related problems. Jake
Jacobsen, Albert and Mary Trombley, Mike Dodge, Dennis Ross,
Clark Howland, and Mark Truhan were among others active in
those early years.
In 1979, VVA founder Bobby Muller met Don
Bodette during a trip to Vermont. Bodette credited Rusty
Sachs, a lawyer in Hartford, Vt., and a Marine veteran of
Vietnam, with making the connection. Sachs also was a Vietnam
Bodette supported the idea of an organization
for Vietnam-era veterans, but felt it needed to mobilize
locally in chapters to succeed. He persuaded Muller to adopt
his model. Chapter 1 of Vietnam Veterans of America was established
on April 13, 1980, when Muller presented its charter to Don
Don Bodette led Chapter 1 from 1980-84. He was followed by
Jake Jacobsen from 1984-89 and Mark Truhan from 1989-91.
All three had been there from the beginning.
a Chapter 1 member living in West Rutland, describes the
early years as “looking for the wounded”;
that is, Vietnam veterans suffering a variety of ills, from
shame about their service, and from other physical, mental,
and emotional ailments. He and Bodette were “on the
same page from day one” with regard to Vietnam veterans,
“We felt regrouping the wounded—making
them feel like assets, not liabilities—would pay off
in the long haul,” he said. “Chapter 1 was always
looking to fill a void in these people’s lives by planting
seeds and consistently challenging them to make a difference.” The
issues, he said, “were world issues and not just an
isolated thing for a group of veterans. This approach widened
the market that could be affected by these veterans.”
chapter records suggest that there were as many as 46 members.
Jacobsen says it was a time of high energy and lots of activity. “Every
time we turned around, we had more things going on than hours
of the day,” he
They met with individual veterans in need of help, once
evacuating a man from his home by toboggan in an ice storm
when he needed to get to the VA hospital for medication.
converted school bus served as a mobile rap center and traveled
the state. In 1981, the group sponsored Vietnam Veterans
Week to highlight issues such as Agent Orange and to involve
agencies that could help veterans. Members did public relations,
spoke at conventions, forged bonds with and challenged other
veterans’ organizations, and testified
When Chapter 1 Almost Died
Despite the passion and energy of the first years, Chapter
1 was close to expiring in 1991 when the Moving Wall visited
Rutland’s central green, called Main Street Park. Those
attending included Mike Divoll, who had been a triage medic
on the U.S.S. Constellation in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1966.
about the Vietnam veterans’ organization
in a tent set up near The Wall, he was told by the small
group, “We’re it.” The chapter had been
reduced to a shell and was, in Divoll’s words, “on
the verge of collapse.”
“After The Moving Wall left, a few of us said we can’t
let this die,” he said. Divoll became president, saw
to it that a slate of officers was elected, and gave the
group a semblance of structure. Meetings had a short business
session and then a group discussion or rap session on any
topic the members wanted to discuss.
Divoll said, however,
that there was a challenge to the election, and he encountered
some friction. He later became secretary but then backed
away from the group. Now he’s back
as a board member. Steve Faye took over as president from
1992 to 1994 and held other offices for several years after
John Bergeron was president from 1995-2004, a period
when chapter energy and activities varied. Bergeron is an
Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era. His devotion to the
cause was clearly evident. Operating a shoe repair shop in
downtown Rutland, he also ran a kind of drop-in center for
the chapter. His storefront was filled with patriotic symbols
and armed forces displays.
RUTLAND COUNTY VIETNAM VETERANS
Bergeron planted—or perhaps “found” is
a better word—the seed that produced Chapter 1’s
most visible achievement: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Rutland’s Main Street Park. Investigating reports of
a marble sculpture of a soldier by local Vietnam veteran
John Reno, then deceased, Bergeron located the sculpture
in a gravel pit in western Rutland County and removed it
for safe-keeping. Five years later, after an extensive fundraising
effort and volunteer participation, the memorial was dedicated
on Memorial Day 2000.
Reno’s sculpture was refined and
finished by sculptor Don Ramey, who donated his services.
It became the centerpiece of the memorial.
supporting the large marble block of the soldier, lying as
if in state, are the eighteen names of Rutland County men
who died in Vietnam. Plaques at the edges of the concrete
oval containing the sculpture spell out a brief history of
the Vietnam War and the history of the memorial.
plaque pays tribute to Chapter 1 founder Don Bodette, who
died of cancer on August 10, 1997. The fourth plaque, an
Honor Roll, lists those who served in Vietnam from Rutland
Chapter 1 Today
Chapter 1 celebrated its 25th anniversary April 16, 2005,
with a banquet attended by Vermont Gov. James Douglas, VVA
National President Tom Corey, and about ninety others. We
have about 137 members and four associate members and enjoy
a healthy balance in our treasury. Of the 137 members, 75
are life members.
Aided to a degree by our distinction of
1” and the efforts of veteran Membership Chairman Dick
Doyle, we have a solid membership list, including members
from England, Paraguay, the Philippines, Italy, Hawaii, Alaska,
and other states. Despite the above signs of health, we are
not an active chapter in the sense of sponsoring frequent
activities, holding fundraisers, showing ourselves at ceremonies,
and lobbying legislators. A handful of members attend our
Nevertheless, and thanks to our income source,
able to support several veteran and community efforts. Recent
and ongoing assistance has gone to the Dodge House, Vermont’s
only facility devoted to homeless veterans, located in Rutland.
The Dodge House is a project of the Veterans Assistance Office,
which Don Bodette helped create.
During the deployments of
Vermont National Guard troops in the Middle East, Chapter
1 has been a go-to source of help for families of soldiers
facing financial pressures. Our disbursements through a “family
readiness coordinator” for
the Guard have totaled $3,775. Last year, the Vermont National
Guard presented Chapter 1 a bronze “Minuteman” statue
in appreciation of our help to Guard families.
We were pleased
to provide $1,000 to support the Vermont VVA service officer
program, which helps veterans with benefits and interaction
with the VA. We also support such veteran-related groups
as the Friends of Veterans, which serves Vermont and New
Hampshire, and we have given to the Boys & Girls
Club of Rutland County.
Chapter 1’s current president is Adrian Megrath, who
served with an artillery survey unit of the 82nd Airborne
Division in Vietnam in 1969 and has been chapter president
since 2004. He also serves as president of the board for
Dodge House and as a representative to VVA’s Vermont
Megrath established the Chapter 1 website,
also the webmaster. His acquaintance with the site’s
designers has helped keep the cost well within the chapter’s
means. Chapter history, photos and memorabilia, the Rutland
County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, monthly newsletters, and
useful links are all included.
Chapter 1 will not go on forever.
We are closely identified with a war that ended more than
thirty years ago. While mindful of the needs of our newer
veterans, we draw from a gradually shrinking number of eligible
members. Interestingly, though, we continue to gain new members
seeking to understand, preserve, or affirm their Vietnam-era
No doubt the healing from our war and
the Vietnam veteran’s
greater respect in the eyes of the public play a part in
this continued interest. Veterans may now justifiably take
pride in, and wish to claim a measure of credit for, service
they once kept hidden or suppressed.
Our own Rutland County
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Honor Roll reflects this evolving
status. When we dedicated the memorial in 2000, we had compiled
a list of about 125 names of those who had served in the
war after entering the service from Rutland County. There
was no available list of all who had served, so Chapter 1
became the keeper of the list of those eligible for the Honor
Our Honor Roll is a weather-resistant heavy plastic
sheet mounted in a metal frame and supported by a metal post.
As veterans themselves and family members have come forward
to request inclusion on the Honor Roll, we have updated it
six times, most recently last year with the addition of ten
names. The total now is 280, plus the eighteen killed in
The Rutland Garden Club has faithfully maintained
the memorial as part of its community work. The city of Rutland
owns the site.
Jack Crowther is Chapter 1’s secretary
and historian. He served in Vietnam from September 1965 to
February 1966 as an assistant gunner on a 4.2 mortar platoon
at Lai Khe. A retired journalist and writer, he’s married
with two grown children.
Eau Claire, Wisc., Chapter 5: Firm
Handshakes & Strong
By ALAN JENKINS
VVA’s fifth chapter was established in September 1980
in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then a city of approximately 50,000
in the west-central part of the state. As the founding president,
I recall many of the details of those days, but many of the
chapter’s records have been lost.
The first time I encountered
the name “Vietnam Veterans
of America” was October 31, 1979. I was reading the
Leader-Telegram, the regional daily newspaper, when I noticed
a small article in the back of the national section. It quoted
a fellow by the name of John Terzano, then national vice-president
of VVA in New York City. The next morning I got the telephone
number from directory assistance and had a conversation with
Terzano, urging him to send me information on forming a local
affiliate. Little did I know at the time that VVA was more
dream than reality. But that would change drastically in
the next four years.
After receiving information from the
national office, I began to contact as many Vietnam veterans
as I knew in the area, urging each to contact others. For
the next ten months, a few of us tried to convince other
Vietnam veterans that it was time to organize. It was a hard
sell. Still, in September 1980, twenty of us met at the Eau
Claire Parks and Recreation building to organize a VVA chapter.
continuous efforts to recruit new members, we immediately
took action to address major issues, particularly Agent Orange,
the POW-MIA issue, and something new in the psychiatric profession’s
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, post-traumatic stress
disorder. These issues occupied the chapter over the course
of the next few years.
At our urging, Eau Claire County formed
an Agent Orange Advisory Committee, and the late Richard
Flynn and I served on it. The advisory committee used county
funds to produce a public information campaign to provide
substantive information to area veterans and their families
and friends about the herbicide campaign in Vietnam. Only
when we attempted to convince the county to ban the use of
2,4,D did we encounter resistance.
The chemical lobby turned
out its minions, and we lost that round. Later, the chapter
promoted the national class-action suit, and a local lawyer,
who is now a circuit court judge, donated hours of time to
We raised the issue of POW-MIA accountability with
letters to the editor and with weekend-long vigils on the
steps of the federal building in Eau Claire. During the vigils,
we collected signatures on petitions that called upon our
congressional representatives to push for a full accounting.
issue of PTSD led us to volunteer at the Tomah, Wisconsin,
VA Medical Center, where a pioneering psychologist had established
an in-patient unit. Chapter 5 arrived on the scene just as
the VA was trying to cut PTSD funding nationally and the
Tomah VAMC administration was trying to cut the PTSD unit.
With the help of Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wisc.), we were
able to save the unit.
Thereafter, Chapter 5 volunteers traveled
the ninety miles monthly to Tomah to organize sporting events
for the brothers on the unit. We were also successful in
winning release of some of the permanent psychiatric patients
on lock wards—men
who participated with their Vietnam brothers in baseball
games, golf tournaments, volleyball tournaments, and basketball
Rep. Gunderson was also instrumental in helping Chapter
5 establish an outpatient PTSD clinic through a federal contract
with the Eau Claire Guidance Clinic. The psychologist who
ran the program was named Jim Hogan, and so we became, of
course, “Hogan’s Heroes.”
With these battles
and accomplishments under our belt, members of Chapter 5
fanned out over the state, organizing other Vietnam veterans.
Eventually, chapters formed across Wisconsin, and even Chapter
5 saw a spin-off: Chapter 93 in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire’s
Around 1982, the chapters formed the VVA Wisconsin
State Council. I had the honor of being elected the founding
state chair. That same year, members of VVA traveled to Washington,
D.C., to dedicate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
By the time
of the VVA Founding Convention in November 1983, Wisconsin
was a VVA stronghold, and our Wisconsin delegation played
a decisive role in the founding of the national organization.
For us, however, it all started in Eau Claire.
year, members of Wisconsin VVA founded the Wisconsin Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Project, which eventually built The Highground,
a veterans memorial park located near the geographic center
of the state. For more information, go to www.thehighground.org
some of the founders have passed away, and some have moved
to other parts of the country. Those of us who started Chapter
5 do not see one another often, but when we do, there are
always firm handshakes and strong memories of the days when
we changed ourselves and the world.
Alan Jenkins is the owner
of Jenkins Market Communications, an agency founded in 1983;
he has published book reviews, poetry, and essays. He served
in the 18th Engineer Brigade, U.S. Army, Vietnam, 1967-68.
He served twice as a VVA national delegate and one year as
a member of the VVA National Board of Directors.
Capital District Chapter 8: A Recommitment
By John A. REITANO
In the beginning, there was the Watervliet Arsenal Ex-Servicemen’s
Club. Then the time came to change the organization’s
name to the Vietnam Veterans Council. With members from Downstate
New York, Capital District Chapter 8 was formed in 1981.
Vietnam Veterans of America Capital District Chapter 8 received
its charter in 1982. It represented Vietnam veterans in the
Troy, Schenectady, and Albany, New York, areas.
there were problems. Some members were unhappy with a policy
that only included in-country veterans. A group broke off
to form the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Era Vets. But Chapter
8 saw its membership balloon to over two hundred members
when Vietnam-era veterans were included. In 2007, Chapter
8 celebrated 25 years serving the Vietnam veterans of the
The chapter has participated in activities
associated with two moving walls: The Wall That Heals in
2003 at Cohoes, N.Y., and The Moving Wall in 2006 in Saratoga
County. The Moving Wall in Saratoga brought together three
groups of Vietnam veterans: VVA Chapter 8, VVA Chapter 79,
and the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Era Vets. Albany County
Executive Mike Breslin stated the obvious: We are all brothers
and sisters when it comes to honoring those whose names are
inscribed on that Black Granite Wall.
Chapter 8 has participated
in many memorable occasions. At the 12th National Convention
in Reno in 2005, chapter members watched New York State Council
President John Rowan take the oath of office as national
president. They also met Rachel Welch. In May 2007, the chapter
was invited to the 50th Anniversary of the Colonie Babe Ruth
League. The League honored all veterans, but in particular
it honored U.S. Marine PFC John Gulliver, Jr., who was killed
in action in 1967 in South Vietnam. John was a member of
the 1962 championship team from Colonie, N.Y. He was also
a friend from the neighborhood who taught many chapter members
how to play baseball.
Over the years, Chapter 8 has provided
veterans from the Capital District with monetary donations
and it’s filled
food pantries. Chapter members have helped out at the VA
hospital in Albany, adopted families of less-fortunate Vietnam
veterans at Thanksgiving time, and participated in the Capital
Region Stand-down. In November, Chapter 8 donated money and
toys to The Rock for Tots, which is the largest Upstate New
York toy drive. It benefits the USMC Reserve Toys for Tots.
It’s held at a local restaurant with all-day music
Sticking to our founding principle, “Never
Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another,” Chapter
8 has welcomed home local service personnel returning from
Iraq and Afghanistan. Our own Sgt. Austin Wilcox, who served
25 years in the Army, including a tour in Vietnam, returned
to duty with a tour in Afghanistan. We truly welcomed him
Our membership has dwindled to fifty, with
more than twenty-eight life members. We are working to enroll
more veterans and associates. Our current officers—President
John Reitano, Vice President James Dolder, Secretary George
Sarris, and Treasurer James Wittmann—work to keep Chapter
8 vital in the Capital District. We honor our founding members
Ed Murphy and Pete Sutton. We also thank past officers: President
Ed Zalucki, Vice President Bill Clancy, Secretary Don Parres,
and Treasurer Ann Patrick.
Chapter 8 is proud to be one of
the founding chapters of Vietnam Veterans of America. We
wish the national organization a happy 30th Anniversary.
We will celebrate this accomplishment with a recommitment
to service for our fellow Vietnam veterans.
John A. Reitano
is the president of VVA Capital District Chapter 8. He served
in the U.S. Navy from 1971-75. In 1972, he served in Vietnam
aboard the U.S.S. Warrington (DD-842) and the U.S.S. Joseph
Hewes (DE-1078) with DESRON 20 Yankee Station, Haiphong Harbor,
Quang Tri. He’s married with
two adult children.
Detroit Chapter 9: L.Z. Motown
By R. MICHAEL SAND AND KEITH KING
In 1979, eight Detroit-area veterans at Wayne State University
came together to form an organization they called Vietnam
Veterans of Michigan (VVM). They met at various homes, halls,
saloons, and clubhouses. They tracked down cars with “Vietnam
Vet” bumper stickers and handed the drivers applications.
As the membership grew, the organization needed a home of
This was just a year after Bobby Muller had formed
VVA. When Muller heard about VVM, he invited the members
to merge with his group. After many debates and joint VVM/VVA
meetings, they finally did. In late 1980, membership documents
were signed for VVA Detroit Chapter Nine.
The new chapter
held a series of successful fundraising events. Chapter members
marched in parades, then sold corn-on-the-cob and ice cream
during weekend festivals. Small donations were made and there
were other fundraising events. One of the largest was held
at Harpo’s Music Hall in Detroit.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were the headliners, and
a substantial amount of money was raised. The money was used
to run Chapter Nine programs and help complete the renovation
of the chapter’s headquarters, the old Greenfield’s
Restaurant. Although the abandoned building was a mess with
no heat, water, or power, it became the chapter’s home.
renovation of Greenfield’s was completed in the
early 1980s. With the help of the Mayor’s office, the
Detroit Police Department, the Greater Detroit Building Trades
Council, the local Navy Seabee reservists, the UAW, and the
membership, the job was done. L.Z. Motown opened its doors
and became a viable veterans’ service center in the
heart of the city.
In order to keep the doors open and their
programs running, chapter members had to raise funds continuously.
VVA Chapter Nine hats, shirts, and other items went on sale
and sold well. When Chapter Nine members helped create the
VVA Michigan State Council, they supplied much of the Vietnam
veteran merchandise to new chapters throughout the state.
the same time, Chapter Nine set up its education program
in conjunction with local schools and universities. Its speakers’ bureau
put together symposia and classroom discussions at town halls,
community centers, and classrooms all over the metropolitan
area. Veterans brought their stories and memorabilia to audiences
in places such as the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, Detroit
Athletic Club, and the University of Michigan. Programs also
were held at local churches and schools.
By 1985, Chapter
Nine had nearly a thousand members, making it the largest
VVA chapter in the country. The chapter even helped fund
many VVA national programs. During a period of financial
uncertainty, the chapter loaned the national organization
$10,000 to enable it to make payroll. It was a loan, however,
that some members feared could put chapter projects at risk.
hosted VVA’s Second National Convention in
1985. Thousands of VVA members came together in Detroit,
and L.Z. Motown contributed substantially to cover expenses.
of the VVA chapters in Southeastern Michigan were formed
by members of Chapter Nine. L.Z. Motown became known as the “Mother
Chapter” as more and more chapters were created by
spin-offs from Chapter Nine. Although some friction was inevitable,
many activities became joint ventures in which all participated.
the VVA motto “In Service to America,” Chapter
Nine spearheaded countless community-based programs throughout
the Detroit area. They hosted counseling sessions to help
homeless veterans find jobs and reintegrate into society.
The result was the establishment of the Michigan Veterans
Foundation, which now serves hundreds of veterans in need.
The center also has been used as a community center, a Job
Corps center, a Red Cross Blood Bank, a banquet hall for
local charitable events, and much more.
In the 1990s, holding
true to the VVA’s founding principle, “Never
again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Chapter
Nine began organizing rallies to support troops in the first
Persian Gulf War, beginning with a parade down Woodward Avenue.
As the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue,
our troops will not be forgotten or mistreated as long as
one Chapter Nine member is standing.
Today the chapter continues
to be involved in many community-service endeavors. That
includes working to establish an all-veterans park in the
heart of downtown Detroit to be named “The
Arsenal of Democracy Park.” This park will recognize
all Detroit area veterans—past, present, and future—and
honor them for their service to America.
For years the Chapter
Honor Guard has proudly led the annual Detroit Labor Day
Parade, which passes in front of chapter headquarters. Chapter
Nine is well recognized by the Vietnamese-American community
for its support and understanding of their cause for freedom
and human rights. Recently, Chapter Nine members served as
color guard for the Vietnamese Heritage Flag of Freedom Recognition
Parade at the State Capitol in Lansing.
L.Z. Motown has provided
food, warmth, and refreshments for the annual Detroit Thanksgiving
Day Parade audience for over 25 years. The chapter also supports
the Detroit-area Veterans Stand Down and the Armed Forces
Day and Annual Detroit Veterans Parade, which honor our military
personnel and veterans.
The chapter continues to provide free
use of its facility for community organizations. The chapter
also serves as a collection point and toy distribution center
for the Marine Corps Reserves’ Toys for Tots program,
sponsors a room at the Lions Club International Penrickton
Center for blind children with multiple handicaps, and supports
veterans housed at the local VA Medical Center through donations
and visitation of patients confined to the facility.
veterans enter their golden years, Chapter Nine veterans
and associates, their families and friends can rest assured
that the job of serving America has been done well.
is on the Chapter Nine Board of Directors and edits Aftermath,
the chapter’s newsletter. Keith King chairs
VVA’s Public Affairs Committee and is the president
of the Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund. He has served as
Chapter Nine secretary. Portions of this article appeared
in the May/June 2005 issue of The VVA Veteran.
Cincinnati Chapter 10: Staying Focused
By EDWARD BROWN
In 1978, a group of Vietnam veterans announced that they
were forming a national organization for Vietnam-era veterans
that would directly address some of the issues and concerns
that had been neglected or ignored. Two years later, a small
group of Vietnam veterans met in the stockroom of a small
café in downtown Cincinnati and immediately started
making plans to become part of the national organization.
10 was chartered in 1981 and became the first VVA chapter
in Ohio. The first president was charter member Tim Culbertson.
The chapter grew quickly in membership and in purpose. The
chapter was named after Eddie Ulhmansiek, an MIA from the
Soon after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
was dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1982, a group of Chapter
10 members decided that Cincinnati should have its own Vietnam
Veterans Memorial. This was the chapter’s first major
undertaking, and on April 8, 1984, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
was dedicated in Eden Park. It was the fifth such memorial
in the country.
In 1985, Chapter 56 merged with Chapter 10
to create one of the largest VVA chapters. A Color Guard
was formed and, under the leadership of Color Guard Commander
Gary Henson, VVA visibility skyrocketed as the Color Guard
led parades and participated in memorial services, funerals,
and other community activities.
In 1990, under the leadership
of then-President Steve Taylor, the chapter established six
goals. They had no idea that those six goals would remain
the foundation for chapter activities seventeen years later.
Each year, the goals are reviewed.
The goals are:
- Form a scholarship fund and offer academic
scholarships to veterans and their family members.
- Lobby for veterans’ issues at the local and national
- Be actively involved in civic issues and educate the
general public on patriotism and veterans’ issues.
a comfortable gathering place for veterans and their families.
a program in schools to educate students on history, patriotism,
and the issues of the Vietnam War era.
- Preserve, promote,
and perpetuate the history, traditions, and outstanding
contributions of Vietnam-era veterans toward the development
and defense of the United States of America.
10 was one of the first VVA chapters to establish a Homeless
Veterans program. The chapter bought a house, and Project
Transition opened its doors in 1990. The facility housed
up to six veterans at a time, at no cost to them, for a period
of up to six months. The next year, a second building with
four small apartments was purchased. The apartments were
rented at a token cost to veterans who had made it through
the initial phase of Project Transition. Over a five-year
period, Chapter 10 helped more than 150 veterans get back
on their feet. Today, Chapter 10 continues its homeless veterans
advocacy through its support of Joseph House, the home for
Also in 1990, the chapter established its
Adopt-a-Family program, which is still a major program in
our commitment to community service. In 2006, the chapter
provided Christmas food baskets for more than thirty-five
needy families of veterans. In 1998, the chapter established
an Adopt-a-Child program. Teachers and other community service
organizations refer children in dire need to the chapter.
The program is budgeted each year, and the committee is responsible
for buying the referred child school supplies and clothes.
In 1999, the chapter formally established its scholarship
program. In 2005, the chapter awarded a record five $800
scholarships. In the eight-year period since the inception
of the program, the chapter has awarded more than thirty
scholarships totaling over $25,000. The chapter has an annual
golf outing to help raise funds for these programs.
years 2003 through 2007, Chapter 10 helped sponsor the American
Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, as well
as the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure. In 2003, Chapter
10 fell short of its goal but in 2004 the goal was achieved.
Chapter 10 made the Gold Team by raising $2,500 for the ACS
Relay for Life. The Chapter House is made available to other
community organizations upon request. Currently AA uses the
house for its weekly meetings.
In 2003, after successfully
leading the chapter for four years, longer than any previous
chapter president, Joe Amann stepped down and John Erby was
elected the chapter’s
fifteenth president. In addition to the traditional annual
goals, Erby set two immediate goals: make the Chapter House
handicapped accessible and execute a successful program commemorating
the 20th Anniversary of the Eden Park Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Board of Directors allocated the funds and the volunteers
went above and beyond the call of duty. A lift was added
for those who are wheelchair bound, and doors were widened
and the bathroom was remodeled to accommodate wheelchairs.
The 20th anniversary ceremony was highlighted by a Parade
of Colors, which consisted of 20 color guards.
VVA chapters participated in the ceremony.
In 2005, Chapter
10 established itself as the place to call if you wanted
a Vietnam veteran to participate in an educational program
regarding the Vietnam War. The chapter took the responsibility
of directing the educational process for two Moving Wall
presentations. This included scheduling and arranging veterans’ visits
to school classrooms, as well as hosting the classes during
their visits to The Moving Wall. Chapter 10 also was called
upon to lecture at a community project called Vietnam History
Up Close and Personal—a class for adults at the Evendale
The success of Chapter 10 is due entirely
to the dedicated and committed members of the Board of Directors
who volunteer their time and services to insure the continued
success of the chapter. Chapter 10 is also fortunate and
extremely grateful to have a small core of family members
and friends who volunteer their time and efforts. We continue
to stay focused on our creed and mission—“Service
to America and Service to our Community.”
Ed Brown served in Vietnam in 1966-68 as a combat engineer.
A lifetime member of Chapter 10, he is the chapter’s
treasurer and regularly functions as a delegate.
Suffolk County Chapter 11: Vets Helping Vets
By TONY RAIONA
“Vets Helping Vets.” That’s both the motto
and philosophy of VVA’s Suffolk County, N.Y., Chapter
11. And just as there are events in one’s life that
cause a person to start an endeavor, so it is with organizations.
The catalyst for the creation of this chapter took place
in another country.
In the late 1970s, several local Vietnam
veterans began talking among themselves about the lack of
respect and care that veterans of the Vietnam War had been
receiving since their return to The World. This group, led
by Bobby Muller, first called the Council of Vietnam Veterans
and later Vietnam Veterans of America, was put together to
lobby Congress. This group also was the root of what exists
today for Vietnam veterans in Suffolk County, New York. They
never anticipated going national as a membership organization.
They began their lobbying around the issue of creating Readjustment
Counseling Centers, which became the Vet Centers.
1979, employees of the U.S. State Department in Iran were
taken hostage. Their release in 1981 and the show of support
by the American people during this difficult period were
noted by this group of veterans. They felt that the same
respect, support, and honor given to these former hostages
also should be given to those who, when called by their country
to fight, answered the call and did their duty, many making
the supreme sacrifice. One night in the summer of 1980, they
decided to take this task upon themselves.
Meeting at the
East Farmingdale Fire House, Jerry Klein, Gary “Doc” McKnight,
Jack O’Brien, Ken
Mitchko, and several others began to put together a local
organization for Vietnam veterans. They had been receiving
encouragement from Muller’s fledgling national organization.
They realized quickly that there were many issues involving
Vietnam veterans that needed to be addressed. Thus began
the Suffolk/Nassau Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
recruited members by a very simple method: advertising posters.
The group had 8x12 posters printed with their phone numbers.
They were placed in stores and other public areas in Suffolk
and Nassau Counties. They also ran a one-time ad on a local
radio station. They soon received more responses and applications
for membership than they had expected.
They made a very informal
collection among themselves (each threw a $20 bill into an
old shoe box) and used those funds for additional mailings.
The first official meeting took place on April 3, 1981.
in any large organization, there were some initial problems,
including philosophical differences about the conduct of
business and regular meetings. Additionally, the geography
of the two counties provided obstacles. Eventually, around
1982, the chapter split into two, with Suffolk County being
incorporated as VVA Chapter 11 on April 11, 1983; Nassau
County became Chapter 82.
Chapter 11 met some resistance from
the VVA national office, probably stemming from a misinterpretation
of the purpose for forming the chapter.
Once that hurdle
was cleared, the chapter formed. Its officers were: Jerry
Klein, president; Arthur Kruse, first vice president; Kim
Windsor, second vice president; Ken Mitchko, treasurer; John
Catterson, secretary; and Tom Pasqua, assistant secretary.
The directors were: Duncan Forbes, Paul Kelly, Gaspar Falzone,
Gary “Doc” McKnight,
Ferdinand Rodriguez, Albert Ginnaro, Albert Marcotte, and
The chapter then began helping and advocating
for veterans. There was a march on the VAMC-Northport that
highlighted the unmet needs and the lack of medical care
for Vietnam veterans. Chapter 11 also was deeply involved
in the creation of outreach counseling projects, such as
the Veterans Center in Babylon, N.Y., which exists today.
To celebrate its national charter, the chapter held a National
Charter Dinner Dance in April 1987.
Chapter 11 undertook the
establishment of a monument to recognize the service and
sacrifice of Suffolk County’s Vietnam
veterans. After a protracted search in which eleven sites
were considered, the location on Bald Hill, Farmingville,
N.Y., was chosen. This site had many unique qualities: It
was among the highest in Suffolk County; it provided an outstanding
view of the surrounding area; and its “unusual terrain
features would tend to stimulate the creative talent of the
designers.” A 50-member volunteer commission was formed
to launch a nationwide design competition in September 1987.
1,400 entries were received, including responses from 34
foreign countries. The winning entry was designed by Rev.
Charles R. Fink, who had become a priest after serving in
Vietnam. The design was unveiled on May 25, 1989. Groundbreaking
took place on Veterans Day 1990. The monument was dedicated
on Veterans Day 1991.
Chapter 11 also was sensitive to Gold
Star Mothers. Reaching out to them in 1991, the chapter held
its First Annual Gold Star Mothers Breakfast in May. As its
name implies, it’s
now an annual event called the Gold Star Family Breakfast.
This is a well-attended event, which now, sad to say, also
includes the families of other veterans who have perished
in Afghanistan, Grenada, and Iraq. All families who have
lost a loved one in military service to our country are invited.
It is a day to be with those who care and share their loss
in a family-type environment. There are no political speeches,
just a gathering of friends who care spending a Sunday morning
together over breakfast.
The philosophies and principles established
by our founding members still prevail. Chapter 11 does not
participate in parades with two exceptions, the St. Patrick’s
Day Parade in East Islip and the Fourth of July Parade in
Southampton, N.Y. On Memorial Day, when most other veterans’ organizations
are marching, the chapter attends a Mass at St. Ann’s
Church in Sayville, N.Y. Then at 5 o’clock, we gather
at the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans Memorial to pray and
to recite the names of the 258 local members of the U.S.
Armed Forces who lost their lives in Vietnam.
future projects of the chapter include establishing a VAMC
Clinic in the east end of the county for veterans who live
too far away to travel easily to VAMC-Northport; helping
find housing for Suffolk’s nearly 1,300 homeless
veterans; and continuing the chapter’s Benevolent Fund.
This fund provides fuel oil and food vouchers to veterans
in need. In 2006, more than $7,000 in food and fuel oil vouchers
Chapter 11’s Incarcerated Vets Committee
members regularly visit veterans who are in the county’s
correctional facilities and who may not be aware of the benefits
available to them. In April 2008, the chapter will again
participate in a Veterans Stand-down, in which homeless veterans
are given food, clean clothes, and the opportunity to tend
to personal hygiene.
The wonder of the passage of time is
that the clock comes full circle and wisdom comes with it
as well. The machine gunner is now the mailman; the mortar
man is now the postmaster; the mechanics, airmen, grunts,
and clerks are now doctors, teachers, police officers, county
legislators, and nurses.
“Vietnam.” Say the word
and it evokes strong emotions, both good and bad. For those
of us who served there, whether draftees or volunteers, we
are proud to have the distinction and honor to call ourselves
Vietnam Veterans of America. Never again will one generation
of veterans abandon another.
The motto of Chapter 11 will always be “Vets Helping
Tony Raiona served as Spc. 5 with the U.S. Army
Marine Maintenance Activity Detachment 4 of the 4th Transportation
Command stationed at Camp Davies, Saigon, from April 1969-70.
He is a retired Suffolk County deputy sheriff and is secretary
of VVA Chapter 11.
Doc McKnight and Ken Mitchko helped in writing this article.
Without their patience and historical knowledge, it would
not have been possible.
Oakhurst, N.J., Chapter 12: Continuity And A Plan Of Direction
By BOB HOPKINS
Bobby Muller, to be sure, was a veteran activist with an
idea and little else. He wanted to transform the way veterans’ business
was conducted in the halls of Congress and in the wards and
offices of the Veterans Administration. On April 10, 1979,
the Internal Revenue Service recognized the Council of Vietnam
Veterans as a war veterans organization. Later that year,
on November 15, the fledgling organization was renamed Vietnam
Veterans of America.
Muller knew little about how the organization
would evolve. He didn’t even know what to call the
various loosely defined veterans’ groups that contacted
him. Finally, the term “chapter” was selected
and general guidelines were set up to form them.
was a veteran with the same fire in his belly as Muller.
He was instrumental in bringing together a group of veterans
at the YMCA in Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 1981. One vet
came because he wanted to play softball. Another showed up
because his wife saw an article in the newspaper and made
him go. Some came out of anger at how they had been treated
when they came home. A couple wanted to push for legislation
to address the unfilled needs of their brothers and sisters.
Several wanted to bring home the POWs they believed we left
No matter why they arrived at the meetings, all, for
the first time, felt a sense of belonging.
Looking for direction,
they contacted Muller and he met with a group of them. They
voted to go with this charismatic yet controversial leader,
and they were assigned the number 12 for their chapter. Cicconetti,
Sam Siciliano, and Tom Scalzo signed on as one-year trustees
to the Articles of Incorporation. On May 3, 1982, N.J. Secretary
of State Jane Burgio filed the papers necessary to give birth
to Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 12 in Asbury Park.
A new era of veterans’ advocacy
was born in New Jersey.
The early days of the chapter were
exciting and, at times, confrontational. Some members left,
while others stayed and worked through the problems that
most new organizations have. At one point in 1983 fewer than
thirty-five active members remained. The early euphoria of
marching in the November 1982 parade in Washington to dedicate
The Wall was tempered by controversy in setting the direction
for Chapter 12.
The growing pains of the chapter were symptomatic
of the organization as a whole. It wasn’t until the
Founding Convention in 1983 that the direction for both the
chapter and the national organization was set. It was there
that Bob Hopkins and Vic Cicconetti, the only delegates from
New Jersey, got their baptism by fire in veterans’ advocacy.
early 1984, the chapter bid farewell to the YMCA and moved
into its new quarters, courtesy of VFW Gimbel Lehy Quirk
Post 2226 in Oakhurst, where it remains to this day. It moved
there only on the condition that it retain its identity and
that there were no strings attached. That promise has been
In 1984, Art O’Keefe involved the chapter in a
controversy over the failure of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service to bestow citizenship posthumously on Wladyslaw “Scotty” Staniszewski,
a Scottish-born veteran who had emigrated to this country
in 1964 and joined the Marine Corps in 1965. He told his
mother, “A country worth living in is a country worth
fighting for.” On July 7, 1967, he was killed in Vietnam.
neither he nor his parents ever imagined was that under immigration
laws he was not entitled to citizenship because he did not
show up at an immigration office to pledge allegiance to
the United States. His death, in service to his new country,
did not automatically qualify him for citizenship.
chapter members teamed with Charles Fisk of Massachusetts
and pushed for passage of H.R. 960, introduced in Congress
by Rep. Brian Donnelly (D-Mass.). Due to tireless efforts
led by O’Keefe, the bill was passed and “Scotty” was
given his citizenship. President Reagan ordered a search
of all existing records. Over two hundred other emigrees
who also had died in service to this country in Vietnam were
awarded posthumous citizenship.
In 1985, VVA had grown to
four chapters in New Jersey with a State Council. Chapter
12 members Cicconetti and Jim Monahan lent their expertise
to help the forming chapters incorporate. Final incorporation
of the State Council took place in February 1986 and Chapter
12 members Bob Hopkins and Jim Burdge were elected officers.
chapter took point for the State Council in May and June
1987, during heated debate over the refunding of the New
Jersey Agent Orange Commission. In emotional testimony before
several committees of the State Assembly in Trenton, chapter
members, in conjunction with other VVA chapters and veterans’ groups,
forced the passage of the refunding bill. VVA, for the second
time in less than four years, was credited with saving the
Agent Orange Commission.
Chapter 12 expanded its PTSD/Substance
Abuse Committee and applied for a grant to train professionals
who come in contact with Vietnam veterans suffering from
PTSD and substance abuse. Chapter member Frank Lieb prevailed
on Dr. Thomas Lozinski to conduct professional counseling
sessions for Vietnam veterans under the auspices of Chapter
12. Dr. Lozinski joined the chapter as an Associate member
and remains part of the Chapter 12 family today.
the Monmouth County Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse awarded
the first of its kind grant to Chapter 12 to provide training
for professionals. The chapter fulfilled the grant and continued
training, using other funds. The Board of Alcohol and Drug
Abuse uses the Chapter 12 experience as a model for grassroots
prevention and treatment programs.
The chapter always has
taken on new projects. Many of its members have been recognized
for outstanding contributions to the veterans community.
Henry Rossi was the first State Service Officer from VVA
in New Jersey accredited by the VA. George Kauffmann, an
Associate member, swam around Manhattan Island to push the
POW/MIA issue. The late Sen.
Richard Van Wagner (D-N.J.)
helped push through needed veterans’ legislation
in the state. Wayne Wilson served as the Director of the
Agent Orange Commission, and Paul Sutton took point on homeless
In the mid ’90s, the chapter
experienced a drop in membership amid controversey within
the chapter. The focus was lost and egos took over. Membership
had dropped from 240 to 135 and dwindling. The chapter was
at a crossroads. Fortunately for the chapter, there were
core members who persisted and convinced some newer members
to become more actively involved.
A meeting was held and several
members—some old, some
new—agreed to take officer and BOD positions, with
the proviso that none of them would abandon the chapter and
that they would remain involved even if they were no longer
in leadership positions. Egos were to be checked at the door.
The needs of the veterans were to be paramount.
This “pact” led
to the election of Dennis Beauregard, Jim Monahan, Ernie
Diorio, Paul Bausch, and Matt Rogalski, along with a Board
of Directors that had new and old chapter members. Rogalski,
upon moving to Florida, was replaced by Rich Brandon. The
leadership has remained in place, continually being re-elected
based on their accomplishments and dedication. Two additional
positions were added to the Board of Directors.
of service has been beneficial to the health and vitality
of the chapter. Bob Hopkins has served as Membership Chair
for all but two of the past twenty-five years. Mike Berman
has provided legal counsel to the chapter since the 1980s.
The Officers have all served for more than eight continuous
years. Of the original chapter members, Jim Monahan, Bob
Hopkins, Don Davison, and Bucky Grimm still serve in leadership
positions. Thirteen original members still participate in
various events during the year
Membership roles have steadily risen, and this resurgence
has led to more projects—some new, others resurrected.
The School Speakers Program today is ably led by Dennis Beauregard,
Don Davison, and Ernie Diorio. Several chapter members participate
in these well-received educational programs.
The chapter also
participates in the New Jersey Adopt-a-Highway Program and
has established a Food Pantry for Veterans in conjunction
with the letter carriers of the Middletown Post Office and
members of the Oakhurst VFW post. Remembering and supporting
veterans and active-duty personnel is a top priority. Teaming
with various organizations, the chapter has recognized the
service of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and participates
in a yearly barbeque that honors these soldiers.
visit hospitalized veterans. The chapter provides turkey
and food baskets for needy families, and participates in
a yearly Christmas toy drive with VFW Post 2226.
raised funds to defray the costs of sending the adult child
of a Chapter 12 member to Germany for radical medical treatment
to combat the crippling effects of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
For these and other community and veteran-related projects,
the chapter was honored by the Chapel of Four Chaplains.
of the dedication to the “pact” is
Rich Brandon, the chapter treasurer who relocated to New
York some 85 miles away. Instead of resigning, he has been
re-elected twice since then. He commutes to chapter meetings.
member Tony Ponzo relocated to Pennsylvania. He made arrangements
to go from his job in North Jersey directly to the chapter
meetings. His wife, Linda, continues to publish the chapter
newsletter, done ably for many years by Jim, Jimmy, and Maureen
Monahan, from her Pennsylvania home. Back in the World has
been published monthly since 1983.
The story of Chapter 12
would be quite different were it not for the support of the
families. Without the encouragement and emotional backing
of the parents, wives, husbands, and children, none of what
the chapter has accomplished would have come to fruition.
Even in the darkest hours, both individually and collectively,
they were there to console, cajole, buttress, reinforce,
and support their loved ones, allowing the members the time
needed, often at a cost to the family, to continue the healing
Continuity, dedication, and a plan of direction has
kept Chapter 12 viable and involved in the civilian and veterans’ communities
for over 25 years. The chapter has weathered growing pains,
occasional internal dissent, and the normal challenges associated
with any organization. It has kept focused on issues affecting
veterans and their families. We look forward to another 25
Bob Hopkins was the original editor of the Forward
Observer, New Jersey’s VVA newspaper.
Cleveland Chapter 15: We Proudly Served
By DAN ENGEL
Veterans are the very backbone of America, and many of them
continue to serve each and every day, long after returning
home. I’m quite proud of the men and women in Chapter
15 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll stand beside each and every
one of them.
When I first joined Chapter 15, I wanted to know
what they were all about, but I never anticipated being president
of the chapter. I became quite proud of the group, however,
and figured it was the right place to be. While we’re
not out for glory, people should know how much we have been
doing in our community for the past 25 years.
consists of veterans from all walks of life, including the
clergy, a federal judge, chapter presidents and vice presidents,
commanders, and managers of many businesses and organizations.
This diversity helps us organize and maintain a professional
image and approach.
Father Joe Piskura is always there to
pitch in and help. Ordained in 1954, he entered the Army
as a chaplain in 1963, serving 18 months in Vietnam, and
continued on active duty for 27 years, followed by 13 years
in the Reserves. We have many other retired servicemembers,
some with much-deserved awards. Tim “Doc” Anderson,
recipient of the Navy Cross, is a true American hero. Now
he works daily for veterans and serves as the Chapter 15
Homeless Veterans Rep.
Many of our members are recipients
of Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars. Our chapter has three
inductees in the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame: James Quisenberry
in 2005, Ken Milenovic in 2006, and Robert Gutzky in 2007.
fundraisers help Vietnam veterans and many others in need.
We have annual picnics and parties for veterans in hospitals
and retirement homes. Working with the DAV, we brought nineteen
patients from the Ohio Veterans Home to the Air Show, where
we provided each one with spending money. We award scholarships
and help the disabled. We made a recent $500 donation to
a participant in the Special Olympics held in China last
October. We were exceptionally proud when Todd Eisinger,
our sponsored athlete, won four medals. Last June, we helped
Chapter 34 in Akron with the Soap Box Derby for children
with disabilities. The car we sponsored won a big race.
Becker and Rich Oehlstrom have worked hard to organize car
shows. Joe Benedict, Oehlstrom, and Quisenberry do an incredible
job with our annual dance, which is very popular. We recently
donated $1,000 to Honor Flight for WWII veterans and $1,500
to help fly veterans to Washington, D.C. Sean Ennis and Benedict
are working to help bring more WWII veterans to see their
memorial. We donated $600 to the USO in Northern Ohio for
postage to send packages to the troops for the holidays.
we participated in a Homeless Veterans Stand Down. We considered
it a tremendous success, although it’s
sad to see America’s veterans in such desperate need.
David Budzik, the military and veterans liaison in the Mayor’s
office, asked us to plan for two stand-downs a year. Meetings
are planned to explore options to get homeless veterans proper
rehabilitation and off the streets. As of November, we had
donated more than $12,000 in 2007.
We always try to improve
the public perception and awareness of Vietnam veterans.
We recently had the VVA and the Chapter 15 logos placed on
the Wall of Honor at two veterans hospitals in Wade Park
and Brecksville. The VA is very happy with our professional
approach and with the help that we provide their patients.
They welcome us back, and we plan to be there quite often.
We’ve also made applications available at the
local Vet Centers, the Coast Guard Exchange, and many other
places. Vietnam Veterans of America is fast becoming a well-recognized
organization in our town.
We take great pride in presenting Military Honors for fallen
warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for other
veterans who pass on. Chapter 15 participated in the groundbreaking
ceremony for Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery and,
in a joint project with Chapter 249, placed a stone on the
Memorial path. The image on the face of the stone shows the
chapters’ logos on the jackets of members who are paying
their respects at The Wall.
In cooperation with active-duty
military, Chapter 15 works with the Joint Veterans Honor
Guard in funeral services providing full Military Honors,
folding and presenting of the flag, Presentation of the Colors,
and a Rifle Detail with a 21-gun salute. Our buglers play “Taps.” We
provide pallbearers when necessary and the family is presented
with framed documents, the Patriot’s Prayer, and the
Battlefield Cross. Chapter 15’s Harold Steinhauser
manages the Honor Guard Detail. Memorial dedications and
community events are a regular part of our busy schedule.
We did more than 52 funeral details and 27 community services
During Memorial Day preparations, we help put out
many of the 120,000 flags on veterans’ graves throughout
Cuyahoga County. We are encouraging the participation of
the Boy Scouts.
Chapter 15 was the first VVA chapter in the
country to go into the schools to educate students about
the Vietnam War. We still visit schools. Robert Gutzky specializes
in teaching flag etiquette. Question-and-answer sessions
are conducted in many of classrooms.
Ray Saikus and Jim Quisenberry
work closely with the WWI Liberty Row Memorial and the Liberty
Veterans Memorial Gardens, supporting restoration of 833
trees and medallions.
Our goal is to honor our country, our
veterans, our flag, those who passed, and those who currently
During the chapter’s first year, we established
a memorial in Cleveland for Vietnam veterans. Chapter 15
also helped fund the Cleveland VA Medical Centers’ Transitional
Residency Program, and we were the only veterans’ group
asked to help develop the PTSD ward in the Brecksville VA
Medical Center. We also established and developed a library
program about the Vietnam War.
Our Founding Fathers—Bob
Jackson, Phil Surace, Fred Krish, Glen Sinclair, and Dave
Mairer, among others—are
very pleased with all the help Chapter 15 continues to give
to veterans, active-duty troops, and the community. We were
Buckeye State Council Chapter of the Year in 2003.
make a great team. We have a special appreciation for past
officers. We use their experiences to build upon, but we’re
proud of all of our members who have their own skills and
abilities. We all have a significant connection: We proudly
served our nation.
Chapter 15 stands By VVA’s Founding
Again Will One Generation Of Veterans Abandon Another.” Nor
will we abandon each other.
Dan Engel was elected Chapter
15 president in April after having served as vice-president.
He works as the sales manager for an insurance company. His
military career ended abruptly when he was badly wounded
by a buddy.
Las Vegas Chapter 17: Carrying The Torch
By STEVE SAWCHUK AND KENNETH BRAKER
In the late months of 1988, several Vietnam veterans began
forming a chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America by attending
swap meets and gun shows. After gathering the required 25
members, they were issued a charter by President Mary Stout.
The date of the charter was March 15, 1989.
The first officers
were Ron Hienan, president; Mel Hadfield, vice president;
Ken Braker, treasurer; and Greg Freed, secretary. The first
Board of Directors consisted of Mike Mgority, Walt Eggert,
Tim Sands, Bob Fregeau, Bruce Earl, and Connie Hienin.
of the first places Chapter 17 met was at an American Legion
post in Las Vegas. This did not work out: The hall had a
bar and there was a lot of drinking going on. The meetings
were moved around town to different locations, but always
ended up in bars. The first semi-permanent home was in a
rented storefront in the middle of a shady part of town.
The chapter held fundraisers by throwing BBQs and beer parties
at various locations. But Chapter 17 did nothing to let the
community know that we were around, except to participate
in a few parades.
Tim Sands became president in April of 1996.
At that time, funds from national were used to purchase the
present chapter hall, but not to help veterans. Sands came
to the June 1996 meeting and announced that he and the other
officers would resign. After reading his letter, they all
walked out. The membership had dwindled to about fifteen.
State Council President Virgie Hibbler took over the meeting
and a discussion was held about how to proceed. Ken Braker
was elected and sworn in as president. Bruce Earl became
vice president; Steve Sawchuk was treasurer; and the remaining
seven members were sworn in as board members.
The major problems
of Chapter 17 were alcohol, dissension, and personality conflicts.
These troubles caused the membership to plummet, then rebuild,
only to drop again. Membership has leveled off around the
150 mark, with highs over 500 and lows of only eight people.
There also was a bitter split between the northern Nevada
chapters and the southern chapter, 17. This rift was settled
by Hibbler and Braker, who traveled across the state mending
Sometimes it seems Chapter 17’s greatest accomplishment
has been maintaining its own viability. The years since 1996
have been the most productive. The chapter has been involved
in projects with the Hardrock Café, Candlelighters,
Ronald McDonald House, Angel Flight, Healthy Families Project,
Radio Station 97.1 Turkey Drive, the Christmas toy drive
to benefit Toys for Tots, VSO services, Veterans Incarcerated
Interaction Program, and a multitude of other charitable
donations and services.
In October of 1994, dies were cast
and from them were made the ROTC medals for cadets in high
schools in the Las Vegas Valley. The first medal was issued
to a Rancho High Air Force cadet on May 4, 1995. Today, sixteen
of those medals are awarded to cadets every year.
11, 1994, a memorial was dedicated in Boulder City at the
Southern Nevada Memorial Veterans Cemetery that honors all
those who served in Vietnam.
In 1996, Chapter 17 purchased
a torch that was later carried by Tim Sands, representing
Chapter 17 in the Olympic Games. The torch was carried through
Henderson, Nev., after crossing the Hoover Dam on its way
At the chapter’s first official open house
in January 1997, six $500 checks were donated to community
charities. Chapter members were honored with awards for their
outstanding service to their chapter and to other members.
Since then, we have donated $1,000 to the Boulder City Veterans
Cemetery; $2,000 annually to Chapter 719; supported the Chapter
388 Annual Reflections Banquet; continued the ROTC awards
program; donated $500 to the JWV Dinner for the VA Home;
spent $5,000 three or four Christmases for Shade Tree, Healthy
Families, and Mash Village; $1,000 to the Salvation Army
Food Bank; $3,000 to Wednesday’s Child; $2,500 to the
Nevada Association for the Handicapped; and spent some $2,000
per year at the Hard Rock Café Feed the Homeless Project.
are just some of the funds the chapter has given to community
and veterans’ projects in the last six years.
We also gave a large amount of money to set up the Chapter
17 VSO project to provide services to our members. That included
training five people and purchasing a computer system and
materials for the project.
Oh, did I mention donations for
Thanksgiving and Christmas through radio station 97.1; and
more than $12,000 to the VVA New York State Council for Sept.
11 relief to veterans affected by the tragedy?
The VHP project
came about two years ago to help veterans incarcerated in
Nevada. The VHP program is our latest project and still is
not running at full speed. It is not a project with an end
date because the veterans may be incarcerated for some time.
The main expense has been trips to the northern facilities
where airfare, rooms, rental vehicles, and per diem are required.
not all—of the projects that the chapter
takes on have no return monetary value to them. They are
projects that provide community and veteran support. We do
receive new members, transferring members, and some donations,
but the accumulation of cash is not our goal.
We have helped
the homeless via the Hard Rock Café and
given direct donations to places such as the Key Foundation
and U.S. Vets. We have helped our own members with donations
and the VSO program. We have done a lot of community work
and veteran-assistance work.
The chapter and its leadership
over the last twelve years, since its reorganization, has
been very active for homeless veterans in general and within
the community. Those of us who resurrected the chapter from
the ashes have an overactive sense of ownership and pride
and do not want to see it fall apart again.
is Chapter 17’s treasurer, and for ten
years he has been the editor of Nevada’s Perimeter
Guard, which received the VVA State Newsletter of the Year
award. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1961-64 and in the
Merchant Marine from 1964-67. Ken Braker has served in all
executive positions at the chapter level, including seven
years as Chapter 17 president, and all executive State Council
positions except president. From 1966-87, Braker served in
the U.S. Air Force, with a 1971-72 tour in Vietnam with the
544 Red Horse CES.
Grand Rapids, Mich., Chapter 18: Named For A Hero
By Tom Payne
Chapter 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, received its VVA charter
on April 9, 1982. The chapter’s founders included its
first officers, Bennie W. Vinton, Jerry L. Nelson, and John
C. McKay. The chapter was named the Michael J. Bost Chapter
in honor of the son of an associate member. Michael Bost,
a Grand Rapids native, was a dog handler in Vietnam with
the 42nd Scout Dog Platoon. He was a member of A Company,
1/327th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division when he was
killed in action on May 14, 1967, Mother’s Day—just
three days before his 21st birthday.
he chapter remembers Michael Bost in many ways. Last July
4, for example, chapter members marched in an Independence
Day parade with a dog that resembled the one that Michael
Bost worked with in Vietnam.
From its beginnings twenty-seven years ago, Chapter 18 has
been involved in a wide array of community-service activities.
That includes taking part in a local MS Walk, sponsoring
the appearance of the Moving Wall, doing school presentations,
supporting Special Olympics, working with the local VA clinic,
supporting Gold Star Mothers, and donating holiday food baskets
to the needy.
Last November, in one of many examples, the
chapter coordinated a Thanksgiving Dinner for residents of
the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, with the volunteer help
of members of a local church’s youth group and the
JROTC at Central High School. The dinner was prepared at
the home and served in the evening. Earlier, chapter members
had taken part in the local Veterans Day parade.
J. Bost Chapter 18’s plans for 2008 include
taking part in Memorial and Veterans Day activities, Fourth
of July celebrations, and doing a long list of activities
at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans—all, and more,
in living up to VVA’s motto, “In Service to America.”
Tom Payne is the president of VVA Chapter 18.
Rochester, N.Y., Chapter 20: Looking To Make A Difference
BY KATHY GLEASON, BRUCE McDANIEL, AND FRED ELLIOTT
Rochester, New York’s VVA Chapter 20 was founded by
fifty Vietnam veterans (all from the Agent Orange registry
program) looking to make a difference in the Rochester area. “Forming
our chapter was the way to find meaning, redemption, and
the honor of having served in Vietnam, as well as the camaraderie
that was missing among most who didn’t respect where
we’d been or what we’d done,” said Stirlin
Harris, a founding member.
Chapter 20 was chartered in 1981
and remains one of VVA’s largest and most active chapters.
a service area covering Rochester and six nearby counties
in Western New York, Chapter 20 is comprised of Vietnam-era
veterans from all walks of life and all corners of the community.
The chapter focuses on maintaining a strong, united voice
for resolving issues of vital importance to all Vietnam-era
veterans—locally, statewide, and nationally. The chapter
also provides a positive forum for social and emotional interaction
among its members. In addition, Chapter 20 has adopted many
community-based projects and causes. Through volunteer and
charitable support, the chapter helps dozens of local organizations
carry on all kinds of good work for children, the disabled,
the homeless, and many others.
In 1982, the VVA Chapter 20
Thrift Store was founded and soon became the model for the
VVA National Household Goods Program. Then, in 1985, the
vehicle donation program was formed and, despite changes
in IRS regulations, continues to help fund many programs
The chapter has been an active participant in VVA from the
start, attending the first New York State Council meeting
and providing significant funding to VVA National just a
year after the chapter’s inception. Chapter 20 members
also provided significant input to the first National Conventions
through the constitutional amendment process and through
the writing of significant Convention resolutions. Additionally,
chapter members have always been willing to step up to leadership
positions within the organization at both the state and national
Memorial Day 1984 was cold and rainy but presented
an opportunity for Chapter 20 to show the community that
our members would not be deterred from their mission. Non-veteran
groups had applied for and received permission to participate
in the Memorial Day parade over the objection of the traditional
veterans’ organizations. This so incensed those veterans’ groups
that they refused to march, abandoning the memories of those
who had made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
20’s Board met and, after three hours of debate
and discussion, agreed that not to march would be a travesty.
Heads held high and flags proudly waving, Chapter 20 marched
with some one hundred members.
This commitment to the memory
of all veterans despite outside pressure gained the chapter
respect from the community and other veterans’ groups.
Like most VVA chapters, Chapter 20 has a marching unit and
honor guard to maintain visibility within the community.
The Chapter 20 Honor Guard, in conjunction with the chapter’s
POW/MIA chair and other members, has journeyed for the last
ten years to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,
D.C., for National POW/MIA Recognition Day. We place a wreath
at the apex and offer a prayer. The ceremony also provides
an opportunity to educate curious onlookers about the POW/MIA
After the ceremony at The Wall, the Honor Guard travels
to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respect at the graves
of Rochester-area MIAs whose remains have been repatriated.
On one of those trips, Chapter 20 took a local Gold Star
Mother with them to see her son’s name on The Wall
for the first time. She and her husband have since become
regular participants at chapter events.
In September 2006,
Chapter 20 received news that James Edward Widener, a local
Marine missing in action since 1967, had been identified.
The Chapter 20 Honor Guard was invited by the family to participate
in the burial service at Arlington National Cemetery. Chapter
members and the local community donated money to cover the
expenses of the trip.
The following year, Chapter 20 helped
to welcome home another Rochester MIA. Francis Graziosi had
been listed as missing for 37 years after his helicopter
went down near Chu Lai on his nineteenth birthday. The Chapter
20 Honor Guard was on the tarmac to render a salute as the
casket was removed from the plane. Honor Guard members participated
in casket guard detail at the funeral home and rendered military
honors at the church services and cemetery.
In 1990, a group
was formed to oversee the design and creation of a Vietnam
Veterans Memorial at Highland Park in Rochester. Chapter
20 provided significant funding for the construction of the
Memorial, which was dedicated in 1996. The chapter continues
to conduct Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at this
memorial and many members of Chapter 20 provide tours of
the Rochester Vietnam Veterans Memorial for school groups.
the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, a traveling three-quarter
scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,
D.C., came to Gates Memorial Park in September 2007, Chapter
20 was there. A column of two hundred motorcycles, including
some Chapter 20 members, escorted the truck bringing the
Memorial Wall to the park. The Chapter 20 Honor Guard and
other chapter members participated in ceremonies, gave tours
of the Memorial Wall to school children, and helped visitors
Chapter 20 has hosted a New York State VVA Convention. It
created a voucher program for veterans using the chapter’s
thrift store to provide them with clothing, appliances, and
“I joined when Chapter 20 was formed to help
support local Vietnam veterans,” said Francis Mucha,
a founding member. “I felt very fortunate to have survived
my Vietnam tour and have the life I’ve had while others
I knew did not and others’ lives were cut short. I
met some very capable, courageous, talented, and patriotic
people in Vietnam. I felt such an organization and the dues
I would pay would be put to good use in support of those
veterans in need.”
Publications have played an important
part in the life of Chapter 20. The Forward Observer, created
in the early 1980s, was a literary outlet for the chapter.
Articles covered a wide range of topics, including Agent
Orange, PTSD, the POW/MIA issue, and Southeast Asian refugees.
Book and movie reviews, profiles of chapter members, and
poetry were submitted by readers.
This served a critical function
during the 1980s when many veterans were first coming to
terms with their war experiences and education on veterans’ issues
was vitally needed. But Chapter 20 needed a vehicle to keep
members updated on what was going on in the chapter, and
the Forward Observer came out too infrequently to serve this
function. So another publication, Between the Lines, was
started. It is published monthly and includes reports from
chapter committees and a calendar of events.
The two publications
ran side by side for a time, but eventually the effort required
to put out the Forward Observer could not be sustained. After
1988, the publication was discontinued. Between the Lines
became larger and more sophisticated. Today’s
BTL is a far cry from the simple newsletter it was when it
started. It is mailed out to a list far exceeding the chapter
membership, and it’s posted on the chapter website,
Besides reports and photographs of Chapter
20 activities, it includes information from some incarcerated
chapters. Between the Lines has received multiple VVA Newsletter
of the Year awards.
Chapter 20 has been involved in a variety
of service projects, such as veteran stand-downs, winter
clothing distribution, distributing holiday food baskets,
helping with the Special Olympics, and supporting a Cub Scout
pack. A Veterans Health Outreach was held at a local mall,
at which information was provided on veterans’ benefits,
health issues, PTSD, and VVA membership. Chapter 20 also
has sent packages to troops in the Middle East.
members visit incarcerated VVA chapters at Auburn, Attica,
and Groveland Correctional Facilities. In 2005, Chapter 20
members delivered hats and scarves knitted by members of
Chapter 205 at the Auburn Correctional Facility to two schools
in Rochester, where they were gratefully received.
20 members also know how to relax and enjoy themselves with
events such as family picnics, dinner dances, euchre parties,
Halloween costume parties, and family Christmas parties.
In 2001, the chapter celebrated its twentieth year with a
dinner-dance at which noted Vietnam veteran comic and actor
Blake Clark was the highlight. Then, in 2006, the chapter
held a Silver Celebration dinner to mark the chapter’s
25th anniversary. The keynote speaker was Adrian Cronauer,
the Armed Forces Radio announcer on whom the film Good Morning,
Vietnam was based.
Bill Reddy, a founding member, sums it
up best: “The
formation of VVA Chapter 20 gave me and many others an outlet
to discuss, without fear of criticism, our military experiences.
It was, and is, a very healing organization.”
Kathy Gleason is the wife of Chapter 20’s
chaplain and the editor of the chapter’s newsletter,
Between the Lines. Bruce McDaniel is the former editor of
BTL. Fred Elliott has served on VVA’s National Board
of Directors since 1999. He was elected as an At-large Director
in 1999 and re-elected in 2001. He has served as Region 2
Director since 2003.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Chapter 23: Double Duty
BY DANIEL A. SUFFOLETTA
C.W., a staffer at the local Vet Center asked me in November
1983 to polish some hub caps. I told him that I would do
it and that I worked in a tool and die shop. That was how
my adventure with VVA began.
Meetings progressed, membership
increased. We met at the Vet Center in Oakland Park, Florida.
C.W. Gaffney, Bobby White, Dwight Merrith, and Carol Turner,
along with myself and Robert Britton. Al Rockoff, too.
had various meeting places as we floated around Broward County.
We met at the Unitarian Universalist Church for a while,
then at the Broward County Court House, and eventually at
a DAV chapter in Sunrise, Fla., where a Vietnam veteran was
cooking Sunday breakfasts. He was Al Gauvin, the future Chapter
At a Chapter 23 meeting at the Broward County
Court House in 1982 or 1983, a physician made a shocking
request. He wanted Vietnam veteran volunteers for Agent Orange
These experiments involved the removal of sections
of skin. The doctor offered to pay each veteran-subject $2,000.
Most members objected, including myself. Legally, apparently,
they could do it. Some members signed on, but we never knew
who they were. But who would, unless they were desperate
for the cash?
On November 9, 1984, Chapter 23 rolled up to
Washington, D.C., for the dedication of the Three Servicemen
statue at The Wall. With monies in treasury earned as concession
workers at Dolphins and University of Miami football games,
the chapter had a great trip, which left many fond memories.
The movie Cease Fire premiered in Miami around this time.
Actors Don Johnson and Chris Noel mingled with local veterans.
November 1989, the chapter hosted the Traveling Wall at Port
Everglades. This event brought great local interest. Some
15,000-20,000 people visited the three-day display. Chapter
23 supplied flowers, counselors, and volunteers to look up
names on the Wall.
We just had enough people to staff our
event and work the concession stand at the Orange Bowl. We
did double duty that weekend. We were shocked and delighted
when we realized the U.S. Navy was doing a Port of Call at
Port Everglades the same time. The Navy band played the National
Anthem at the Wall.
We were even more surprised when the Dutch
Navy pulled up, also making a Port of Call. Many Chapter
23 members took advantage of the opportunity to go on board.
Rumor had it that the Dutch sailors had marijuana on board,
and half of our crew disappeared.
To the families who have
stood by Chapter 23 through these times, a great big thank-you.
I cannot imagine where all the days and nights have gone.
Many thanks to Jack Handley, Ed Maxwell, and Jay Ceeism,
who have been instrumental in our chapter’s success.
Suffoletta is a founding member of VVA Chapter 23.
West Palm Beach, Fla., Chapter 25: Building Strong Bonds
BY DENNIS KOEHLER AND TOM COREY
In the summer of 1981, Tom Corey, Jim Lewis, and Dennis Koehler
got together to form Chapter 25 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Corey had been on Phil Donahue with Bobby Muller earlier
that year. When he returned home, Corey checked out the VVA
Chapter starter kit. Lewis was in New York where he met Tom
Bird, the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Theater Company.
Bird told Lewis about VVA and suggested that he contact Corey,
who was looking to form a chapter in West Palm Beach.
worked with Corey at his dining room table reviewing the
paperwork to get that first meeting started. They contacted
Dennis Koehler, then Palm Beach County Commissioner and fellow
Vietnam veteran, about the plans to form a chapter and the
need for a central meeting space. The three hooked up with
a reporter from the Palm Beach Post who wrote a great article
with photos about forming the VVA local chapter.
knew that a Palm Beach County chapter of a new veterans’ service
organization ought to be formed to concentrate on the needs
of Vietnam veterans and their families. The first organizational
meeting was held in the old Palm Beach County Commission
Chambers in the County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach.
Approximately twenty-five people attended this meeting. In
August 1981, the first VVA chapter in Florida was formed.
Corey was elected founding president, and Koehler became
Over the years, VVA Chapter 25 was headquartered
in several locations, including the County Commission meeting
chambers, World War II military barracks (long since demolished),
a commercial building purchased by the chapter, and—since
2003—in the Koehler law offices.
Beginning with Corey,
who went on to serve at the national level from 1985 to 2005,
Chapter 25 has had many energetic and outstanding leaders
who have made significant progress on veterans’ issues
in their communities, in the Florida legislature, and in
the U.S. Congress. In addition to Dennis Koehler, chapter
members who have served in state or local elected office
include former Chapter President Joe Egly, who served three
terms on the Lake Worth City Commission; Frank Sineath, who
served on the West Palm Beach City Commission in the 1980s;
Councilman Hal Valeche, who currently sits on the Palm Beach
Gardens City Council; and State Representative Carl Domino,
twice elected to the Florida House of Representatives.
Chapter 25 Vice President Jerry Klein, who retired to Florida
in 2002, also serves as President of the VVA Florida State
Council. Klein, Koehler, Corey, Terry Kadysczewski, Agnes
Feak, and Jacqui Rector have all served on the VVA National
Board of Directors. Many Chapter 25 members have also served
on national committees. Koehler is the attorney advocate
for Chapter 25 and the Florida State Council on legislative
issues. In 1996, he was named VVA Member of the Year.
25 has been busy at every level of government and on a variety
of matters, including environmental issues, homelessness,
and helping the disabled. The chapter was instrumental in
getting a Vet Center in Palm Beach County to treat veterans
with post-traumatic stress disorder—an issue of increasing
concern for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Chapter 25 also has been active in the accounting
process for our POW/MIAs, supporting children’s sports
programs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and The Children’s
Place. Chapter members distribute gifts in the pediatric
ward at St. Mary’s and Good Samaritan Hospitals during
the holidays, organize fishing trips for children with AIDS,
and for the last three years, have worked hard for the adoption
of assured-funding budget reforms for the VA’s Health
For over 26 years, VVA Chapter 25 has offered
plans to address the needs of veterans who had been forgotten
by their government. We are living history and we will continue
to fulfill the mission. To emphasize its commitment to VVA’s
founding principle, “Never again will one generation
of veterans abandon another,” the chapter is working
with a developer to donate a condominium unit to a disabled
veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan, to be selected by lottery
on Memorial Day 2008.
As Founding President Tom Corey said: “VVA
Chapter 25 has truly been blessed over the years with an
abundance of bright, talented members committed to building
a strong bond between veterans and the public. The fact that
they have stepped forward time and again to take on leadership
roles has kept Chapter 25 solid and active. That is why we
are respected and supported by the community, county commissioners,
mayors, congressional officials, and the Governor.”
its tenth anniversary celebration, Chapter 25 was named the
Thomas H. Corey chapter. “You don’t
often have the opportunity,” Corey quipped, “to
have an organization named after you while you’re still
alive. This was both a surprise and an honor.”
Koehler is a veterans’ advocate and Chapter
25’s founding secretary. Tom Corey was the chapter’s
founding president. He also served VVA nationally from 1985
to 2005—first on the Board of Directors, then as secretary
from 1987-97, as vice-president, and as president, 2001-05.