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January / February 2008

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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?”

In 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.

Bodette’s plainly 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 veteran activist.

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 Bodette.

Early Years
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.

Jacobsen, still 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, he said.

“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.”

Early 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 said.

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.

A 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 before Congress.

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.

Inquiring 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 that.

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 MEMORIAL
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.

Surrounding and 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.

A third 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 County.

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 being “Chapter 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 monthly meetings.

Nevertheless, and thanks to our income source, we’re 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.

The Future
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 State Council.

Megrath established the Chapter 1 website, www.vvachapter1.com He’s 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 military experiences.

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 Roll.

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 action.

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 Memories
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.

Beyond 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 the cause.

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.

The 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 games.

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 sister city.

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.

The following 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

Today, 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 To ServiCE
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.

Immediately, 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 Capital District.

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 and food.

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 home—again.

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 its own.

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.

The 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.

Around 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.

Detroit 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.

Most 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.

Under 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.

As Vietnam 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.

Mike Sand 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.

Chapter 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 Cincinnati area.

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:

  1. Form a scholarship fund and offer academic scholarships to veterans and their family members.
  2. Lobby for veterans’ issues at the local and national levels.
  3. Be actively involved in civic issues and educate the general public on patriotism and veterans’ issues.
  4. Provide a comfortable gathering place for veterans and their families.
  5. Develop a program in schools to educate students on history, patriotism, and the issues of the Vietnam War era.
  6. 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.

Chapter 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 homeless veterans.

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.

In the 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.

The 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.

Three other 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 Community Center.

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.

Then, in 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.

They 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.

As 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 John O’Brien.

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.

Over 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.

Current and 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 were issued.

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 Vets.”

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.

Vic Cicconetti 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 behind.

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.

In 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 kept.

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.

What 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.

Enraged 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.

The 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.

In 1991, 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 veterans’ issues.

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.

This continuity 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.

Several members 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.

The chapter 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.

Indicative 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.

BOD 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 process.

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 years.

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.

Our membership 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.

Our 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.

Bill 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.

Recently, 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 in 2007.

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 serve.

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.

Our members 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 Principle: “Never 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.

One 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.

Nevada 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 fences.

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.

On November 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 to Atlanta.

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.

These 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.

Many—if 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.

Steve Sawchuk 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.

VVA Michael 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.

With 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 and organizations.
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 levels.

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.

Chapter 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 issue.

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.

When 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 locate names.
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 furniture.

“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, www.vva20.org

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.

Chapter 20 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.

Chapter 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.”

AVVA member 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.

We 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 23 president.

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 experiments.

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.

In 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.

Dan 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.

Lewis 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.

Koehler also 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 chapter secretary.

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.

Today, 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.

Chapter 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 Care Programs.

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.”

During 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.”

Dennis 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.

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