16th National Convention Hosts:
BY MARY BRUZZESE
VVA’s 16th National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, will be hosted by Nicholas J. Cutinha Chapter 1046 in Duval County and Clay County Chapter 1059. Although both chapters are very youngChapter 1046 was chartered in October 2010 and Chapter 1059 in January 2012both are committed to improving the lives of veterans of all eras.
Last November Chapter 1046 renamed itself to honor Fernandina Beach native and Medal of Honor recipient Nicholas J. Cutinha, who was killed in Vietnam on March 2, 1968, during a mission near Gia Dinh with C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Cutinha was posthumously awarded the MOH in April 1970 for saving the lives of nine fellow soldiers.
November also marked Chapter 1046’s participation in the first Jacksonville Week of Valor, a week-long, city-sponsored series of events honoring active duty military and veterans. The chapter participated in the annual Veterans Day ceremony; provided the primary honor guard at the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts Military Appreciation NFL game; attended the dedication of the local Marine and Navy Corpsmen Memorial; and attended a Veterans Salute.
In February the chapter honor guard took part in a Tet Festival held by local Vietnamese. Chapter members also set up a table displaying Vietnam War memorabilia.
“Some of the Vietnamese had been there during the war,” Chapter 1046 Public Affairs Director Les Bertrand said. “So they told their stories, and we told ours.”
Along with many other initiativessuch as supporting local JROTC programs, presenting at local high schools and libraries, and participating in local POW/MIA eventsChapter 1046 members do a lot to take care of their fellow Jacksonville-area veterans.
“Many of them are on the fence about their service,” Bertrand said. “It was a major trauma. It helps them to talk to someone who knows what they went through. Many Vietnam veterans in the area have medical problems, and we want to help them learn about these problems and the benefits they can get.” One chapter member is in the process of getting certified as a veterans service officer.
“Our goal is to make all veterans feel welcome,” Chapter 1046 President Tony D’Aleo said. “That wasn’t the case when we came home, so we’re jumping in to change things now.”
The chapter has participated in two homeless stand downs. In May several Chapter 1046 members attended a World War II Veterans Appreciation Day dinner at a senior and assisted living residence. The chapter honor guard presented the colors at the event.
Chapter 1046’s major project is to erect a Vietnam veterans monument at the Jacksonville National Cemetery, which they hope to have completed by the end of March 2014. The chapter is raising all the funds for the monument. The chapter has received approval to have the monument built, and the design phase is underway.
Gary Newman, originally a member of Chapter 1046, saw a need for a chapter in his home county, so he founded and is the current president of Clay County, Florida, Chapter 1059. Although little more than a year old, the chapter has grown quickly and is extremely active.
The chapter regularly puts on barbeques for the residents and staff of the Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans’ Nursing Home in St. Augustine. The chapter also regularly collects toiletries, towels, socks, and the like and puts together “survival bags” for the local needy.
In April Chapter 1059 attended its second ten-day Clay County Agricultural Fair. The chapter was the first veterans service organization to set up a booth at the event. On Memorial Day chapter members decorated veterans’ graves with flags at Holly Hill Memorial Park and Mausoleum.
The chapter’s proudest accomplishment, however, is that it was instrumental in bringing together all the VSOs in the county to form the Clay County Veterans Council in September 2012. Paul Haws, Jr., vice president of Chapter 1059, chairs the council, and Newman is the council’s vice chair. “It’s new; it’s exciting,” Haws said. “We work with the county manager and board of commissioners to ensure our veterans are getting all the county services they deserve,” Newman added.
In September Chapters 1046 and 1059 co-hosted and sponsored an Agent Orange Town Hall Meeting in Jacksonville to educate veterans and their families about the intergenerational impact of Agent Orange. (See “Florida’s Agent Orange Rock Star Tour,” November/December 2012.) Both chapters donated money to offset the travel costs of the meeting’s panelists. The chapters provided refreshments, manned the registration table, distributed literature, and publicized the meeting.
For five days in early May the Junior BETA Club of Green Cove Springs Junior High School hosted the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. Several Chapter 1059 members and one Chapter 1046 member, along with members of other local VSOs, provided continuous security for the Traveling Wall. Members of Chapter 1046 also were on hand to help people locate names on the Wall.
Both chapters are involved with the Jacksonville Veterans Court mentor program. Eight Chapter 1046 members and one Chapter 1059 member are mentors, each having committed to one year working with a formerly incarcerated veteran to help him or her reenter society.
At the Convention both chapters will have members manning merchandise booths and will operate a van to get Convention attendees around Jacksonville. Chapter 1046 will have its honor guard at the opening ceremonies. The two chapters also arranged for a few local former Vietnam War POWs to attend the POW/MIA ceremony.
“We are really looking forward to having everyone enjoy our city,” D’Aleo said. “Jacksonville is a great military city.”
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