|Vietnam Veterans of America|
VVA chapters across the country have had to made accommodations with their community-service activities during the pandemic. But that didn’t stop many chapters from reaching out to help the less fortunate in their communities, especially during the holiday season. Here are some examples.
Dean K. Phillips Memorial Chapter 227 in Northern Virginia, which celebrated its 35th anniversary last October, provided a $100 gift card for emergency groceries for a local veteran and her child; along with a $500 grant in partnership with another local VSO to cover a veteran’s delinquent mortgage payment; and a $1,000 grant in the form of a check to the VVA Louisiana State Council’s Hurricane Relief Fund to help veterans and their families.
Overall in 2020, Chapter 227 donated some $25,000 to needy veterans and active-duty personnel and their families. After the pandemic forced the VVA national office to make staff cutbacks, the chapter donated $3,000 to the organization to “help weather the storm,” Chapter President Jay Kalner said.
During the Christmas season Wayne County, Indiana, Chapter 777—carrying on a 20-year tradition—collected donations for its annual holiday gift basket program. The chapter then distributed about a hundred baskets of food to local veterans in need. Each contained a turkey breast or small ham, along with vegetables, potatoes, and other food items designed for a holiday meal. The veteran recipients and their families were chosen from a list provided by health care nurses at the VA’s Richmond, Indiana, Community Based Outpatient Clinic.
In 2020 North East South Dakota Chapter 1054 donated some $26,000 to local veterans in need and organizations that support veterans. That included $2,000 to the new State Veterans Cemetery in Sioux Falls, $2,250 worth of ROTC scholarships, and $1,000 to the Salvation Army in Watertown during the holiday season.
“We put particular emphasis on donations made to vets in need this Christmas,” said Chapter President Jerry Denman. Every year Veteran Service Officers in the chapter’s nine-county area “are asked to help by requesting an appropriate number of confidential gift cards for veterans they identify as really needing some help at Christmas time, not just Vietnam vets,” he said. “It’s been the privilege of Chapter 1054 to supply those gift cards for quite a few years now. For Christmas 2020 this effort amounted to giving over $17,000.”
Utica, New York, Chapter 944 last year provided more than 200 masks to state probation officers through the New York State Council of Probation Administrators. The chapter’s other community donations in 2020 went to Clear Path for Veterans, an Upstate New York VSO that provides an array of services for veterans and their families; The Country Pantry, a large local food pantry for families and individuals in need; and the Masonic Care Community of New York. The chapter also provided lunches and distributed masks to nurses at five local hospitals, including the Intensive Care Units at Oneida, St. Luke’s, and St. Elizabeth Hospitals in Utica.
On Veterans Day, New York State Sen. John Liu honored former Queens, New York, Chapter 32 President Michael O’Kane with a Proclamation for his Service to Veterans.
Incarcerated Chapter 1080, at the Union Correctional Institution in Florida, late last year made a $600 donation to Clay Behavioral Health Center’s Kids First program, a nonprofit that provides mental health and substance abuse services in Clay County. The funds supported the center’s drive-through Christmas event for children. Florida State Council 1st Vice President Gary Newman, Chapter 1080’s VVA adviser, presented the check to the Kids First program.
Orange Park, Florida, Col. William G. Byrns Chapter 1059, working with CenterState Bank, in December donated several carloads of supplies to benefit homeless students in Clay County. The chapter’s members and AVVA members collected socks, toiletries, food, scarves, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and other goods, and distributed them to the homeless students at Clay, Orange Park, and Middleburg High Schools. The chapter wanted to make sure the homeless students “have something to eat,” said Mary Anne Newman, the Florida State AVVA president and an AVVA member of Chapter 1059. “Remember, our goal is not only to help all veterans, but also our local community.”
The branch manager of the local CenterState Bank, Michele Riley, thanked the chapter, saying she was “absolutely amazed at the sheer volume of food, clothing, and toiletries” the chapter collected. “I am so appreciative of you and your group’s generosity. This has certainly brightened my holiday, as well as that of so many others.”
The chapter also continued its support of the local Food Pantry, collecting more than 240 pounds of food for the pantry and donating $250.
In early December Morristown, Tennessee, Chapter 1073 donated $500 to Morristown-Hamblen Central Services, a nonprofit emergency food pantry, to provide food boxes to veterans during the holiday season. The chapter also donated a large amount of clothing to Central Services. Helping to pay for the veterans’ food boxes “is part of our job,” said chapter member Robert Russell. “We usually give to the homeless at the VA, but they won’t let us bring anything up there right now. They don’t want anything that could possibly be contaminated. We’ve had this clothing stored for quite some time,” and Central Services “said that they could use it.”
Two days before Veterans Day last year members of New Bern, North Carolina, Floyd H. Austin, Jr., Chapter 886 held their annual Field of Flags display in New Bern, raising a record 896 American flags throughout the city. On Veterans Day the chapter delivered cupcakes and goodie bags to veterans at the Riverstone Assisted Living facility in New Bern. Nineteen chapter members held a wreath-laying ceremony at New Bern National Cemetery on December 20. Two days later chapter member Gary Gillette delivered a Christmas cake to the residents and staff of Riverstone Assisted Living. He presented it to the facility’s director outside the front door as visitors are prohibited from entering the building because of the pandemic.
In November and December members of Lebanon, Tennessee, Chapter 1004 packed and distributed dozens of food boxes for families of local veterans in need for Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Vietnam vets were not treated well when they came back,” Chapter President Mike Myers told a local TV station. “We’re just trying to help other veterans so they won’t have to go through what we went through.”
The boxes contained turkey, green beans, corn, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, stuffing mix, peas, and other vegetables. “We purchase a lot of it and a lot is donated,” Myers said. “We also have cash donations. What we don’t have, we purchase. If a veteran needs food, we’re not letting them go without it. It continues on all year. We also help with utilities.”
Benny Gutierrez, a member of Butte County, California, Chapter 582, served as a crew chief and door gunner on a UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopter in Vietnam with D Troop of the 2nd Squadron in the First Cavalry Division. He has created a mural featuring the Huey, which he displays at parades and military events in honor of his fellow First Cav troopers. (See “Parting Shot”)
After taking part in Veterans Day ceremonies at Stuart Memorial Park, Martin County, Florida, Chapter 1041 President Lew Jones presented a $2,000 donation to Stuart-based Southeast Florida Honor Flight, which transports local World War II and Korean and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the national veterans memorials.
Members of Port St. Lucie, Florida, Chapter 566 picked up and delivered Thanksgiving meals to 16 local veterans’ families in need. The chapter also gave each family a $50 Publix Super Market gift card.
Because of the pandemic, Huntington, West Virginia, Tri-State Chapter 949 decided not to hold its annual Veterans Day parade at the Memorial Arch in Huntington. Instead, the chapter, led by President Ron Wroblewski, hosted a car caravan to honor veterans in Western West Virginia. Chapter members’ and supporters’ cars lined up in the parking lot of the Ceredo FoodFair supermarket at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, then moved out through Huntington, Barboursville, and Ona, before ending in Milton.
WREATHS & TOYS
Many VVA chapters took part in the annual Wreaths Across America and Toys for Tots programs in December. That list includes ceremonies conducted by Florida’s Big Bend Chapter 96, led by President Joe West at Tallahassee National Cemetery; Lee County Firebase Chapter 594 at Coral Ridge Cemetery in Cape Coral; Jacksonsville Chapter 1046 led by President Tony D’Aleo and Albert Long at Jacksonville National Cemetery; Daytona Beach Chapter 1048 under President Rod Phillips at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ormond Beach; and Orange Park Col. William G. Byrns Chapter 1059, led by President David Treffinger at Holly Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Middleburg.
Around the country Wreaths Across America events were held by—among others—Sierra Nevada Chapter 989 in Reno, Nevada, at the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Fernley; Burley, Idaho, Chapter 1144 led by President Chuck Driscoll at the View Cemetery in Burley; Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757 at the W.J. Ward Memorial Cemetery in Brookings; Elmira, New York, Chapter 803, led by President Larry Sherman at Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira; President Jim Oakes of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Chapter 717 at the Calvary Cemetery in Perry Township; and the Gibson County Chapter 1124 Color Guard at Oakland Cemetery in Trenton, Tennessee.
The VVA chapters that collected and donated toys and money to the Marine Corps Reserves’ 2020 Toys for Tots program included East Bay, California, Chapter 400; Kent County, Delaware, Chapter 859; and Indian River County Chapter 1038 in Vero Beach, Florida, which collected bicycles for the program. St. Johns County, Florida, Leo C. Chase Chapter 1084 worked with the county Marine Corps League Detachment to distribute the toys at the W.E. Harris Community Center in Hastings. All told, more than 65 local children received Toys for Tots Christmas gifts.
“In Honor of All Those We Lost in Vietnam and All Those We Lost Because of Vietnam.” Those are the words engraved on the front panel of the newly dedicated black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument at the Centreport Aqueduct Park in Brutus, New York. The dedication of the memorial was the culmination of ten years of research and fundraising by Cayuga County Chapter 704 in Auburn. It features two panels dedicated to those who lost their lives in the war, including 29 local service members. Other panels depict the history of the American war in Vietnam and honor those who came home from the war and later died due to their Vietnam War service.
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