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thedrifter
04-09-06, 10:02 AM
Article published Apr 9, 2006
Veterans discover new ways to serve
By Bob Gabordi
EXECUTIVE EDITOR

I wasn't really sure what I had to say to men and women like Maj. John Haynes, U.S. Marines Corps (retired).

Haynes now spends most of his time helping disabled veterans and their families after they are denied benefits from the Veterans Administration. He served America during World War II and now faces his own serious medical issues with the same kind of courage he showed a different kind of enemy 61 years ago in China.

There I was at the Silver Slipper, just a little nervous, standing in front of a whole roomful of people like Maj. Haynes, men and women for whom the word "hero" was invented. I had been invited to speak to members of the Tallahassee Chapter-Military Officers Association of America.

Earlier in the evening, I was introduced to a man, Col. Walter G. Frauenheim Jr., U.S. Army (retired), who had fought in one of America's most desperate moments of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

In the room were admirals and generals, colonels and majors, officers with all kinds of brass from all branches of the service. The stories they wrote were some of the most important in world history. And now, there I was, ready to talk with them about . . . what?

I began with thank you, acknowledging their sacrifices in protecting the rights of free speech and press. I told them I am the son of a Korean War veteran. My dad was seriously wounded in a missile attack. I'm also the stepson of a Navy chief who served two tours of duty in Vietnam aboard the USS Intrepid.

Their collective sacrifices awe and overwhelm me. Because of the sacrifices they made to keep those freedoms, we need to keep fighting for the Bill of Rights. I urged them to stand up still for the First Amendment and our other freedoms, especially when government officials today so casually trample upon those rights.

The officers reminded me that there is a greater purpose to those freedoms they fought to protect. They asked me to use those freedoms to help them get their message out to the public and in their continued service to their country.

It is the least I can do, of course.

"This is an outstanding group of people," said Col. Luther Vaughn, president of Tal-MOAA, and a retired Army Special Operations officer from the Vietnam era. He should know. He was one of those men known as the Green Berets, as the '60s' era song suggested, America's best.

One of Vaughn's biggest concerns - and those of other veterans' organizations - has to do with aging. Simply, fewer young veterans are signing up for groups like the VFW and MOAA, perhaps a sign of the overall changing culture in America, where community involvement is less valued.

That is a sad state of affairs, though. These organizations are more than social gatherings. They are a strong voice for veterans on issues such as military benefits, medical care and so forth. They raise their collective voices to fight to make government keep its promises.

They also do important community services by raising money for high school JROTC programs, college scholarships and community awards for citizenship and leadership.

These folks never quit serving. Haynes, for example, joined the military in time to be a part of the legendary China Marines. When he arrived in China at the end of the war in 1945, he was charged with accepting Japanese soldiers into captivity. He confesses to perhaps skirting the minimum-age rules when he joined up.

Now he volunteers to work with veterans and their widows during their most trying moments helping them after they were turned down for benefits. He works through the system, cuts the red tape, and gets answers, up or down.

If such people need my assistance, it's the least I can do.

"We just need help to contact more people, letting them know what we do and how they can get involved. Radio, television and newspapers - the media - can help us. We know we're not getting everyone," said Col. Vaughn.

Want more information or want to help? Call Col. Vaughn - day or night, he said - on his cell phone at (850) 545-0936.

Ellie