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Popaditch Book Recounts Life-Altering ExperiencesCover of Popaditch's book, Once a Marine


Blinded Marine Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch, an Operation Peer Support participant at the 62nd National Convention in Albuquerque,is now a published author. His book,Once A Marine, published by Savas Beatieis an inspirational memoir of his combat experiences in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The book is a real-life, no-holds-barred account of what it is like to be a U.S. Marine in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Once A Marine also highlights Nick’s injuries and the courage required of his family during his recovery. Nick was struck in the head by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade during a firefight with enemy insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, on April 7, 2004. The grenade was fired from a rooftop into the commander’s hatch of his tank, resulting in numerous shrapnel wounds to his head and neck. Nick was med-evacuated to Germany and subsequently stateside. His right eye was removed and his remaining eye was declared legally blind. His right ear and nose sustained significant damage and an implant was placed in his skull.

“I am excited about the release of Once A Marine and hope it serves to thank the members of BVA who helped me,” he said. “I hope it gives strength and sound counsel to those who come after me. Thanks for everything you have done for me and my fellow veterans.”

Nick credits BVA members for helping him obtain the help he needed most in his recovery process.

“After I was wounded, some of the first to assist me were blinded veterans,” Nick said. “Navigating the VA system is tricky, but I’ve always received sound advice from those who have gone through this before me.”

BVA members and friends met Nick Popaditch, his wife, April, and Nick, Jr. at the Albuquerque gathering.

Once A Marine has its own website at To view its book trailer, go to

Pilz Shines at USBGA Nationals 

BVA life member George Pilz, Pennsylvania Regional Group, has taken first place in the Senior Division of the U.S. Blind Golf Association’s 63rd Annual National Championship Tournament.

The championships were held September 22-23 at River Bend Links, a three-casino complex in Tunica, Mississippi.

George, a totally blind golfer and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was quick to credit his USBGA coach, John Lucas of New Orleans, as well as Harry Heagy, head golf professional at Edgemont Country Club in Edgemont, Delaware County, where he regularly plays. Both men, he said, have teamed with him many times and have been instrumental in his golfing success.

“When you are totally blind, golf actually becomes a team effort and a team sport,” said George, who also plays golf with Director of District 3 Sam Huhn and other BVA members in Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association competition. “There are plenty of people who have helped me in a very personal way with my golf game and, as everyone knows, without our coaches we would not be playing at all!”

George faced several qualifying rounds through play in the Middle Atlantic Association in order to compete nationally with 20 of the best totally blind senior golfers in the country. His win and the subsequent crystal trophy presentation were especially emotional in view of a promise that his win had fulfilled.

“I made a commitment to my mother before she passed away that I would win a national championship for her,” he said. “So this is no fluke—the practice and preparation I put myself through to win was in recognition of all she did to help me adjust to blindness.”

George was blinded in 1960 in an automobile accident. He attended the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines shortly thereafter and subsequently received a Bachelor’s degree from Ursinus College and a Master of Business Administration from St. Joseph’s University. George’s master’s thesis addressed the role of technology in mainstreaming the blind and visually impaired. He worked for the research division of Western Electric and its offshoots until starting his own company, Vision Tech, Inc., in 1991. Vision Tech addressed the technological needs of the blind and visually impaired.

“George is an amazing person and one of those guys who has been constantly ahead of his time,” said Sam Huhn. “He was one of the first guys I saw jogging on a tether with another person guiding him, and he was also one of the first blind guys to get a talking traffic signal at the corner nearest his home.”

An Impressive Launch for New Cape God Group


BVA’s newly organized and chartered Cape Cod Island Regional Group got off to a quick, running start through a series of fortuitous circumstances and events late last summer.

The group is comprised of 39 members. Shortly after its formation, President Walter “Cliff” Fisher received a telephone call from Region I Field Service Representative Ed Eckroth. Ed informed Cliff that a local Lions Club in Norfolk, based within the confines of the regional group, was engaged in a fund raising motorcycle rally and raffle. He told Cliff that the Lions were interested in donating the proceeds to blinded veterans.

In discussions with Director of District 1 David VanLoan, it was determined that the new regional group could accept all of the funds the Lions would donate.

The September 20 rally had a military theme to honor all veterans, using the motto “Honoring Our Blind Veterans and Celebrating Patriotism!” The ride passed veterans memorials, circumnavigated Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, and cruised through an area considered to be countryside. A barbecue with live music, games, and a raffle followed for a 2008 Victory Kingpin 8-Ball motorcycle.

“We anticipated a donation of a thousand or so dollars to get this group off the ground,” said David VanLoan. “Imagine our shock and deep gratitude when we were invited to the Lion’s meeting on October 28 and received a check for $5,546!”

Norfolk, Massachusetts, Lions Club bike rally gave the new regional group on Cape Cod a much-needed boost. Left to right: Region I Field Service Representative Ed Eckroth, Event Chairman Tom Grant, Director of District 1 David VanLoan, and Norfolk Lions Club President Al Rao. Photo courtesy of Norfolk Lions Club.
Norfolk, Massachusetts, Lions Club bike rally gave the new regional group on Cape Cod a much-needed boost. Left to right: Region I Field Service Representative Ed Eckroth, Event Chairman Tom Grant, Director of District 1 David VanLoan, and Norfolk Lions Club President Al Rao. Photo courtesy of Norfolk Lions Club.

The Cape Cod Island Regional Group is actively seeking out blinded veterans who may be unaware of BVA and the VA services for which they are eligible. Cape Cod and vicinity is an area comprised of a higher than average percentage of retirees.

The group received an additional lift on Veterans Day when Cape Cod Times reporter Karen Jeffrey published a story highlighting Cliff Fisher’s initiative to form the group and get it chartered with the national organization. The headline read: “Vet’s Vision Benefits Cape Colleagues.”

Eckroth Joins FSP Staff


Edward Eckroth has joined the BVA full-time staff as the Field Service Representative for Region I working out of Boston. Ed replaced the retiring Robie MacLauglin early last summer.

Ed brings a wealth of experience in retail management and in working with community volunteer organizations. These include local VFW posts, youth sports, and a local Head Start program, where he served for three years on a policy board and for one of the three years as vice chairman of the board.

Ed lost much of his vision in 2003 to a rare eye disease.

“My disability has given me a great gift,” he said. “I have been able to slow down and look at my goals and life, learning to not take things for granted and to seek out opportunities where I can help others.”

Ed’s work as a Field Service Representative will allow him to do just that as he serves blinded veterans in Region I, which covers Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Ed completed Computer Access Training at the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center and has been accepted in a program for disability services at the University of Pennsylvania.

BVA Scholarships to Assist Blinded Veteran Dependents


BVA will award six Kathern F. Gruber scholarships for the 2009-10 academic year, according to Brigitte Jones, Administrative Director at the Association’s National Headquarters.

The six scholarships are valued at $2,000 each.

The BVA Scholarship Committee will also select three alternates in case any of the awards cannot be subsequently accepted.

Gruber scholarships are limited to spouses and dependent children of blinded veterans, but the blinded veteran in question does not have to be a BVA member. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit by the Committee.

The awards are for a single academic year of study but recipients can re-apply to receive them a second, third, or fourth time.

Requests for scholarship applications can be addressed to BVA National Headquarters, Attn: Kathern F. Gruber Scholarship Program, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. They can also be addressed to Keleeba Scott at 202-371-8880Information and applications are also located at

Completed applications must arrive at BVA National Headquarters no later than Monday, April 13, 2009.

BVAA Announces Funds for 2009-10


The Blinded Veterans Association Auxiliary (BVAA) will award three $2,000 and two $1,000 Renee Feldman scholarships for the 2009-10 academic year. The scholarships are open to the spouses and children of blinded veterans and membership in BVA is not required.

To be eligible for a Feldman scholarship, the applicant must have been accepted at the school of his/her choice. The institution in question may be a vocational school, community college, four-year college, or university.

The fees in all cases are paid directly to the school and are intended to defray the cost of tuition, books, and general fees.

The application process for the scholarships includes supplying information about previous academic achievement, a statement of present goals and plans, a 300-word essay, and letters of reference. Completed application packets must be received no later than Friday, May 1, 2009.

For further information and an application, available in early January 2009, contact Hazel Compton, BVAA Scholarship Chair, P.O. Box 267, Richlands, VA 24641, or by telephone at 276-963-3745.

New Jersey Exhibit Features Naranjo Art


Michael Naranjo, BVA life member from the New Mexico Regional Group and a sculptor now known worldwide, is exhibiting “Visions of the Mind” at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Touch tours for the blind and visually impaired and a lecture by Michael entitled “Touching Beauty” were conducted prior to the exhibition’s opening in late October. The opening coincided with Art Education for the Blind’s “Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month,” conducted annually during the month of October.

“Visions of the Mind” will be on view through April 26, 2009. Additional information about the exhibition and Grounds for Sculpture is available at

Michael is a Native American Vietnam veteran who lost his sight during the war. Learning to make things from clay was a natural outgrowth of his artistic spirit, having been reared by a mother who was a celebrated ceramic artist and who taught her children and grandchildren the art of pottery. His style is relatively simple, consisting of the use of his fingernails to etch the detail in his sculptures. Tools are cumbersome and impractical. Ultimately, if a piece does not feel right to him, he’ll tear it up, perhaps salvaging a single arm or leg.

Michael Naranjo and wife Laurie at the BVA 62nd National Convention Awards Banquet in August 2007.
Michael Naranjo and wife Laurie at the BVA 62nd National Convention Awards Banquet in August 2007.

Michael’s work is found in individual and museum collections around the world, including the Vatican, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and the White House. In 2007, he donated one of his favorite pieces to BVA for auction in order to provide financial support to the BVA 62nd National Convention.

Michael has refined his intuition to the point that he can assess through touch alone whether his pieces have movement, composition, balance, and flow. He is a strong advocate for the opportunity to have and maintain “direct contact with art.”

Grounds of Sculpture is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Florida Group Active in Promoting BVA


The Florida Regional Group kept up its torrid pace in promoting the services available to blinded veterans by actively participating in community and state events relating to the blind and visually impaired.

The Southwest District of the regional group participated in the annual Vision Awareness Walkathon in Lakes Park, City of Fort Myers, on October 11. The walkathon involved 140 walkers attempting to raise funds to benefit the blind and visually impaired.

Only two weeks earlier, Regional Group President Paul Kaminsky and Southwest District Director John Thomas of Saint James City distributed BVA literature at Military Family Appreciation Day festivities in the City of Largo.

Greater Houston Fishing A Big Hit with Members


More than 45 blinded veterans, their escorts, and an Orientation and Mobility Instructor showed up for the Greater Houston Regional Group’s annual fishing trip to Galveston Bay last July.

The activity is one of several premier events sponsored by the group each year. Such events bring about increased camaraderie.

“The vets from the Greater Houston Regional Group love getting out to spend time and share with one another,” said Regional Group President Ronnie Anderson. He also said that the opportunity to catch fish courtesy of Galveston Party boats does not hurt either.

“This year we caught several hammer head sharks, some red fish, and a few trout,” said Ronnie. “It’s great to have the deck hands there to help bait the hooks and then remove the fish once we reel them in.”

Blinded Vets Energized by Revamped Iowa TEE


BVA members attending this year’s TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament September 8-12 in Iowa City, Iowa, received a surprise that left them anxiously anticipating future TEE events more than ever before.

2008 TEE winner Don Grigsby
2008 TEE winner Don Grigsby

“It was announced early in the week that the TEE Tournament is now a national VA-sponsored event,” said Dennis O’Connell, New York Regional Group. “This is exciting news in that funding is now in place to make it not only a permanent fixture but one that can become bigger and bigger.”

The event, now known officially as the National Veterans TEE Tournament hosted by the Iowa City VA Medical Center, has grown from 36 blind and visually impaired participants in 1994 to 117 participants in 2008. In 2002 there was a record 131 participants. The event is now open to male and female veterans who are legally blind or who have orthopedic amputations, use wheelchairs for mobility, or who have been through the Give (Golf for Injured Veterans) Program.

In addition to golf, participants have typically bowled during their week in Iowa City. In 2006, horseshoe tossing was added to the tournament’s activities. Some 250 volunteers from the VA Medical Center staff and Iowa City community serve as golf buddies, sighted guides, food servers, and casino night helpers. In addition to the support of VA and several other generous private contributors, the TEE Tournament is also now sponsored by Help Hospitalized Veterans.

The 2008 TEE Tournament winner was Don Grigsby, a member of BVA’s Ohio Regional Group.

Agency Head Greets BVA Directors in DC


Jonathan Scharfen, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), invited BVA’s Executive Director and two Department Directors to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC, for a September 16 meeting.

The focus of the meeting, which included Tom Miller, Steve Matthews, and Tom Zampieri, was potential employment opportunities for blinded veterans within USCIS. Discussion centered on technology that makes those with vision loss more employable than ever before.

“We are determined to actively seek out disabled veterans that can be successfully employed within our agency nationwide,” Scharfen said during the meeting. “We are particularly mindful of the opportunities that may be available to our service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Tom Zampieri expressed optimism that BVA could assume an important role in helping recently blinded veterans train for and find gainful employment.

“Employment issues may well become increasingly important to BVA in the near future as we add members from the OIF and OEF conflicts,” he said. “I believe this is something we will need to have on our front burner for many years to come.”

George Myers Celebrates New Hometown Memorial


The Fourth of July 2008 was an especially memorable holiday for Arkansas Regional Group President George Myers with the dedication of a new veterans memorial in his small town of St. Vincent, Arkansas.

Accompanied by other town dignitaries, George spoke at the dedicatory services, thanking the community for the memorial and expressing what it means to the town’s veterans that generations of the future will now see something that honors them.

George Myers stands to the side of his own name and that of his father, Henry, both of which are etched on a new veterans memorial in the rural town of St. Vincent, Arkansas.
George Myers stands to the side of his own name and that of his father, Henry, both of which are etched on a new veterans memorial in the rural town of St. Vincent, Arkansas.

The memorial consists of two marble slabs, divided by a flagpole of some 25 feet and engraved with names of all who have served in every branch of service and for whom the town has a record, including Army veterans George Myers and his father, Henry Myers. The slabs also include a few OEF and OIF service members.

“This small community of 150 families has always been a patriotic community,” said George. “You see relatives’ names going all the way back to the Spanish-American War.”

At the outbreak of World War II, 75 families sent 21 of their sons into the service. All returned but one.

The memorial was placed in front of the town’s Catholic Church, a gathering point in the town for a number of functions. As traffic passes by on Highway 95, drivers can clearly see the spotlight shining on both the marble slabs and the U.S. flag.

The dedication included a larger-than-usual Independence Day picnic celebration—hot dogs, hamburgers, lemonade, iced tea, homemade ice cream, and a large fireworks display after dark.

Bake sales, rummage sales, donations, and many other sacrifices by citizens of St. Vincent made the memorial possible.

Poet Dedicates Book to General Weeks


Published author and poet Mary McManus has dedicated the audio recording of her book of inspirational poetry to General Weeks.

The name of the publication is New World Greeting: Inspirational Poetry and Musings for a New World. Mary also appears on radio talk shows and blogs to discuss how the gift of poetry has become a healing force in her life.

Mary’s audio recording dedication, which is a tribute to General, occurred when she began recording the book at the Perkins Talking Book Library on November 4. The recorded version will be available shortly through the Talking Book Library and will also be on sale on CD.

Mary also wrote a poem to General that was read at his funeral and reproduced in the Summer 2008 issue of the Bulletin . She was formerly a VIST Coordinator at the Boston VA Medical Center.