Mississippians Unite to Help Fellow Blinded Veteran
Standing at front, Steve Braddock from Life Church; second row, left to right, Mississippi Regional Group President Maury Lunn, blinded veteran Neal Woods and wife Annie; back row, BROS Trey Selma, and VIST Coordinator Harold Miller. Annie’s mother “Miss Etta” is seated on the porch in the background.
When VA Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Trey Stelma visited the home of blinded veteran Neal Woods in rural Louin, Mississippi, he immediately thought of a way he could go the extra mile to help Neal, his wife, and his 91-year-old mother-in-law.
Trey noted a few large holes in the wooden porch and recognized that a potentially dangerous condition existed and that prompt action was needed. He returned to the medical center and informed his co-workers and Mississippi Regional Group President Maury Lunn.
“I got Robby Bush, a retired Jackson District Fire Chief, to spearhead the project and utilized volunteers from Life Church of Flowood, from my own family, and VA to help with the work,” said Maury. “In little time we replaced Neal’s porch so that all three members of the family can now enjoy sitting in the cool of the day on their new porch.”
According to Maury, a substantial donation from Sam’s Club in the City of Pearl and The Home Depot in Brandon helped with the cost of materials.
Vets Compete in Horseshoes at Florida State Convention
For the fourth year in a row, members of the Florida Regional Group attending their state convention at the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, competed against one another in horseshoes. The tournament took place April 30 on a sandy beach near the hotel.
David Dixon of Daytona Beach took top honors in the totally blind division, defending his title from the previous year. David is a former staff sergeant who flew secret 24-hour missions around the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Blinded veteran Ralph Cantrell helps fellow vet Dominick Sileo of Port Orange line up his shot at state convention horseshoe competition. Photo courtesy of Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Players earned points when the horseshoe landed within the PVC frame, extra points when the shoe touched the target pipe, and even a few additional points for a ringer.
This year’s beach horseshoe pitching tournament was covered as a local news item in the Daytona Beach News-Journal on May 1 by staff writer Audrey Parente.
BVA of PA Presents Stipends at Overbrook
BVA National Vice President Sam Huhn represented the BVA of Pennsylvania Regional Group as he presented stipends to two graduating seniors at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. The awards for academic achievement occurred May 28 as part of Memorial Day and Achievement Day ceremonies for the school’s seniors.
Overbrook Director Gerald Kitzhoffer noted that Pennsylvania members had been presenting the stipends to the school as a tradition since 1970 and that Sam himself had been involved for the past 18 years.
“This year they also presented me with a history book of the school,” said Sam. “One of the articles was about blinded veterans from World War I who came to Overbrook to learn Braille and other skills such as piano tuning and chair caning which of course, aside from Orientation and Mobility, were two of the most important job-training skills of the pre-computer era.”
Sam said the book further noted that the same programs were afforded to blinded veterans from World War II. It included names and photos of many of the early members of the regional group.
Overbrook School for the Blind, founded in 1832, offers programs from early childhood through high school. The school’s mission is to develop and deliver education that enhances the options available for persons with visual impairment so that they have the greatest opportunity to experience active and fulfilling lives. Its building and grounds are modeled after an old Spanish mission.
Brummells Appear at Riverfront Revolution
George Brummell, Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, was an honored guest at a May 14-15 physical health, fitness, and wellness extravaganza just outside Washington, DC.
Peter Hartsock and George Brummell at Riverfront Revolution on May 15.
The second annual Riverfront Revolution, held at the new National Harbor that borders Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, featured guest speakers and seminars the first day and outdoor festivities and races the second day.
George and his wife, Mary, were invited personally to the conference by organizer Greg Taylor through mutual friend Peter Hartsock for their inspiring examples of health and wellness amid setback and adversity.
During the first day, George addressed attendees on the topic “Shades of Darkness,” the same title as his recent book. He attended the outdoor 5K, 10K, and mile run the second day and took a short tandem bike ride with Taylor to demonstrate that biking is both possible and potentially enjoyable for a blind person. George was also introduced to the crowd several times with special references to his tandem bike journey throughout Vietnam back in 1999.
Arlington Wreath-Laying Highlights Memorial Day
BVA Executive Director Tom Miller and National Field Service Program Director Steve Matthews braved the sweltering Memorial Day heat at high noon to present a BVA wreath at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns May 31.
“This turned out to be one of the more difficult weather days we have experienced out at Arlington, especially as we waited in the sun for our turn in line to present our wreath,” said Tom.
Members of the National Native American Veterans Association (NNAVA) joined BVA and a host of other VSOs in traditional wreath laying following amphitheater ceremony on Memorial Day. NNAVA also performed this year’s Parade of Colors to open the ceremony.
The wreath laying at Arlington by participating VSOs on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day is a long-standing tradition. Intertwined with the walking and changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the wreath presentations occurred following the annual ceremony in the Cemetery’s amphitheater directly behind the Tomb.
Remarks at this year’s ceremony were by Vice President Joseph Biden, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn, III, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen. The U.S. Navy Band played a musical interlude while the Navy Sea Chanters performed “American Anthem.”
Texas Veteran Finally Receives Bronze Star
BVA Rio Grande Regional Group member Jacinto Romo, 86, received a Bronze Star for meritorious service in World War II on June 16. The award should have been bestowed in the 1940s.
Jacinto’s Army unit landed at Anzio, Italy, where he ran supplies back and forth from a ship to land-based comrades. According to his service record, he also participated in the capture of a German unit near Montepiano, Italy, leading to a break in the German defense line.
An “administrative oversight” caused Jacinto to be bypassed for the medal for 66 years. It was at last secured with the help of Historian William Stegall. The two met while Jacinto was doing volunteer work for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. It took Stegall five years to dig up the records necessary to prove that the award was deserved.
Jacinto had already been the recipient of a Silver Star, America’s third-highest honor for combat valor, and two Purple Hearts for wounds received in war.Common war experiences included digging foxholes in which to sleep while mortar shrapnel spattered across the ground. On one occasion in a foxhole, his legs became so cold and immoveable that he had to be taken out on a stretcher. For a time, amputation seemed to be the only answer before full circulation resumed.
Jacinto was discharged from the Army’s 53rd Quartermaster Battalion in November 1945.
Harry Troop Featured on Daily’s Front Page
Harry Troop, North Carolina Regional Group and a BVA member for nearly 40 years, was generous in his praise of BVA and what the organization does for blinded veterans in a front-page Sunday story in his local daily newspaper, the Salisbury Post. The article by Shelley Smith, which included two photos, ran on April 11.
A World War II veteran, Harry described the struggle he experienced in finding a job upon returning from the war.
“There was considerable prejudice against blind people in the 1950s,” he is quoted as saying, emphasizing the fact that he was not injured during the war but, as a result of his service, developed optic atrophy, which causes fibers of the optic nerve to become smaller. Harry began losing his vision in the fall of 1946 before his discharge.
Harry credited BVA, both the national organization and his local chapter, for providing him with the support he needed to face daily challenges and adversity. He also outlined his past service as vice president of the North Carolina Regional Group and as president and vice president of the Southern Piedmont Chapter. He is currently the chapter’s sergeant-at-arms.
“The article turned out to be much more than I expected, and it was certainly a great way to get our organization’s name out to the public,” said Harry. “The reporter included a surprising number of details about me and about BVA.”
Harry is a native of Kansas but moved to Rowan County, North Carolina, with his wife, Oleta, in 1954. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and a Master’s degree from Kansas State University. He worked for the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind for 30 years.
Ceremony Recognizes BVA Regional Group Officer
Michigan Regional Group Treasurer Richard Krasnodemski was among the guests and VSO leaders invited to a ceremony honoring veterans June 21 in the Tuskegee Airman Hangar Bay at the Coleman A. Young International Airport (formerly Detroit City Airport).
Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI-13) hosted the event in cooperation with Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal.
“It is a great occasion when veterans are thanked for their service,” said Richard. “The Congresswoman and Dr. Westphal also expressed appreciation for our organizations and what they do locally and nationally.”
Also present at the approximately 90-minute ceremony were Michigan representatives of the American GI Forum, the American Legion, AMVETS, Catholic War Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Marine Corps League, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Polish Legion of American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
Kilpatrick and Westphal presented all of the attending representatives with a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol Building in honor of their organizations’ compassionate, competent, and committed service in ensuring that Michigan veterans and their families receive the benefits they need and deserve.
Nice Dividends for Gumbo Cook-Off
For the third consecutive year, three members of the Greater Houston Regional Group and their spouses once again competed in a Houston-area gumbo cook-off, this time seizing the People’s Choice Award.
Left to right, Ronnie and Sharon Anderson, George and Martina Boe, Herb and Rae Robchaux excelled yet again at Harris County gumbo cook-off.
The cook-off was part of the 15th annual Crawfish Festival held April 9-10 at Clear Lake Park’s Landolt Pavilion in Harris County, Texas. Other festival activities included crawfish eating contests, live entertainment, a silent auction, arts and crafts booths, and games for the children.
The contestants were Ronnie and Sharon Anderson, George and Martina Boe, and Herb and Rae Robchaux.
“We use these opportunities first and foremost to distribute information about BVA and blinded veterans,” said regional group president Ronnie Anderson.
Ronnie reported finding three veterans during the cook-off who knew nothing about BVA or services provided by VA.
“We gave to all three information on what is available to them, as well as our own contact information,” said Ronnie. “I have already seen one of them come through the VISOR office!”
Other upcoming regional group activities with an outreach opportunity include several Houston Astro baseball games, the Galveston fishing trip, a three-day hot-air ballooning event at NASA, a Veterans Day barbecue, and the Christmas party.
FSP Director Lauds Volunteers
BVA Field Service Program Director Steve Matthews has issued a special statement to recognize the dedicated service of the Association’s numerous volunteers nationwide.
“During this landmark 65th anniversary year, we take this opportunity to offer a special thank you to the many Volunteer National Service Officers. Our VNSOs do an exceptional job of assisting our regular service officers, who in turn assist our blinded veterans on a one-to-one basis. All of the dedicated sacrifice of time and effort makes things a little easier for our blinded veterans who are navigating the very difficult VA bureaucracy.”
Book Published by Yet Another BVA Member
Regular Bulletin readers are undoubtedly aware of a number of books written and published by BVA members over the past five years.
The latest, entitled A Warrior Remembers: The Viet Cong Hunt Club, was authored by C.W. Reno Miles of the New York Regional Group. The book chronicles the activity of an elite unit of combat specialists in Vietnam who were not subject to the military policy “No fire unless fired upon.” The unit was appropriately nicknamed “The Shadow Walkers.”
C.W. served in Vietnam during 1965-66. He is 100 percent service connected for blindness as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. He first noticed his vision loss in 1993 and at present has about 8 percent of his sight remaining.
C.W. started writing a short story in late 2005 as a means of self-therapy. The motivation to convert the story into a book eventually worthy of publication came from his wife, Julie Troii.
Florida Veteran Creates Last Supper Engravings
Willie Menendez, Florida Regional Group, has found a way to give back to others less fortunate through a significant skill he learned at the West Palm Beach BRC.
Willie has donated 20-25 handmade copper engravings of his rendition of “The Last Supper” to both churches as well as several homes built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Citrus County, Florida. The dimensions of the etchings are 15” by 24”.
“I feel compelled to share this talent and ability for the benefit of others because of what others have taught and given to me,” said Willie.
Guzman Spreads BVA Word at AAM Annual Meeting
If ever there were doubt that BVA Southern California Regional Group President and World War II veteran Paul Guzman has unlimited energy, such doubt has forever dissipated.
Paul spent most of three full days speaking with visitors and displaying BVA literature at an exhibit booth at the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums May 24-26 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. He shared the booth, hosted by Art Education for the Blind, with organizations such as the Braille Institute, Eye Care Center of Southern California, American Council of the Blind, and Arts and Services for the Disabled.
The 20’ by 20’ booth was dedicated to issues and organizations representing people with disabilities. Art Education for the Blind invited disability groups (such as BVA’s regional group) and arts and disability advocates from the Los Angeles area to be at the booth and converse with museum staff members from facilities throughout the country.
BVA National Headquarters has been an official partner of Art Education for the Blind for approximately six years.
By Betty Wennstrom and Submitted by VIST Coordinator Valerie Duffy
Composed in June 2004
What’s a Sunshine Girl?
Is your life in a continual whirl?
Driving to and fro,
You name it, we need to go.
Reading menus and papers too,
Or anything else that comes out of the blue.
We sympathize the best we know how,
By living in the here and now.
Sunshine Girls have a sixth sense I know,
See their hearts, see them grow.
They would do it for us, that’s for sure.
Please dear Lord, help us endure.
The Sunshine Girls of the Gem State Regional Group make up a group of blinded veteran spouses who spread cheer and otherwise stand by Idaho BVA members by sending birthday and get well cards. They also provide rides, spot pins at bowling alleys, and offer encouragement on down days. Betty Wennstrom is the wife of 41 years of BVA member Bill Wennstrom. She has enjoyed writing poetry all of her life. According to Val, Betty writes about what inspires her, and the members of the Sunshine Girls group certainly provide such inspiration!