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Chaplain Sanchez To Step Down


Chaplain Neftali Sanchez seated with nephew Mark Gonzales in his customary place at the head table during national convention special events. Archive photo from BVA 56th National Convention in Las Vegas in 2001.
Chaplain Neftali Sanchez seated with nephew Mark Gonzales in his customary place at the head table during national convention special events. Archive photo from BVA 56th National Convention in Las Vegas in 2001.

BVA National Chaplain Neftali Sanchez, now serving in the capacity for 32 consecutive years, will hand the opportunity off to another blinded veteran following the 66th National Convention.

The upcoming convention will be, as far as his memory stretches, the 31st that Tali has attended as Chaplain. He missed only the 52nd National Convention in Reno in 1997. During more than three decades, he has delivered the Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon address twice, once in 1979 and again in 2001.

"It seems unthinkable to contemplate that I've now served eight years longer than our beloved Father Carroll did," said Tali during a recent telephone interview. "It's been a long run that I've loved, but it's finally time to give the privilege to another worthy blinded veteran."

As National Chaplain and long before, Tali has demonstrated to his fellow blinded veterans the meaning of courage and independence in the midst of personal trial and opposition.

A 2002 BVA newspaper release, distributed throughout the country, introduced Tali's story with this description:

"One blinded vet has taught many Americans how possible it is to overcome great adversity if one does not abandon hope for a bright future and full life. A good example is Corporal Neftali Sanchez, whose life changed abruptly on July 11, 1953 in Korea when he was just 19."

The article recounted Tali's wounding by an exploding grenade while he was on patrol, an event that caused the loss of both his eyes and both his arms below the elbows.

"Coping with so many obvious adversities, Tali was nevertheless relentless in the pursuit of his personal goals," the feature added.

After completing blind rehabilitation in 1955, he graduated from Pepperdine University in 1959 and received a Master's Degree two years later. He attended Bible college and received a Bachelor's Degree in theology in 1974.

Along the way, in 1955, Tali discovered the Blinded Veterans Association. He served on the National Board of Directors during 1964-69 and was then elected National Chaplain in 1979. He told both the Board and the membership the following year that he would not run for the office again and, because of the politics involved in elections and voting, he voiced his opinion that a National Chaplain should be appointed rather than elected.

The Association's leadership at the time listened to him and agreed with his reasoning. The rest is history as he was reappointed 31 times.

Tali was initially attracted to BVA by the manner in which the organization could point blinded veterans to the special services, benefits, and resources they had earned, and which were available to them.

Judging by his many years of involvement and service, of greater importance for Tali were the opportunities for him to serve others, particularly those who may be climbing the same mountain that he had climbed but who had not yet been able to reach the same heights.

The explanation for Tali's service may well be rooted in a remarkable November 13, 1953 news article in the El Paso Herald Post. The article quoted Tali's mother, who had just visited him for the first time since his injuries.

The place of that meeting was a hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

"If Neftali was discouraged, he never showed it," she said. "He seemed happy and full of plans for the future."

The Tali Sanchez his mother described in 1953 is the same courageous, positive-thinking National Chaplain BVA has known and loved for 32 years.

NLS Talking Book Feedback Sought

National Field Service Program Director Steve Matthews, also the Association's Audio Equipment Advisory Committee Representative with the National Library Service (NLS), would like to hear from blinded veterans who may have issues, questions, or suggestions that he can bring up at an upcoming meeting regarding the service.

The meeting will occur on September 13.

"These meetings are very productive," he said. "In fact, the idea for the new digital talking book machine was first brought up at a meeting similar to the one scheduled for September."

Feedback can be communicated via email to or by calling Steve toll free at 800-669-7079, Ext. 3322, no later than September 12.

Merchandise Available Through CafePress

BVA members and their families and friends can still purchase a variety of shirts, outerwear, hats and caps, bags, and items for home and office through CafePress, Inc., an online retailer of stock and user-customized, on-demand products. Each of the products contains the BVA emblem.

The company is headquartered in San Mateo, California, and its production facility is located in Louisville, Kentucky. The arrangement with BVA allows the Association to have a virtual CafePress "shop" that includes an online storefront and website hosting, order management, fulfillment, payment processing, and customer service. The BVA storefront is located at

Also available through the shop are aprons, tote bags, pet apparel, mugs, water bottles, mouse pads, framed tiles, buttons, and magnets.

McKennas Visit DC, Honor Vets Who Gave All

Peter McKenna, World War II combat blinded veteran and BVA's fifth National President (1951), participated in several traditional Memorial Day activities in the Nation's Capital May 30.


He was accompanied on the trip and associated events by his wife Mary and son Peter McKenna, Jr.

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Peter McKenna at White House breakfast on Memorial Day.
First Lady Michelle Obama greets Peter McKenna at White House breakfast on Memorial Day.

Peter's day began at a White House breakfast hosted for veterans by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. Following the event, the family boarded a bus that took them to Arlington National Cemetery, where they met up with BVA National Headquarters staff members and OIF blinded veterans Raymond Fleig and Tim Fallon.

In sweltering heat near 95 degrees as the morning progressed, they then listened to remarks by outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, and President Obama. Staff Sergeant Sara Dell'Omo, United States Marine Corps, sang the ceremony's customary rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Peter braved the heat in tie and suit coat still longer as he awaited his turn for nearly an hour to present the BVA wreath at The Tomb of the Unknowns. As luck would have it, because the organizational wreaths on this occasion were placed in reverse alphabetical order, the Blinded Veterans Association wreath was near the end of the line.

Peter was accompanied in the wreath laying by Mary, Peter, Jr., and Tom Miller.

Dole Memorial Visit Surprises, Inspires

What seemed like a randomly expressed wish at the moment came true for Harry Troop just minutes later.

World War II veteran Harry Troop greets fellow veteran Bob Dole during May 21 Flight of Honor visit to Washington, DC, and World War II Memorial.
World War II veteran Harry Troop greets fellow veteran Bob Dole during May 21 Flight of Honor visit to Washington, DC, and World War II Memorial.


"Do you think we'll be able to talk with Bob Dole today?" he asked BVA National Headquarters staff member Stuart Nelson as the two walked around the World War II Memorial together on the morning of May 21.

Harry, a member of the North Carolina Regional Group, was in the Nation's Capital as a participant in Flight of Honor, a service project of Rotary International. The project honors the lives, valor, and courage of World War II veterans by financially supporting their visit to the Memorial. Harry came with Rotary District 7680 in Midwestern North Carolina.

Sure enough, word quickly spread that former Senator Dole, also the 1996 Republican nominee for President of the United States and himself a World War II disabled veteran, was onsite in order to visit with and take pictures with Flight of Honor guests. Harry reacted quickly.

"Let's get over there as fast as we can," he told Stuart. Once near Dole, who appears at the Memorial frequently, Harry quickly positioned himself to speak with him face to face and secure a quality photo.

Coincidentally, Harry was born and raised in Senator Dole's home state of Kansas but now resides in North Carolina, the state represented in the U.S. Senate by Dole's wife, Elizabeth, during 2003-09. Elizabeth Dole was Harry's and North Carolina's first-ever female Senator.

Illinois Vets, Schutter Stitch National 9/11 Flag


Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines Director Jerry Schutter, members of the Illinois Regional Group, and trainees at the blind center recently participated in the stitching of a portion of The National 9/11 Flag.

Destroyed in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the flag was stitched back together seven years later by tornado survivor volunteers in Greensburg, Kansas.

Currently on a journey across the country that will culminate on September 11, the flag is making grassroots stops in all 50 states.

Local service heroes stitch in fabric from American flags destined for retirement so that the 9/11 flag is restored to its original 13-stripe format. A stop on May 3 brought a standing room only crowd with a line circling around the room and out the door at the Hines VA Hospital. The line included those wishing to add a stitch to the historic flag.

"Our own Jerry Schutter was nominated by Hines trainee Bill Diamond to actually stitch the fabric into the flag," said regional group secretary Rick Olson. "Jerry had asked me and Johnny Williams (group president) to stand up front alongside him during his nomination, and then Jerry also gave us a chance to do some stitching immediately after he finished."

Jerry was honored by the brief nominating speech that selected him to do the stitching.

"Bill Diamond is a Navy veteran who completed his regular training and computer training at Hines," Jerry said.

"While at Hines, his cancer erupted and created concerns for his training as well as for his overall well-being. The Hines family supported him through all of this. He ended up completing both his blind rehab program and chemotherapy successfully. We expect to see him at the reunion at Hines and at the TEE Tournament in Iowa City later this year."

Also in attendance from the Illinois Regional Group was blinded veteran Mike Roland.

"We were able to represent the blinded vets of Illinois, the Hines VA Hospital, the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and our community as a whole with great pride," said Rick. "We were truly moved by the privilege of participating in the dignified ceremony that accompanied the stitching The National 9/11 Flag."

More than 160 million Americans have experienced The National 9/11 Flag through national and local TV coverage, public displays in small town gatherings, and major cultural and sporting events.

The flag has been stitched by soldiers and schoolchildren who survived the shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas, by World War II veterans on the deck of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, by the family of Martin Luther King Jr., and by thousands of everyday service heroes nationwide.

On President Abraham Lincoln's birthday this year, a piece of the flag on which he laid after being shot at Ford's Theater was stitched into the fabric of The National 9/11 Flag. In May 2011, The National 9/11 Flag was presented as the official flag for The Kentucky Derby.

The tour is also designed to inspire 300 million Americans with the flag's rich visual history and to deepen the nation's sense of citizenship and national pride. It aims to bolster the spirit of volunteerism on the 9/11 anniversary and year-round.

When complete, The National 9/11 Flag will become a part of the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum now under construction at Ground Zero.

National VP Speaks Out

BVA National Vice President Sam Huhn encourages blinded veterans to support the organization's mission by becoming involved and making their voices heard.

"BVA is on a mission and we need your help," he said in a letter to BVA National Headquarters.

Sam outlined a three-fold mission that ensures, first, that every blind and visually impaired veteran receive the needed training in orientation and mobility, independent living skills, manual skills, and computer access.

Secondly, he said, the BVA mission also centers on the benefits of compensation and/or pension to which blinded veterans are entitled.

"We must be certain that all of us, member and nonmember alike, are receiving these benefits as well."

The third tier of the three-fold mission, he said, is national legislation that will bring positive results for veterans in general and for blinded veterans in particular.

"Our legislative accomplishments have been significant over the years," he said. "We must continue to do all we can to preserve them and assure that our past efforts have not been in vain, and that the gains our veterans have made are never tossed aside."

Generosity Helps Spudinators Shine Brightly in Honolulu

Members of BVA's Gem State Regional Group who competed in the Disabled Winter Sports Clinic and Golden Age Games this spring were recipients of a $2,270 donation from the American Legion auxiliaries across the state of Idaho.

The "Spudinators," as the competitors call themselves, received the funds in a presentation by American Legion Auxiliary State President Connie Evans on April 27. According to Boise VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Valerie Duffy, the monies are designed to support the Spudinators as they travel to VA national competitions.

Connie Evans makes check presentation to Spudinators, left to right, Marvin Hitchcock, Jim Jencks, Art Motz, George Heil, and Dave Spiegel.
Connie Evans makes check presentation to Spudinators, left to right, Marvin Hitchcock, Jim Jencks, Art Motz, George Heil, and Dave Spiegel.

"We are very grateful to all members of the Legion auxiliaries throughout Idaho for their kindness, support, and concern," said Val.

The financial assistance paid off at the 25th National Golden Age Games, held May 26-31 in the paradise of Honolulu, Hawaii. Art Motz took captured gold medals in both horseshoes and shuffleboard and a bronze medal in bowling while Marvin Hitchcock received a silver medal in shuffleboard. George Heil was awarded a silver medal in bowling and a gold medal in shuffleboard. David Spiegel participated with ambulatory veterans in the shot put.

According to Val, the competition was only a part of the experience. "The veterans were treated to a luau, took tours of the USS Arizona Memorial, and attended a Memorial Day service at Punchbowl National Cemetery (also called National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific)," she added. "How could they not have had a great time in Hawaii?" 


Columnist Notices, Then Highlights Blinded Vet

Author, nationally-syndicated columnist for the Providence Journal, and Pulitzer Prize finalist for international reporting Mark Patinkin highlighted a BVA member and volunteer at the Providence VA Medical Center in his newspaper column June 8.

An elderly blind gentleman, Patinkin reported, was standing at a busy intersection at 6:45 a.m. when he noticed him from his car. When the light turned green, Patinkin proceeded, not wanting to stop. After all, he had his own schedule to keep that morning.

Once through the intersection, Patinkin looked through his rear-view mirror and saw the man still standing there. He decided to turn around and park. By the time he'd parked and got out of the car, the man was proceeding across the street.

From there the incident turned into an interview of reporter questions and interviewee responses that included the following: Walter Judd, a World War II Navy veteran and former truck driver for 34 years now with macular degeneration, volunteers twice a week at the VA Medical Center doing "casual counseling and small tasks."

Patinkin described in the column Walter's explanation of talking books, the fact that he had just the day before cut a piece of wood to put under a household air conditioner, and that blindness requires patience with tasks that are simple for the sighted.

"I headed back to my car, which I had left across a busy intersection that was challenging to cross even with vision," the column concluded. "I got behind the wheel and, inspired, headed on to my day."

Walter works for VIST Coordinator Adele Geringer and is a member of the BVA Rhode Island/Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group.