Around BVA


BVA Members Honor Memory of Major Charles Robert Soltes Jr. at 14th annual Memorial Golf Event

By Tom Zampieri


On beautiful typical southern California day on Monday, October 9 three blinded veterans and other local California area blinded BVA comrades attended the 14th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California on Columbus Day. The BVA members joined 104 golfers for the annual competition to honor Major Soltes at the Oak Creek Golf Club. In October 2004, Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq where he served with a Fort Bragg Special Operations public health team. 

                The BVA veterans taking part this year included; Navy veteran Lonnie Bedwell and Marine Corps veteran Carlos Pere who is president of Florida Regional Group BVA. Maj Thomas Zampieri (Ret.) Vice President of BVA. World War II blinded veteran Howard Payne whose local efforts at teaching all disabled and children to golf attended and, in the morning, gave Lonnie and Carlos some of his famous “Putting training” and stories about blind golfing.

           The key note speaker for the golf event was former US Navy Petty Officer, Lonnie Bedwell, who was critically injured in a hunting accident in 1997 that took his sight instantly. That didn’t stop him from raising three daughters as a single father and becoming a renowned adventure sports athlete. He holds first blind descents kayaking the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, the Zambezi River in Africa, and the Gauley River in West Virginia – some of the most challenging stretches of whitewater in the world. He was named a 2015 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. He has climbed notable peaks such as Mt. Kilimanjaro, he downhill skis, and volunteers in his hometown in southern Indiana doing roofing, construction and supporting veteran related nonprofits and local schools. 

         During the evening dinner and awards Lonnie kept the golfers amazed with both photographs and video clips from the September 1 to September 12, team of four other BVA members on 226 historic kayaking adventure miles through the Grand Canyon. During the afternoon Lonnie and Carlos both visited with all the golfers and were asked to pose for photographs with many who thanked the BVA members for their service.  

           As always, the entire Soltes family welcomed the BVA members and Rob’s friends, professional colleagues and many of his fellow veterans expressed how dedicated he was to serving visually impaired veterans. The funds raised at the annual golf tournament are major source of the Operation Peer Support (OPS) program, which supports various events during the year. OPS now bring together both Gulf War I and Gulf War II era blinded veterans with older generations of veterans to share their experiences, and also participate in various recreational sports events throughout the year. We thanked the dozen volunteers and family members who make this all possible each October and help Light Up the Darkness with their donations.

Louisiana/Mississippi Region See WW II Aircraft at Air, Land and Sea Festival 

By Gary Schoelerman

On October 13, 2018 25 blinded veterans from the Louisiana / Mississippi Region and their escorts met at the World War II Air, Land and Sea Festival held at the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, LA.  There were about thirty aircraft flown in by the Commemorative Air Force, everything from cargo planes, C-45 and C-47, a number of bombers, B-25, B-26, B-17 and the B-29, and a wide variety of fighters that flew both in the Pacific and European theaters.  We had four WW II Veterans among our group, two were crew chiefs on B-24’s, it was interesting listening to their “stories”.  There were also a number of WW II land war machines on display, jeeps, tanks, duce-half and others all in working condition.  For the Sea lovers the WW II Museum had there fully restored PT Boat “305” docked by the airport.  There was ample entertainment by the beautiful Liberty Belles who sang popular tunes of the 40’s and made over the WW II Vets and ignored the rest of us.  There were also a number of interviews with WW II Veterans including one with the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders Lt. Col. Dick Cole.  The Louisiana / Mississippi Regional Group would like to thank Kaitlin Borri, the Recreation Therapist at the Biloxi BRC for bringing a number of their clients and staff to assist and VIST Robin Sniffhen for bringing a large number of vets from the Gulf Coast area and our fellow BVA members and friends from throughout LA and MS for making this annual event a great success.  We also need to thank the National World War II Museum, the second most popular and visited museum in the country, for their assistance at the gate and for the generous discount that they offered the BVA members.  Hopefully next year the B-24 will be there and our B-24 crew chiefs Mr. Earl age 99 and Mr. Jack age 96 will be able to give us a tour of the aircraft.  See you next year.

 BVA Member Goes Deep Sea Fishing

 Emerald Coast Regional Group President Darryl Goldsmithwent went deep sea fishing with 78 other combat and disabled veterans sponsored by Heroes on the Water.  Darryl was the number 1 fisherman with a catch of 29 fish.