NGV chorale

NGV’s Veterans Day program honors ‘all who served’

The North Georgia Vets honored “all who served” at 11 a.m., Monday, Nov. 11 at the Big Canoe Chapel. The Big Canoe community, which counts a large number of veterans among its residents and family, was enthusiastic and appreciative throughout the program. 

After a welcome by Jay Misback, North Georgia Vets president, the NGV chorus performed the Armed Forces Medley and an American Tribute.

David Howe, a U.S. Navy veteran, spoke about the importance of supporting veterans, especially wounded veterans. His speech is included below.

Veterans committed to support wounded veterans, their families

By David Howe

dhowe
David Howe

Veterans are a special breed. We are a fellowship of men and women who shared the common experience of the uniform, training and service and living together, often in far-away places. We are patriotic, too. There are so many great examples of veterans, especially those who survived serious injury, that took the discipline and values instilled in military service and established distinguished civilian and government careers, including many presidents, public servants and corporate CEOs.

But there is a special group of veterans whose military service called them to full-time civilian careers in support of wounded veterans and their families. It is about those individuals that I speak to you today.

Major Dan Rooney was an Air Force F-16 pilot in the Middle East. He had just returned from his second tour in Iraq. He was boarding a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Michigan. As he walked through the cabin, he passed an Army corporal dressed in Army greens sitting in the first-class section.

During the flight, the pilot made the announcement that there was an American hero on board. Rooney immediately thought of the soldier he saw in first class. Then the pilot said the remains of Corporal Brock Buckland were on board and that his twin brother Brad was accompanying those remains on their way to their home and family in Grand Rapids. As the aircraft rolled up to the gate, the captain asked that passengers remain in their seats out of respect until the casket was removed from the aircraft.

Major Rooney watched from his window seat. Brock Buckland’s four-year old son stood at attention at the bottom of the ramp as the casket moved slowly down to the waiting honor guard. With a lump in his throat, Rooney felt the utter finality of Brock Buckland’s sacrifice. He knew that young boy would never play catch with his dad, have him tuck him in at night or experience the special relationship between father and son. This was it: the reality of the staggering cost we pay for freedom.

At that moment, Rooney knew what he was being called to do. In 2007 he founded Folds of Honor, a charitable foundation that since has raised the money to fund over 24,500 scholarships for spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service members.

plaque If you have never heard of Folds of Honor, here’s why. You won’t see the organization promoted in expensive prime time TV ads. By keeping promotional expenses to a minimum Folds of Honor puts over 90 percent of its donations into scholarships—one of the highest measures of efficiency among national charities. In 2017, that 90 percent amounted to more than $24.5 million.

I want to tell you about Walt Fricke. Walt joined the Army in January 1967 at age 18. He always wanted to fly and after completing helicopter training, he was assigned to an air mobile unit in Vietnam. On October 26, 1968, Walt was flying copilot at the request of a colleague who needed his help flying in bad weather. Their mission was to prepare a landing zone for an assault near the Cambodian border. Concentrating on the perimeter of the landing zone to suppress enemy gunfire, one of the rockets launched from the helicopter exploded the instant it left the launch tube, shattering the helicopter’s windshield and sending shrapnel through the cockpit, nearly severing Walt’s right leg at the knee. The crew chief sitting behind Walt, injured himself in the chest from shrapnel, instantly recognized Walt’s wound and applied a belt tourniquet to his leg. Walt was already going into shock but was able to urge the command pilot, who was slightly injured himself, to remain calm and focused as he regained control of the aircraft and turned back toward base where they returned safely.

Walt was stabilized and spent the first week of recovery in Vietnam, then the next two weeks in Japan, then to a hospital in Ft. Knox, Kentucky—still 700 miles from his home and family in Minnesota. Struggling with anxiety about losing his leg, he lost 35 pounds. It was six weeks before his family could finally come to visit and it was only then that he began to feel that he was really beginning to heal.

Walt eventually lost his leg and over the months of recuperation that followed three things came into sharp focus for him:

First, for an injured soldier, the presence of family is a crucial factor in recovery.

Second, wounded veterans often need to travel over long distances to receive treatment at specialized medical centers, and when going through commercial airports, these combat-wounded veterans—often in uniform—were subjected to the demeaning and humiliating TSA requirement in public of removing prosthetic arms and legs for TSA inspection. For this reason, most disabled veterans dread commercial travel.

Third, sometimes the specialized care required for wounded veterans involves extended stays of weeks or even months far away from home. Often, it was simply too expensive for family to travel or be with their loved one.

Walt felt a strong desire to help in some way. Using his own private airplane, which he was able to fly by that time, and at his own expense, he began offering local veterans in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area free transportation as an alternative to commercial travel.

As word began to spread about what Walt was doing, interest grew quickly. Soon Walt was emailing his pilot friends in other parts of the country for help. This was the birth of Veterans Airlift Command, now a national organization coordinating transportation for veterans and family members through a group of volunteer private pilots and companies with empty seats on corporate jets who pay all expenses and provide free transportation for the veteran and family members. To date, Veterans Airlift Command has carried 16,000 veteran and family passengers provided by 2,600 volunteer aircraft owners providing $35 million in donated flight time.

I was a volunteer pilot for Veterans Airlift Command and I can tell you that being able to give personal service to a wounded veteran generates deep feelings of appreciation for that veteran’s sacrifice.

Walt Fricke and Dan Rooney are just two of many veterans who have unselfishly dedicated their lives to the support of other veterans and their families. You no doubt know the work of Max Cleland and Tommy Clack right here in Georgia. Do a quick web search for “charities for wounded veterans.” The Charity Navigator website lists 59 highly rated four-star charities supporting wounded troops. Here are a few examples:

  • Fisher House Foundation maintains 82 homes in the U.S. and Europe near military hospitals where veterans and family members can stay at no cost while their loved one is receiving treatment.
  • Southeastern Guide Dogs trains working guide dogs, service dogs and skilled companion dogs that provide life-changing services for veterans with disabilities.
  • Semper Fi Fund provides immediate assistance and lifetime support to combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
  • Shepherd Center Share Initiative right here in Atlanta is a comprehensive rehabilitation program for armed forces members suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD. The North Georgia Veterans support Shepherd Center with annual donations.
  • Gary Sinese Foundation supports active duty and retired veterans, first responders and their loved ones, those who sacrifice to defend our country.

We can legitimately ask, “Where’s the Veterans Administration for these people?”

From the revolving door of leadership at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, it is clear that the government is trying to address problems of mismanagement and underfunding that have plagued the department for years. In many areas, they are making progress, but the need is still greater than the resources the government can provide right now.

Let me conclude with a challenge:

First, and most important, never forget who we owe for the freedoms we enjoy.

Second, keep thanking the veterans you meet for their service. Believe me, your courtesy means a great deal to them.

But finally, do a little research and find a charity supporting veterans that touches your heart—and donate.

Respond with generosity, recognizing the sacrifice that active and retired veterans make to maintain freedoms that are not free and that we so easily take for granted.

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Standing for branch of service

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