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Entries in Memorial Day (6)

Monday
May272013

Vietnam War Veterans Wounded Together Reunite After 44 Years

Courtesy Jim Volkmar(NEW YORK) -- Former Marines Jim Volkmar and Arthur Phillips always wondered what had happened to each other. They last saw each other more than four decades ago in as a haze of morphine as doctors worked furiously to patch them up.

Volkmar was a platoon commander, Phillips his radio operator. On that March day in Vietnam in 1969, they had set out to help rescue members of their platoon who were pinned down by the Viet Cong.
As they made their way through a cornfield, a device, possibly a mortar, exploded in their midst.

"It picked me up, and I did a summersault and landed on my back," said Volkmar. "I saw Arthur was standing rigidly and his finger was on his throat, and blood was coming through his fingers."

Both men were picked up by helicopter and flown to their base ship.

"They took me to the operating room," said Phillips. "I was sprayed head to toe with shrapnel."

Doctors also worked on Volkmar, whose left foot, leg and arm were severely injured.

It was the last day the two men ever saw each other. Phillips was sewn up and returned to combat. Volkmar spent nine months in military hospitals and was then reassigned to the U.S.S. Hornet in Long Beach, Calif.

This year, Phillips was trolling the Internet and stumbled on an article on the website TogetherWeServed written by Volkmar and recounting that day he and his radio man were wounded. Phillips realized he was that radio man, and that this was his long-lost colonel.

The next day, the two were able to connect by phone. It was March 13 of this year, 44 years to the day they were blown up.

"If you ever want to see the hand of God at work, this is it," said Lt. Col. James Volkmar who made a career out of the Marines.

"I recognized that voice right away," said Phillips. "You know, I haven't heard that voice in 44 years."
The two talked for more than an hour.

"It was like we were standing right there before the device hit and went boom. It was like the years just fell away," said Volkmar.

Phillips, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years, lives in Massachusetts. Volkmar is in Texas. The two hope to connect in person this summer.

TogetherWeServed.com is a website dedicated both to memorializing and to reconnecting veterans from all branches of the service. Volkmar called it "truly uplifting and inspiring."

Pam Jeans couldn't agree more. Her husband of 47 years, Duel Jeans, is also a former Marine. He served during the Korean War.

The couple stumbled on the website when Duel Jeans was trying to find buddies who had fought alongside him.

Pam Jeans found herself hooked on the stories and profiles of the men and women who had served their country. She began spending hours online researching genealogy sites, obituaries, looking for any information she could get her hands on. She used the information to create remembrance profiles of Marines who served in Korea who have since passed away.

"The main thing for me," said Jeans, "was making sure these fellows weren't forgotten."

She has certainly done that. Jeans has created a record 12,585 remembrance profiles of the Korean War veterans for TogetherWeServed.com.

"It's not the numbers I'm interested in so much as the stories," said Jeans. "Seeing their pictures, you can actually see them go from a young boy to a man."

This Memorial Day weekend, TogetherWeServed is putting out a call to families whose loved ones died while in the military.

The website now has 90,000 profile pages in its Roll of Honor: solders, Marines, sailors and airmen who served from World War II until today. They're hoping families of these men and women will add to the profile pages with pictures and details of their service.

"I think what we will ultimately end up with, if we're not already there, is the largest reservoir of historical information on all services across the board," said former soldier and site historian Mike Christy.

Pam Jeans is still working hard to make sure that happens. When she's not taking care of her 83-year-old husband, who now suffers from dementia, she's creating another profile of yet another Korean War veteran.

Even with more than 12,000 under her belt, she's hardly slowed down.

"You would think after all this time, I would be tired of doing it," she said.

Yet as she finds veterans to profile, veterans who might otherwise be forgotten, Jeans said, "Every day there is something new that inspires me in some way."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
May252013

Avoid Starting a Fire While Grilling this Memorial Day

Fuse(NEW YORK) -- Fire officials are warning folks to remember proper grill safety when lighting up the barbecue this Memorial Day Weekend.

David Cherrone, Fire Marshall for Clay Township, outside of South Bend, Ind., says a common mistake is grilling on wood decks and balconies.

“There's nothing against your grill sitting on your balcony. It's just that when you get ready to use it, it needs to be on the main level at least 15 feet away.” Cherrone said. “We'll get calls for either the grill is on fire [and then] people calling to say their deck is on fire.”

Cherrone says another rule cooks often forget is to check for leaky hoses. Leaking propane is a serious fire hazard.

“If [the grill] sits outside, replace it yearly. If you store it away then every other year is a good way to replace those to make sure again that the diaphragms stay fresh, that you have less chance of leakage,” he said.

Cherrone also says to avoid lighting the grill when the lid is shut, as rather than allowing the gas to vent it builds up and flashes back upon ignition.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
May272012

Obamas to Celebrate Memorial Day Honoring Soldiers on Vietnam War 50th Anniversary

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- This Memorial Day, the Obamas and the Bidens plan to celebrate the holiday in an event at the Arlington National Cemetery, where they will honor those who fought in the Vietnam War.
 
“This month, we’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved -- a mistake that must never be repeated,” said President Obama on May 16, 2012.
 
The federal government is partnering with state governments, local governments, private organizations and other communities to launch the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. The commemoration serves to honor the more than 3 million men and women who served our country in one of our most challenging conflicts.
 
The ceremony will honor those passed and living, highlight the contributions of those who helped the United States during the war and pay tribute to those who assisted on the home front.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May152012

Travel Increase Predicted for Memorial Day 2012

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of Memorial Day vacationers to travel more than 50 miles from home is expected to increase by 1.2 percent in 2012, according to an annual survey from the automobile group AAA.

As is typical, the number of people expected to travel by car far outnumbers those expected to travel by plane. More than 30 million people will get to their destinations by car, while roughly 2.5 million will get there by air.

Eighty-eight percent of holiday voyagers will travel by car; 7 percent by air and the remainder by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.

The total increase in travelers comes from drivers, at a rate of 1.2 percent. The number of people traveling by air is expected to decline 5.5 percent from last year's 2.7 million air travelers.

More than half of the survey's respondents said gas prices would not affect their Memorial Day holiday travel plans. However, the average travel distance is considerably less this year than in 2011. The average distance vacationers will travel will be 642 miles, which is 150 miles less than last year's average travel distance of 792 miles.

This is despite gas prices being, on average, 25 cents per gallon cheaper than this time last year, according to the AAA.

TripAdvisor, which ran its own Memorial Day travel survey, found a larger increase in the expected Memorial Day travelers: An 8 percent increase compared with 2011. The site also found that respondents weren't letting gas prices affect their summer vacations.

It's not only gas prices that are on the decline: AAA reports weekend daily car rental rates will average $36, which is 4 percent, or $2, less than last year.

Hotel rates, though, are expected to climb between 8 and 10 percent compared with last year.

The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 24, to Monday, May 28.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Volunteers Canvas Funeral Homes for Forgotten Veterans

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When Catherine Grant's husband died in 1994, she never imagined she would find his obituary in the paper 17 years later. But there it was, under the heading "Veterans Honored."

"It was very strange," said Grant, 77, who lives in St. Louis. "I never look at the obituaries. But that day I did."

Over in Louisville, Ky., Carolyn Russell, 72, was about to receive a shocking phone call.

Her brother Donald Ritz, a World War II combat veteran, had died of throat cancer in 1987 -- but she never found out where he had been cremated. Until this year.

"I was just thrilled to death, it kind of gave me cold chills," she said.

The non-profit group Missing in America Project (MIAP) was behind the burials of both of these forgotten veterans.

In the central U.S., Dale Lamond, a former Marine who helps coordinate burials for MIAP, delivered the news to Russell.

"It's gratifying that you find these veterans that have been lying there all these years, some of the families didn't know there were there," he said.

Missing in America, the passion project of founder and former U.S. Army Maj. Fred Salanti, holds military burials for unclaimed veterans' remains. The group has nearly 700 volunteers in 48 states canvas funeral homes searching for veterans' remains in backrooms and storage areas where, in many cases, they have been long forgotten.

Since its inception in 2007, 63-year-old Salanti says MIAP has visited more than 1,400 funeral homes and found more than 1,200 veteran remains. Of those, 1,049 have been interred.

As soon as they find a veteran at a funeral home, MIAP volunteers examine funeral home notes and the death certificate, track down living relatives, and study genealogy resources and old Department of Defense databases. Sometimes the most time-consuming process can be obtaining proof of military service.

Most of the time the MIAP volunteers are the only people to attend a veteran's military burial. And that's exactly what drives them.

"That's a real tearjerker knowing that we, the Missing in America people...are the family," Salanti said. "They accomplished something honorable, respectful and they're receiving what was due them for service to the country."

The MIAP volunteers are mostly retired, many of them former servicemen and some who aren't, but all consider this a calling.

"When I found out there were this many people who have fought for our country and they're sitting on shelves it moved me to a point that I said let's do something about it," said Dave Woodcook, 63, who joined MIAP about five years ago and began leading burial escorts near Redding, Calif.

Salanti says the unclaimed veterans' remains are nobody's fault: funeral homes aren't required to seek out anyone and next of kin and funeral homes aren't required to report the unclaimed remains to the VA.

"A lot of people come out and say the VA needs to be in charge of this, but how does the VA know [where the remains are]? They don't have authority to go into a private funeral home," he said.

The laws regulating how long funeral homes are required to keep remains vary from state to state, and 13 states, such as Maryland and Nevada, don't have any laws governing unclaimed remains.

There are 19,903 funeral homes in the U.S. according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and nearly all of them have unclaimed cremated remains.

Last Thursday Republicans Pat Tiberi and Steve Stivers introduced the Missing in America Act, which would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to help determine if unclaimed remains are eligible for burial at a national cemetery. The bill also asks the VA to work with veterans service organizations and other groups, including MIAP, in possessing the abandoned or unidentified remains.

An earlier version of the bill was introduced in 2009 when the House was controlled by Democrats, and it fell short of the required number of co-sponsors.

Salanti said, "The chances of getting this law passed now are tremendously better and it's just exciting that we're getting some recognition at the national level."

For now, MPIA continues searching funeral homes and tracking down documents, working without pay. The organization is run by individual donations, without any corporate sponsors. It's tough, at times, Salanti says, "We're in tears and crying half the time. My nickname is waterworks."

But for him, in the end, it's worth it.

"We represent what those guys lived for. Otherwise they're going to be alone going on their last journey."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Memorial Day Outrage: Feds on Lookout for Fake War Heroes

Jupiterimages/LiquidLibrary(WASHINGTON) -- As millions of Americans honor the service and sacrifices of veterans this Memorial Day, the FBI said it will be busy keeping a close eye out for reports of "frauds" who don fake medals and tell tales of false heroism in hopes of taking advantage of honest patriotism.

While at any particular time the FBI is investigating from 15 to 30 cases of people illegally posing as American war heroes, the Bureau said public veteran celebrations, like the parades taking place across the nation Monday, are ripe targets for impostors.

"They're going to come out of the woodwork," Don Shipley, a private watchdog and former U.S. Navy SEAL, told ABC News. "This is like Christmas for a phony."

Wearing a service medal or claiming to be a medal winner is illegal under U.S. law in most cases and in the past five years alone the Department of Justice has charged dozens of people for violations -- including five so far this year.

In addition to FBI investigators, private veteran watchdogs like Shipley and Home of Heroes founder Doug Sterner say they receive thousands of tips about questionable military service claims, especially on patriotic holidays.

"We always see them come out in droves on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July and I don't expect this year will be any different," Sterner said.

Following the fame garnered by the U.S. Navy SEALs after the successful operation that killed Osama bin Laden in early May, the number of fake SEAL cases skyrocketed, Shipley said.

"U.S. military medals are symbols of heroism, patriotism, and honor," the FBI said in a statement to ABC News. "The FBI is proud of the men and women who have served our country dutifully. Those who impersonate veterans or wear an unearned military medal are frauds and demean what the medals are meant to honor."

Despite several convictions for fakers in past years, a group of U.S. congressmen is pushing to expand the law under a new version of the Stolen Valor Act, which would make it illegal for anyone to benefit in any way from lying about military medals -- from getting a free beer at a bar to season sports tickets.

A previous iteration of the Stolen Valor Act, passed with overwhelming congressional support in 2006, made it illegal for anyone to wear a medal or claim they had been awarded a medal when they had not. However, that law was ruled unconstitutional by one appeals court last August after one man who pleaded guilty to falsely claiming to be a decorated Marine said it violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

"What this bill would do is that it makes it more of an anti-fraud bill," said Congressman and U.S. Army Reserve Col. Joe Heck, who sponsors the Stolen Valor Act of 2011. "It says if you lie about your military service in order to gain something of value then you have committed fraud. I think it will close the constitutionality loophole that has caused problems for the original law.

"I find it really deplorable that individuals would try and capitalize on other American service to their nation," he said.

Shipley said he strongly supports Heck's bill and he believed other veterans would as well.

"There's got to be a line drawn somewhere," he said. "Not just for the young Army guys and young Marines, but the parents, the kids, the wives -- they [the impostors] are stealing honor from all these people."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio