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Entries in Veterans (30)

Sunday
Nov182012

Warning Signals Activated 7 Seconds Before Veterans Crossed Train Tracks

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(MIDLAND, Texas) -- The warnings signals at a railroad crossing were activated seven seconds before a flatbed truck full of wounded veterans crossed the tracks during a parade and was struck by a freight train, according to preliminary details released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Four veterans were killed and 16 were injured in the accident, which happened on Thursday.

It is not yet clear when the train conductor applied the brake, but the question is one of dozens the board hopes to answer in the coming weeks.

"Our mission is to determine probable cause, which is to determine not just what happened but why," NTSB Board Member Mark Rosekind said. "And that why is critical for us to determine what safety recommendations need to be issued so this does not happen again."

Investigators will be on scene in Midland for seven to 10 days collecting evidence to bring to Washington, D.C., for processing. They will examine both vehicles and the gates that should have blocked the tracks. They will also contact all drivers, victims and witnesses.

Given that the area where the crash happened is a "quiet zone," Rosekind said his team will be looking into whether that played a role in the collision.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov162012

Midland, Texas Train Crash: Hero Vets Die Saving Wives

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(MIDLAND, Texas) -- Police have identified the four servicemen who died in Midland, Texas when a freight train plowed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans and their spouses at a crossing, two of whom saved their wives by pushing them to safety before they died.

Army Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, and 47-year-old Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin were pronounced dead at the scene, police said, after the float carrying wounded veterans and their families to an honorary banquet was struck by a Union Pacific train around 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The train struck as the parade was crossing the tracks, turning the honorary event into a scene of destruction.

Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, and 43-year-old Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers were transported from the scene and later pronounced dead at Midland Memorial Hospital, according to the Midland Police.

Seventeen people in all were transported to the hospital and 10 were treated and released. Four people were in stable condition and one is in critical condition as of Friday morning.

 

Michael was killed in the crash but was able to save his wife, his mother-in-law told the Amarillo Globe-News.

"He pushed his wife off the float -- my daughter," Mary Hefley told the newspaper. "He was that kind of guy. He always had a smile on his face. He would do for others before he would do for himself."

Hefley said Michael retired from the Army due to health reasons.

According to a website set up by Cory Rogers, a friend of Michael's family, the father of two completed two tours of duty in Iraq, and received two Purple Hearts after being wounded in combat.

"His love of country and for his wife, Daylyn and their two children shone through," his family said in a statement on the site. "The family appreciates everyone's thoughts and prayers in this very difficult time."

Sgt. Maj. Boivin also pushed his wife out of the way before he was hit, Jaime Garza told ABC News. He said that his wife was hurt in the crash, but survived. Boivin died in his arms, Garza said.

Garza said that he and his wife Denise lost their son in Afghanistan seven years ago. On Thursday, they were driving in a separate car about a block away, helping escort the floats.

"I looked in my rear view mirror. That's when I saw the train hit the float," he said. "I made a quick U-turn to get back up there. The first person who was there was Lawrence. I had to help him out ... and he gave me his last breath ... He actually pushed [his wife] off the float and then he got hit."

Denise Garza said that the entire incident happened very fast.

"Everybody was getting help in two seconds. Everybody had help. It was like the best response," she said. "It was terrible. The worst thing I've ever seen in my whole life."

About two dozen veterans and their spouses had been sitting in chairs on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran.

The first truck crossed the tracks in time, but the second did not, according to Hamid Vatankhah, a witness who owns a used car lot near the scene of the crash.

Sirens from the police cars in the parade may have drowned out the sound of the approaching train, Vatankhah said.

The impact, witnesses say, was deafening as the train plowed through the parade float crossing the tracks in an industrial part of Midland.

"Some people were able to jump, and some that were sitting in wheelchairs on top couldn't do nothing about it," Vatankhah said.

Patricia Howle was sitting traffic with her daughter watching the parade go by when she heard the train honking its horn.

"I just saw people going under the train," said eyewitness Eservando Wisler. "There was blood. There was blood all over."

A Union Pacific spokesman, Tom Lange, said it appeared safety devices at the crash site were working. But there were conflicting reports by eyewitnesses about whether the gates went down at the crossing when the train approached.

"I saw the truck crossing the tracks. About halfway across the gates started coming down. The truck tried to blow his horn to get the other people in front of him out of the way. The gates actually hit the first people on the trailer," witness Michael Briggs said.

"Our preliminary findings indicate that the lights and gates were working at the time of the incident and that our train crew sounded the locomotive horn," said Lange.

The National Transportation Safety Board was at the scene and has launched an investigation into the accident.

On Friday evening, an NTSB official said video recorders from the train were on their way to Washington for analysis by the board.

He added that there have been prior accidents at the scene of Thursday's disaster.

"There were some accidents from 1979 to 1997 but there has not been an accident at this train crossing in the last 15 years, so the question is what might have changed in that period of time," said the official, Mark Rosekind.

The Texas Department of Transportation told ABC News that the state has actually seen vehicle and train-related fatalities decline 68 percent the last 10 years.

Regarding Thursday's accident, NTSB investigators should be able to determine the speed of the train, as well as whether the train's horn was sounded prior to the accident, when they examine the train's black box.

Rosekind said the NTSB also will be able to study the circumstances of the accident in other ways.

"Our investigators are looking at the rules, regulations, requirements, permits, related to the parade," Rosekind said. "Specifically, we're going to be looking at what the requirements are in notifying the railroad and whether all the procedures, permits, etc., were actually followed, by everyone."

"Our mission is to determine the probable cause, which is determining not just what happened but why," he said, "and that why is critical for us to determine what safety recommendations need to be issued so this does not happen again."

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened by news of the tragic accident involving veteran heroes and their spouses in Midland," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. "His thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, with those injured in this incident, and with the entire community."

"It's obviously a real sad day for Midland, Texas. This may be one of the most tragic events we've had in our town," Mayor Wes Perry said.

Perry Friday hosted a community-wide prayer vigil to help show support for the victims and their families that have been affected by the incident at the Centennial Plaza in Downtown Midland. Mayor Perry is asking citizens to show support by lowering their flags to half-mast until Monday morning at 8 a.m.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov162012

Train Hits Truck Carrying Wounded Veterans at Parade; Four Killed

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(MIDLAND, Texas) -- Four people died and 17 others were injured when a freight train plowed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans at a crossing in Midland, Texas.

The float was one of two flatbed tractor-trailers carrying wounded veterans and their families to an honorary banquet during Show of Support's Hunt for Heroes parade Thursday afternoon.  A Union Pacific train approached after 4:30 p.m. local time just as the parade was crossing the tracks, striking the vehicle, according to officials and witnesses.

Two people died at the scene and two others died at Midland Memorial Hospital, Midland Police Chief Price Robinson said.  Seventeen people in all were transported to the hospital and 10 were treated and released.  Four people were in stable condition and one is in critical condition as of Friday morning.

Joshua Michael, 34, was killed in the crash but was able to save his wife, his mother-in-law told the Amarillo Globe-News.

"He pushed his wife off the float -- my daughter," Mary Hefley told the newspaper.  "He was that kind of guy.  He always had a smile on his face.  He would do for others before he would do for himself."

Hefley said Michael retired from the Army due to health reasons.

About two dozen veterans and their spouses had been sitting in chairs on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran.

The first truck crossed the tracks in time, but the second did not, according to Hamid Vatankhah, a witness who owns a used car lot near the scene of the crash.

Sirens from the police cars in the parade may have drowned out the sound of the approaching train, Vatankhah said.

The impact, witnesses say, was deafening as the train struck the parade float.  "Some people were able to jump, and some that were sitting in wheelchairs on top couldn't do nothing about it," Vatankhah added.

Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said it appeared safety devices at the crash site were working.  However, there were conflicting reports by eyewitnesses about whether the gates went down at the crossing when the train approached.

"I saw the truck crossing the tracks.  About halfway across the gates started coming down.  The truck tried to blow his horn to get the other people in front of him out of the way.  The gates actually hit the first people on the trailer," witness Michael Briggs said.

"Our preliminary findings indicate that the lights and gates were working at the time of the incident and that our train crew sounded the locomotive horn," said Lange.

The National Transportation Safety Board was at the scene and has launched an investigation into the accident.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov152012

Four Dead as Train Hits Trailer Carrying Veterans at Parade

Comstock/Thinkstock(MIDLAND, Texas) -- Four people died and 17 others were taken to a hospital when a train crashed into a parade float honoring veterans in Midland, Texas, late Thursday afternoon.

"From what we know right now, apparently there were two fatalities at the time of the incident and two more at the hospital that passed away after they'd been transported," Midland Police Chief Price Robinson said.

Midland Memorial Hospital confirmed the four deaths to ABC News.

Of the 17 injured at the hospital, 10 were in critical condition and seven were in stable condition, Robinson said.

The float was one of two 18-wheel trailers carrying wounded veterans and their families during the parade when a train approached, according to Hamid Vatankhah, a witness who owns a used car lot near the scene of the crash.

The first truck crossed the tracks in time, but the second did not, Vatankhah said, adding that sirens from the police cars in the parade may have drowned out the sound of the approaching train.

"Some people were able to jump, and some that were sitting in wheelchairs on top couldn't do nothing about it," Vatankhah said.

The floats in the Show of Support's Hunt for Heroes parade were crossing Union Pacific train tracks at Garfield Street and Industrial Avenue en route to a Show of Support Banquet around 4:35 p.m. local time, according to ABC News affiliate KMID-TV.

Witnesses said the train crossing gate did not go down before the floats got to the tracks, KMID reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board was launching a team to the site to investigate the crash. It expected to have investigators at the site this evening and a full team on site by Friday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov112012

Combat Veterans Relax at Dolphin Swim

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- For some veterans, seeing a trash bag in the street can trigger post traumatic stress disorder, but a swim with dolphins on Friday reminded 10 of them that "they can still laugh," their program director, Fred Gusman, told ABCNews.com.

Gusman runs The Pathway Home, a nonprofit residential recovery program in Yountville, Calif. that's helped more than 300 combat veterans from 25 states get back on their feet. One of Pathway's volunteers recently swam with dolphins for her 90th birthday party and suggested bringing veterans to do it at Six Flags.

"It makes them think, you know, maybe there is life, maybe there are things to explore and maybe life is not all that bad," Gusman said. "I think it's life-lasting."

The 10 veterans who went on the trip all had PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. When they got to the park, they broke into small groups and learned from trainers how to interact with the dolphins before they came face-to-face with their new marine friends.

Charles Quigley, who served in the Army Infantry in Iraq said it took some coaxing to convince him to go on the trip.

"I didn't want to come, I wanted to isolate today," Quigley told KGO-TV, the San Francisco ABC station. "But getting out here, doing this, it's amazing. Really a joyful day."

The veterans splashed with the dolphins, gave them kisses and even got to hang onto their flippers and go for a ride. One even did a little dance with the dolphin.

Six flags donated the morning dolphin adventure to the veterans, Gusman said.

It can be hard for returning veterans to re-assimilate into their old lives, Gusman said. Even once they find jobs or get into school, it's difficult for them to stay there. He said they have a hard time relaxing after living in a state of constant vigilance for so long.

Being in the same place for 15 minutes can be difficult because not moving during combat would give away their position.

"They're looking for something to go wrong," Gusman said, estimating that 70 percent of the people he helps have suicidal thoughts. "They have this feeling about themselves, a heavy sense."

But not on Friday, when the sun was shining after a day of rain, and the dolphins were whistling and clicking at them.

"Learning how to relax and interact with the community in a positive way," combat veteran Daniel Craig told KGO. "And learning how to be a civilian again, and you know that life's not all bad."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep142012

Congress Takes Aim at Phony Vets in New Stolen Valor Act

Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government got a step closer to punishing those who lie about military service for profit when the House of Representatives passed a revamped version of the Stolen Valor Act Thursday.

The legislation, which will go on to a similar vote in the Senate, would make it illegal for anyone to "knowingly" misrepresent their service "with the intent to obtain anything of value." Under the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, offenders would be subject to fines and short prison sentences, some of which can be lengthened if the guilty party lied about serving in a combat zone, serving with a special operations contingent or winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

The new act was introduced after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court struck down a previous version of the law, calling it unconstitutional.  That version was broader and criminalized the act of telling a lie about military honors or wearing unearned military awards, regardless of whether it was for profit.

The case moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeal, and the nation's highest court agreed with the 9th Circuit Court's decision -- that the law, as written, was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  Basically, it violated the right to lie.

"The Act by its plain terms applies to a false statement made at any time, in any place, to any person," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his written opinion in June.  "… [T]he sweeping, quite unprecedented reach of the statute puts it in conflict with the First Amendment... Permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense, whether shouted from the rooftops or made in a barely audible whisper, would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable."

The new law is designed to assuage those concerns and specifically targets people who intend to profit from their lies, making the act more akin to fraud.

"Our service men and women who have been decorated -- some of them posthumously -- for their exemplary service and heroic sacrifice defending our nation and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans deserve the valor they displayed to be defended against those who would seek to benefit from lying about military decorations," said Rep. Joe Heck (R.-Nevada), who introduced the new bill.  "The Stolen Valor Act of 2011 achieves this objective while ensuring we protect the constitutional liberties for which they fought."

The cases of military fakers spans across the country and, as a result, a small cadre of real veterans have donated their time to tracking down and publicly shaming the so-called phonies.

"It's not the barroom loudmouth that anyone is interested in," Don Shipley, a former SEAL who has been given unique access to the SEAL personnel database so he can root out Navy special warfare fakers, told ABC News in February.  "People tend to believe what they're told, they use that... They do an awful lot of damage."

Doug Sterner, also a veteran and a private watchdog who tracks military phonies, told ABC News after the Supreme Court decision that he put his hope in the new version of the bill.

"I've lost at things before. I pick myself up and I keep going because that's what we as soldiers [do] -- and I'm an old soldier... We don't dwell on our losses, but we keep fighting to get a victory," Sterner said on Friday.

In July, the White House announced its own strategy to hit back against military imposters: a website that tracks the names of actual medal winners from across the services.

"It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain -- it is contemptible," President Obama said in an announcement after the Supreme Court decision.  "So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who's been awarded our nation's highest honors.  Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen."

Regardless of whether the new bill is eventually signed into law, Shipley said he and others like him won't stop going after those he says dishonor his brothers in arms.

"It really doesn't matter in the long run," he said.  "We'll come back at them again and again."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep122012

DNC Apologizes for Showing Russian Warships in Tribute to US Veterans

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Organizers of last week’s Democratic National Convention apologized Wednesday for accidentally showing an image of the Russian navy during a tribute to U.S. veterans.

Soviet-era Russian warships were projected on a big screen above veterans as they stood on the convention stage last Thursday while retired Adm. John Nathman delivered remarks honoring those who serve.

“Due to vendor error, incorrect images appeared briefly on screen behind fifty-one veterans during the convention and the DNCC apologizes for this mistake,” the Democratic National Convention Committee said in a written statement to the Navy Times. “This error should not distract from the words of Admiral Nathman and others who spoke to President Obama’s strong record on issues that impact those who have served our nation.”

Never missing an opportunity, the DNCC also included a jab at GOP nominee Mitt Romney in its apology.

“We’re proud of the service and sacrifice of our veterans and military families, and while they were an important and active part our of convention, Mitt Romney failed to even mention them in his speech in Tampa,” they said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May212012

NATO Summit: Anarchists Clash with Cops, Vets Return Medals

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Protesters clad in black clashed with police on Sunday at the end of what had been a peaceful march and rally by thousands of demonstrators, led by disenchanted veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars protesting the opening of the two-day NATO summit in Chicago.

The demonstration was the largest the city has seen in years.

The battle between protesters believed to be members of the anarchist group Black Bloc and police left several demonstrators bloodied, and marred what had been a solemn and orderly march.

At the end of the march, the vets threw their NATO medals over the fence set up by the Secret Service around McCormick Place.

Some of the veterans told ABC News affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago that they had hoped a NATO representative would meet the group and take the medals back as a symbol of recognition.

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis criticized the black-clad demonstrators who clashed with police for undermining the emotional power of the veterans' act.

"You have classic Black Bloc ideology, peaceful ceremony, moving ceremony and these individuals use this as an occasion to disrupt, engage the police, engage in criminal activity," Weis told WLS-TV.  "Once they crossed that behind and are throwing bribes at the police officers and hitting them with sticks and weapons, then they have no option but to maintain control.  It is classic Black Bloc ideology.  It ruins ceremonies and ruins a ceremony of veterans turning in their valor medals."

The demonstrators had a wide range of agendas; there were anti-war activists, people concerned about inaction on climate change, and people protesting the handling of the global economy.

But the activists on the street weren't the only ones aiming to disrupt the summit.  A hacking group affiliated with Anonymous took responsibility for temporarily crippling the Chicago Police and NATO websites earlier on Sunday.

Chicago police are working with federal authorities to investigate the attack and the extent of it, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May212012

Roll of Honor: A Modern Memorial for Fallen Veterans

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It is difficult not to be moved when visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  For most it is heart wrenching to see the toll of that war so vividly laid out, with more than 58,000 names etched in stone.

One of those chiseled names is Leonard Lanzarin, or Larry to his friends.

Lanzarin was just 19 when he joined the army in 1969 and was sent to Vietnam.  He would die there a year later from malaria.  His fiancé at the time, Melinda Valle, still grieves.

"He was a person, a young person with hopes and dreams," she said.  Valle has been to the Wall, but for her it was "devastating … because there was no face to his name.  He was so much more than something carved in granite."

Now, Valle and others who have lost loved ones in military conflicts can put a face to the name on a virtual wall.  Called the Roll of Honor, it has been part of a larger website, TogetherWeServe, accessible only to members of the military.

But founder Brian Foster says it's time to go public.

"These profiles have been private for so long," said Foster.  "We felt it fitting that these profiles be in the public view … to ensure that families across America [can] apply to make the profile as complete and accurate for posterity."

Foster, who was born in Scotland and did business with the U.S. military, spent millions of his own money to create TogetherWeServe, a social networking site for veterans in 2002, even before Facebook was launched.

"We were doing this while Zuckerberg was doing his exams," laughed Foster.  

Part of that website was set aside for the Roll of Honor, which already includes 100,000 fallen profiles, with information on all of those who lost their lives in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and some who died in World War II and Korea.

"We know a great deal more fell in World War II and Korea", Foster said.  "And even though we have a profile for everyone who fell in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, many are not as complete as they could be."

Time is running out.  Of the 24 million veterans in the U.S. today, about half are from World War II, and Foster says "they are passing at a rate of 4,000 a day.  It is our objective to try to capture the stories of these service people before it's too late."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
May122012

Popular NJ Radio Host, Veteran’s Advocate Shot to Death

(LINWOOD, N.J.) -- A popular radio personality and veterans’ affairs advocate was found shot to death in her  New Jersey home, shocking neighbors and friends who say they can’t think of any reason somebody could want to kill her.
 
April Kauffman, 47, was found in her bedroom Thursday morning by a worker who stopped in to feed the Kauffman’s pet parrots, authorities said.  Kauffman sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Her husband, Dr. James Kauffman, rushed to their Linwood, N.J., home after learning what happened, neighbors told ABC News affiliate station WPVI.
 
“He told [my wife] that when he left the house, [April] was sleeping at 5 in the morning with a pillow over her face,” Lou Tate told WPVI. Tate said Dr. Kauffman kept asking “Why now?” possibly referring to his pending retirement and relocation to Arizona.
 
Kauffman was known throughout her community for her advocacy work, and was recently honored by Gov. Chris Christie as one of New Jersey’s outstanding volunteers. Once a week, Kauffman co-hosted a radio talk show, focusing on veteran’s issues.
 
In a statement on his website, her co-host Arthur Gropper wrote that he is “still disturbed, stunned and shocked by the news of the murder of a true friend, colleague and great person, April Kauffman….sadly April will never see her dream of local veterans’ healthcare come to fruition because of this senseless, gutless act. The Blond Bombshell of the Airwaves will be missed and loved forever.”
 
Neighbors and friends say they can’t think of any reason anybody might want April Kauffman dead. She and her husband were known for hosting charitable events and as supporters of numerous charitable causes, particularly U.S. veterans and wounded warriors.
 
The couple was also known to be avid gun collectors, and neighbors told WPVI the Kauffmans have a large vault in their basement where they keep the guns.
 
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office says they haven’t made any arrests in the homicide investigation. Authorities say they have questioned a number of people, including Kauffman’s husband, but haven’t named any suspects.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio