Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Serving Those Who Have Served Our Country

11 Nov

For the past couple of years, I’ve blogged on Veterans Day even when, like this year, I’ve been a bit remiss about blogging on other days.  Last year I remembered a man I am proud to have called a friend and whose cause I was honored to assist, Jimmy Proffit.

DSCN1311There are more than 50,000 homeless veterans on our streets today. I am glad that my father was never one of them, nor my friend Linda’s brother. I am ashamed that our country cannot take better care of these lost soldiers.

Today, I want to mention other veterans who have been inspired to serve their brothers and sisters no longer in arms who are in desperate need of help:

This morning I heard a feature news story on our local NPR station about another local couple whose similar altruistic impulses moved me to tears. Soldiers Committed to Remaking the World (RTW). Daniel and Arbetha Habeel founded RTW in 2010 to serve veterans. A retired, disabled Viet Nam era veteran, Mr. Habeel and his wife recognized, like Jimmy Proffitt and his wife Virginia had, that there are far too many homeless veterans on our streets. Whether unable to work due to physical disability, broken by PTSD, or simply ill-equipped to reenter the civilian world, these veterans often cannot easily access resources. It could be that the resources don’t exist, or that they don’t know how to track them down. We’ve all read about the backlogs at VA hospitals, for instance.

Mr. and Mrs. Habeel began by offering homeless vets a place to stay. They were affiliated with another veterans service organization and during a fundraiser for that group, homeless vets who were hungry rang the bell and asked for a meal. The Habeels fed them, charging whatever small change the vet could offer. When the vets offer nothing, the Habeels fed them anyway. They realized that the veterans living in the park across the street from their Washington Park home needed more services–food, shelter, transportation, clothing–and set out to provide it. They have been doing so for five years, taking no government funding in order to serve veterans who have had discharges other than “honorable.”

Chicago Standdown happened yesterday. I had the privilege of volunteering once at Standdown. Started by Vietnam veterans Robert Van Keuren and Jon Nachison in San Diego. According to their website, “nearly 200 Standdown events occur each year and it is estimated that over 52,000 veterans are served each year by these programs and approximately 27,000 volunteers help to make this happen.” Government organizations participate in these events and veterans can learn about services there, but the barbers and cooks are community members. Chicago Standdown occurs twice a year at the Humboldt Park Armoryand serves 700-800 veterans each time. Follow the fourth link below to hear a moving story about Standdown and how it helps vets from Seattle to Morriston NJ.

The lights on my porch are green this week. Every time I walk into the house, I think about those who have served our country in war and in peace. Have you said thank you? #GreenlightAVet

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A Moment’s Pause for Veterans’ Day (It’s not all about the sales!)

10 Nov

I’m listening to Studio 360’s fascinating radio piece, American Icons: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  I recommend it highly as a commentary on the memorial itself, but moreover as a reminder of how controversial the war was and how poorly remembered its veterans were for far too long.

Vietnam_Memorial_Web_Text

When Philippe and I visited the wall in 2003, we were moved by the somber yet elegant design. In the aftermath of 9/11, war was, of course, on our mind. But, daily counts of the deaths of “troops” and “civilians” had begun to dehumanize the very human toll of a war that was being waged so far away. Seeing the names of Americans who fell in a war to defend democracy on the other side of the world drove home the somber fact that our contemporaries were doing the same.

At around the same time, our friend Don, a Vietnam veteran, started telling us some of the stories of his four tours of Vietnam. In the first tour, as a draftee, he was one of a handful (or maybe the only?)  of his brigade to survive. He volunteered for his subsequent three tours out of a sense of guilt, duty, a job left undone. His service took him to Cambodia–unofficially–and in performing “black ops” he was asked to commit crimes in the name of his government. This part of his service was never officially acknowledged. Like the many veterans whose sacrifice was anonymous before the Wall was erected, Don’s service was invisible.

Shortly after our trip to D.C., Don proudly showed us his certificate of pardon from President Bush — his “illegal” service had been recognized and forgiven. Don is just one of many veterans of the Vietnam War, and other wars, who we have been privileged to meet through our friendship with Jimmy Proffitt.  As I wrote on Memorial Day, Jimmy is a Vietnam-era Marine who was injured stateside and never saw combat. Jimmy is, simply put, the salt of the earth.

Jimmy

Jimmy Proffitt (photo from Vietnow.com)

More than 25 years ago, Jimmy and his wife found themselves with leftover Thanksgiving dinner. They made about 30 sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and headed to downtown Chicago. Once there, they found homeless men and distributed the food. Recognizing the incredible need, Jimmy and Virginia continued to make sandwiches for Chicago’s homeless. Every Sunday, with the exception of Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day weekends, they circle Chicago’s loop with their small army of helpers. The Chicago Homeless Sandwich Project today distributes more than 1,500 bagged lunches each week. They also provide hot and cold beverages, clothing, and a ready smile to the increasing number of homeless on our city’s streets.

We have been privileged to ride with Jimmy many times, handing out sandwiches and seeing firsthand the need he fills. Jimmy tells us that more than 75% of the homeless on our city streets are veterans, men (and now women) who have come home from war so damaged that they cannot hold a job, or who lost everything while they were serving (job, home, family) and have not been able to get back on their feet.

Jimmy was called to serve his country, and while his own life has been modest compared to many more visible philanthropists, he may be the most philanthropic person I know. Next to the hospital that saved our child, The Sandwich Project is our favorite charity and I encourage you to click the link above and learn how you can support him.

As one of the commentators just said in the background as I write, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial serves as a mirror. The names on the Wall force to see ourselves, to recognize and individualize the real human loss, the loss of fathers, mothers, brothers, sons, sisters, daughters, friends. They are no longer “our brave servicemen and women who gave their lives.” Each one has a name and a story and a life left behind. Tomorrow their comrades, including Don and Jimmy, will gather at the Wall and read their names in remembrance and reverence.

As you shop Veterans’ Day sales and enjoy your day off (if you get one!), take a moment to thank the men and women who serve our country today and every day. You may not agree with the wars they are asked to fight, and you may not choose to serve as they do, but we should all be grateful for their dedication and sacrifices.

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