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july/august 2007

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BY MICHAEL KEATING
On Thursday, March 1, the sky over Enterprise, Alabama, turned dark, then ominous. Shortly after one o’clock, a tornado’s funnel reached out of the swiftly moving, leaden sky, touched down by the airport, withdrew, then slammed to the ground again. The twister dawdled through Enterprise, destroying everything it touched along a 10-mile trail. Eight students were killed at the high school, and many homes and businesses were totally ruined.

As he watched in horror on his television, Alabama State Council President Wayne Reynolds saw veterans in need. “They didn’t need handouts,” he said. “They didn’t need promises. They needed cash.”

So Reynolds turned to National. He called VVA President John Rowan and explained the needs. “Go for it,” Rowan said and directed him to the VVA Disaster Relief Committee. Reynolds contacted Tom Hall in Florida, who told him about procedures and applications, but Reynolds said he didn’t think that would work.
Although part of the committee’s job is to set parameters, Hall and Committee Chair Craig Tonjes immediately agreed with Reynolds’ boots-on-the-ground approach. What then, they asked, did he want?

Five thousand dollars, Reynolds replied, for which he would be personally and financially responsible. The request was made on Tuesday. By Friday, the committee had voted, decided affirmatively, and the money had been electronically transferred to the Alabama State Council. “By Friday,” Reynolds said, “the money was in the bank.”

“Doc” Reynolds also turned to VVA Chapter 373 in Enterprise. He asked Paul Kasper, the immediate past chapter president, and Max Roberts, past Alabama State Council president, to do what he couldn’t. He asked each to do a separate assessment of military and veteran families with critical needs. Those two men knew the community and they had witnessed the devastation.

It was a job that called for thoroughness, delicacy, and fairness. Enterprise is a military town. It’s close to Ft. Rucker and has a long familiarity and friendship with the military. That’s one reason many veterans stay after they retire. So the task was to compile lists that would help the greatest number of families who really needed the help—all within budgetary restraints.

On Saturday, March 10, Reynolds and his vice president, Mike Davis, drove to Enterprise and met with Kasper and Roberts. The four men carefully went over the two lists. They wanted the final list to be right. Reynolds had no grandiose reconstruction plans. He knew his resources and his limitations. “We needed something. We needed it stripped down, simple, and direct,” he said. “It’s what soldiers and veterans, given the chance, do best. It’s what they were trained to do.”
He also wanted this effort, though modest, to say something. “It shows these men, these families, that you care,” Reynolds said.

In the end, VVA’s national, state, and local organizations combined their skills to provide immediate assistance to storm-shaken veterans. The list was whittled down to twenty-one names. The goal had been a final list of twenty names, which would allow them to cut $250 checks. But the list didn’t get any smaller, and the State Council agreed to donate the final $250.

So Reynolds pulled out the checkbook, and they filled in the recipients’ names. Then the four men from VVA went through the ravaged area, shook hands with veterans, expressed condolences, and handed each a check.

They were greeted with hugs, handshakes, and tears. “President Bush has been here,” said a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. “The Governor has been here, and FEMA, and my insurance company has been here. But this is the first money I’ve seen.”

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