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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories/ Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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What do VVA, the nation’s best veterans’ service organization, and New York City’s Broadway, the nation’s (if not the world’s) top-quality live entertainment institution, have in common? At first blush, you might say not much.

But consider this: VVA has had strong connections in the last fifteen years with the productions of Miss Saigon and Movin’ Out, two of the biggest and most successful Broadway musicals of all time. When the bombastic, Vietnam-War-themed Miss Saigon had its debut on the Great White Way in 1991, VVA was there, sponsoring a sold-out fund-raising evening at the theater.

VVA honored Twyla Tharp—the famed choreographer who created Movin’ Out, the all-dancing musical of Billy Joel tunes that follows the lives of three men who fight in Vietnam and come home to serious readjustment consequences—with the President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2004. Since then, Tharp has been an outspoken VVA supporter and has give Vietnam veterans special treatment (including meetings with cast members) at the show, which continues to tour the nation.

Tharp played a prominent role in VVA’s third foray into the New York City big-time theater scene, the October 17 Broadway to Baghdad special fund-raising event. The two-part evening included a black-tie gala show at the HBO Theater on 6th Avenue, and a special performance of Tharp’s newest Broadway musical, The Times They Are A-Changin’, at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
The sold-out event, which drew rave reviews from everyone who attended, had several purposes: to honor America’s fighting men and women, to raise much-needed funds for VVA’s Service Representative Program, and to let the world know that VVA is living up to its founding principle: “Never again will one generation of Americans abandon another.”

“We adopted that principle at our first National Convention in 1983, in reaction to the way Vietnam veterans were treated when we returned home from serving our country,” VVA President John Rowan, a New York City native who hosted the Broadway to Baghdad event, said in his remarks at the HBO Theater. “One way we live up to our founding principle is our Veterans Representatives Program. We have over 400 service reps who last year helped veterans receive close to $100 million in benefits that they deserved as a result of physical and emotional problems sustained in service to the nation. We provide this free program to all veterans, no matter when they served.”

Addressing active-duty personnel and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rowan said: “VVA will be here to help you when you come home. Welcome home to all of you.”

Miss USA

The overflow crowd at the 5:00-7:30 HBO event included active-duty service personnel in uniform, New York National Guardsmen and women, New York firefighters and police officers (many of whom were September 11, 2001, first responders and many of whom also served in Iraq or Afghanistan), seven severely wounded Iraq War veterans who came as guests of the Seneca Gaming Commission (one of the event’s primary sponsors), along with dozens of VVA members and other Vietnam veterans. The VVA contingent included New York State Council Chair Ned Foote, Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund Chair Randy Barnes; VVA Women Veterans Committee Chair Marsha Four, Homeless Veterans Task Force Chair Sandy Miller; Public Affairs Committee Chair Keith King, Government Relations Department head Rick Weidman, and many New York-area members.

Also on hand were Tara Conner and Katie Blair, the reigning Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. “I love doing this,” Conner said as she took a quick break from posing for pictures with star-struck young (and not-so-young) soldiers, Marines, and veterans. “Being at events like this is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.” To which Katie Blair added: “I am very honored and very proud to be here among the troops.”

The HBO program, which was emceed by Vietnam veteran Don Buzney, included performances by the Leatherneck Pipe & Drum Corps, a stirring National Anthem sung by Marine Corps Corporal Elizabeth Quinones, the song “Saving Freedom, Precious Freedom,” sung by songwriter Nina Leon, country singer and Iraq War veteran Alton Miller performing his moving “The Man That Made the Medal,” and a patriotic medley by the USO Troupe of Metropolitan New York.

In addition to John Rowan, the speakers were Bill Nelson, a Vietnam veteran who is HBO’s Chief Operating Officer; Clarice Joynes, who runs New York City’s Office of Veterans Affairs; Pat Gualtieri, the head of the New York’s United War Veterans Council who organized the event; Layton Baker of U-Haul International, another event sponsor; Julie Mock, the president of Veterans of Modern Warfare; Retired Army Maj. General Richard S. Colt, who chairs the New York City’s Veterans Advisory Board; and Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Paul “Buddy” Bucha.

All of the speakers praised VVA, its Service Rep program, and its commitment not to do to the next generation of veterans what the previous generation did to us. As Bucha put it in his riveting remarks: “There is no difference between the men and women serving today and the veteran. We are all members of our military family.”
One person in the crowd whose service to America especially embodied what the event stood for was VVA member Joseph Patti of Wappingers Falls, New York. Patti served two tours with the Navy and Marines in the Vietnam War, the last with a recon platoon outside Danang. Today he is a 1st Sergeant with A Battery of the New York Army National Guard’s 258th Field Artillery Regiment based in Jamaica. In that job, Patti, 59, spent a year in Iraq as an operations NCOIC.

Given his age, he said, and his MOS, Patti could have spent his 2003-04 year in Iraq in the rear. But he chose not to. “I went out on patrol all the time,” he told us. “If my wife knew, she would have killed me.”

ON BROADWAY

After the festivities ended at HBO, the guests piled into four buses provided gratis by the Gray Line company and drove across town (in the driving rain) for the 8:00 curtain of The Times They Are A-Changin’ on Broadway. The lavish production is a phantasmagoric, circus-themed meditation on the human condition told through the lyrics of Bob Dylan and the inventive, energetic choreography of Twyla Tharp, who also conceived and directed the show.

After the last standing ovation, VVA members were asked to remain in their seats. Ten minutes later the stage lights came up and Twyla Tharp and the cast members assembled on the stage. She took questions from the audience and shared answers with the cast.

“I did Movin’ Out for you,” Tharp said, to honor Vietnam veterans’ service in our war. “I am doing this [event tonight] to honor the courage and bravery you show in your everyday lives and the compassion you show for today’s new veterans.”

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