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March / April 2009

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Veteran Cover

By Marc Leepson

You see them pop up every year after Thanksgiving along highways all across the nation: Christmas trees for sale on temporary lots, often by a local service club. Many Lions Clubs run Christmas tree sales operations and many of them are excellent fundraisers. If your chapter is thinking about a Christmas tree fundraiser, here are some tips from a very successful one run by the Suburban Lions Club in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

The club has been selling Christmas trees and wreathes on a donated lot along a state highway for eighteen years. Last year the Club netted about $13,000, selling about 600 trees, many to customers who come back year after year.

“The quality of the trees is important,” said Jim Cocchiaro, the club’s treasurer who has worked on the operation since it began. “We sell two types of trees, Fraser firs and white pines. The Fraser fir we call the ‘Cadillac of Christmas trees’; the white firs are less expensive.” Cocchiaro, a Vietnam veteran who served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in 1969, said the prices range from $20-90. “The Fraser firs sell the most. We get many repeat customers, including folks who have moved away from the area but come back just for our trees.”

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On a cold Wednesday in February, veterans from the PTSD Unit at the VA Medical Center in Lyons, New Jersey, traveled more than five hours by bus to honor those whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Some members of the group were as young as 18. Though from different generations—some served in Iraq or Afghanistan and some in Vietnam—the veterans were united in common purpose. They carried a plaque with their names inscribed on it, as well as the date they visited The Wall.

In the freezing wind and rain, the men marched in formation. At the apex of The Wall they began their ceremony with a prayer, giving thanks to those “who have paid the ultimate price.” On the ribbon of the wreath they placed at the base of The Wall were the words: “From Your Brothers of Lyons VA Combat PTSD Unit.” Every 45 days, rain or shine, they come to pay tribute to the fallen, confronting The Wall as well as their own pasts. The men interact with their supporters and friends, sharing their stories.

Brian Whetstone, a member of the group, spoke of the challenge of “facing The Wall.” While some had been to The Wall many times, for most, it was their first trip. At the Lyons PTSD Unit, the veterans are learning to cope with the physical and emotional pain they have seen and experienced. Though it is a difficult task to come to the Memorial, the veterans are proud to be there.

Today, AVVA life member Linda West  is a successful real estate broker in Tucson. But years ago, little Tran Thi Bach Yen Oanh watched from behind her grandmother’s skirts as American troops marched through her small village in Bien Hoa, listened at night to the Viet Cong gunfire or ducked for cover in the dugout beneath her bed, and tried to comprehend the historic events that surrounded and threatened her.

Her self-published book, Beyond the Rice Paddies, in which she expresses special gratitude to Herbert Robert West, her stepfather, describes her life in war-torn Vietnam from a child’s perspective. It is excerpted below.

In January, Linda West spoke to the Arizona State Council. She is available for other speaking engagements and can be reached at

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By Michael Keating

A“Goodwill Valentine’s Day Caravan” is what they called it. And that pretty much summed it up. But to describe more fully: It was a garrulous, rowdy, fun-loving circus of disparate groups crammed into a donated bus and U-Haul vans, all loaded down with unlikely and precious gifts intended with enormous affection and respect for the toughest yet the most vulnerable of America’s youth: its wounded men and women at Walter Reed. Oh, and did I say they were all from New York?

The entire production was put together and coordinated by VVA members from New York City under the direction of the United War Veterans Council and its impresario, Pat Gualtieri. The group involved as many organizations as possible. VVA Manhattan Chapter 126 and VVA Brooklyn Chapter 72 took leading roles. They were joined by the Metropolitan Transit Authority Veterans Association, the Samaritan Village Veterans Programs of Manhattan, the Ed Thompson Facility of Queens, the Brooklyn chapter of Nam Knights, the Never Forget Foundation, U-Haul International, HBO, Estee Lauder, Coach USA, the History Channel, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, and the New York City Council. Did I mention Miss USA Long Island, Alyse Zwick?

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