April 2001/May 2001
Veterans Against Drugs Report
The Pennsylvania Model
By Richard Montgomery
Two drug dealers had an altercation in a tiny candy
store packed with children in Southwest Philadelphia in July 1988. They
pulled out guns and started firing. Ten-year-old Tony Yates, Jr., crouched
against a wall for safety. His brother, five-year-old Marcus, ran to him
for help, but a bullet ripped though his skull. Marcus fell dead. Tony
wanted to take off his shirt to stop the bleeding but was afraid he, too,
would be shot. So he used his hands to cover the bullet holes. Another
brother, six-year-old Malcolm, was shot twice.
The next day’s newspaper carried a front-page
photograph of the boy’s father, Tony Yates, Sr., at a memorial service
for his son, Marcus. His hat read: Vietnam Vet and Proud of It.
This was the spark that created the veteran anti-drug
movement in Philadelphia. VVA members Bryan Quinlan, Bennie Swans, and
Wilson Sprohnle joined other Vietnam veteran leaders in promising the
family to keep the memory of their child alive. Veterans Against Drugs (VAD)
VVA then began working with the community anti-drug movement. At night,
we occupied known drug corners so no sales could be made. More families of
innocent children wounded or killed in the drug wars became involved. The
Medal of Honor Society had a similar idea and formed Veterans Against
Drugs. They told us that the issue was too big for one group and that all
veterans needed to come together. We agreed and changed our name to
Veterans Against Drugs. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jim Bell, a former POW who
spent seven years in captivity in North Vietnam, became our leader.
During the holiday season, many families who lost children, no longer
celebrated. With support from the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program,
VAD started an annual holiday party.
Each year we present medals for bravery to children who have survived
violent crime and to siblings of murdered kids. I accumulated photographs
of dead children on my office wall. In 1993, we took them to Judy Ringold
at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. We asked if artists would be
willing to paint portraits. Several artists volunteered immediately. This
partnership resulted in a nationally famous exhibit, Lost Dreams on
Volunteer artists completed nearly 200 portraits, including those of
the nineteen who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. The state chapter of
the Military Order of the Purple Heart joined Medal of Honor recipient
John Crews and myself in awarding the portraits, medals, and a citation
from Pennsylvania Governor Ridge. All nineteen families of the children
who died attended. Five of the six children who survived also were there
along with Oklahoma Gov. Keating.
The exhibit travels primarily to schools that suffered violence. The
first, Edison-Ferrara, lost 64 students in the Vietnam War--more than any
other high school in America. It is in the poorest neighborhood in
Pennsylvania, a drug-infested area known as the Badlands.
Parents and siblings of murdered children accompany us to speak with
students. Survivors of violent crime, some of whom are in wheelchairs,
also participate. We espouse a career-oriented, anti-drug, anti-violence
message. Programs include military color guards and participation by
America’s greatest war heroes, those who were awarded the Medal of
In early 1998, with the help of the Governor’s Community Partnership
for Safe Children and the Philadelphia Inquirer, our partnership
created an educational component. It was delivered to more that 800
schools. We also worked with the School District of Philadelphia and the
Archdiocese to create a film that was shown in more than 100 high schools.
During this time, the murder rate for juveniles in Philadelphia fell by 55
For many years, we were the only chapter of Veterans Against Drugs.
Now, thanks to VVA, six states have chapters. VVA VAD coordinator and
former combat illustrator Herb Worthington recently completed a
magnificent portrait of a five-year-old girl, Iriana DeJesus, who was
kidnaped, raped, and murdered in North Philadelphia. Her killer is one of
America’s Most Wanted.
Rich Montgomery, the coordinator for Veterans Against Drugs,
Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, can be reached at