A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

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) was formed.

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 Canvas.

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 Honor.

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 percent.

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 215-560-3205.


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