Florida Teen Selected To Write Eulogy For WWII Silent Hero

leo k chalcraft

U.S. Army Private Leo K. Chalcraft drowned off the coast of Normandy Christmas Eve 1944, just weeks after turning 19.

The toughest writing assignment 16-year-old Konner Ross will have this year is to write a eulogy for a young man she’s never met. But there’s a part of him the Largo High School junior never forget – his green eyes.

“They have his wallet from when they found it on the beach and on his identification card, it says (he has) green eyes and brown hair,” Ross said. “I didn’t know he had green eyes until then. So, that seems like something small, but it was really cool to learn for some reason.”

Ross is describing U.S. Army Private Leo K. Chalcraft, a St. Petersburg native drafted to serve in World War II. He drowned off the coast of France in 1944 on Christmas Eve, just weeks after turning 19. Continue reading

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WWII Vet’s Mustard Gas Claim Gets A New Review From VA

Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article from 1991 when he and several buddies from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station filed claims for VA benefits related to their mustard gas exposure.

Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article from 1991 when he and several buddies from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station filed claims for VA benefits related to their mustard gas exposure.

More than 70 years after being exposed to mustard gas at boot camp – a World War II veteran’s claim for VA benefits is being reconsidered.

It was not until 1991 that the Department of Defense declassified information on its mustard gas experiments using U.S. soldiers and sailors in training.

Veteran John Tedesco was exposed to mustard gas in January 1944 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station along with some of his buddies from his hometown of Erie, PA.

Navy veteran John Tedesco while serving during WWII. A photo of Joan, his future wife, is tucked into the frame.

Navy veteran John Tedesco while serving during WWII. A photo of Joan, his future wife, is tucked into the frame.

Joan and John Tedesco married more than 67 years.

Joan and John Tedesco married more than 67 years.

So, when the testing became public, Tedesco and his friends from boot camp went down to their local veterans’ office and filed VA claims.

“They were all kind of sick too,” said Tedesco, who has asthma and says he’s had breathing problems ever since he enlisted at age 17. “We had to go up to the VA and get tested. It took two days and I never heard anything from that. That was the first time we tried to get something.”

Tedesco would try again with more evidence – a copy of a letter written home about the mustard gas tests by a friend in the same company at Great Lakes. But that claim was denied too.

“I’ve been turned down every time I’ve tried. Even though when I got that letter and it said in there we were mustard gassed, they still turned me down,” Tedesco said. “So then, I said the heck with it.”

He wasn’t the only veteran to disillusioned after being exposed to mustard gas and denied benefits.

“Big promises were made to these men by the federal government decades ago,” said Caitlin Dickerson, a reporter with the NPR Investigations Desk. “And it was very clear that those promises weren’t upheld. And that there wasn’t a whole lot of time left to tell their stories.”

A copy of the 1944 letter that mentions the company's mustard gas testing at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

A copy of the 1944 letter that mentions the company’s mustard gas testing at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

Dickerson spent months digging through documents and the 1991 congressional testimony when those promises were made to care for the thousands of WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas by their own government.

And that NPR investigation has refocused attention on veterans who were exposed but did not receive VA benefits.

It’s hard finding evidence because the mustard gas experiments were kept secret for almost a half century after WWII ended. But Dickerson said the vets could be helped by a ruling in 2006 that allows a veteran’s testimony to serve as evidence.

A veteran has to prove that they were injury in the military, that their disability or illness is service related and still affecting them today.

Dickerson said the VA is now handling all mustard gas claims through one office.

“These mustard gas claims are very specific because, again, they in many cases, they lack that essential evidence. And they’re more nuanced,” Dickerson said.

John Tedesco's wall of memorabilia from his WWII service in the Pacific.

John Tedesco’s wall of memorabilia from his WWII service in the Pacific.

Several members of congress responded to the NPR series.

Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is one of a dozen senators who wrote the VA Secretary requesting that the VA immediately contact exposed veterans and review all pending and denied mustard gas claims.

“They didn’t have an option to say no just like the soldiers in Vietnam who were exposed to Agent Orange didn’t have an option to say no,” Nelson said. “There’s an obligation of the United States government to take care of our veterans.”

By mid-July, Tedesco had received a VA letter offering to review his denied claim. The 88-year-old retired carpenter and contractor filled out the VA form again requesting benefits for his mustard gas exposure from 71 years ago.

You can read Sen. Nelson’s full letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald here.

A 93-Year-Old Veteran Turned Away at Early Voting

vote-hereWith stricter voting identification laws in place, an election judge in Texas reports he had to turn away a 93-year-old veteran because his driver’s license was expired and the veteran had never applied for a VA identification card, according to a report from Think Progress.

Election judge William Parsley on Sunday said he has only seen one potential voter turned away at his polling location, the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center in downtown Houston.

“An elderly man, a veteran. Ninety-three years old,” Parsley, an election judge for the last 15 years, told ThinkProgress. “His license had expired.”

Under Texas’ new voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation, citizens are required to present one of seven forms of photo identification to vote. The identification can be a Texas-issued driver’s license, a federally-issued veteran’s ID card, or a gun registration card, among other forms. Licenses can be expired, but not for more than 60 days.

… And though he had “all sorts” of other identification cards with his picture on it, they weren’t valid under the law — so the election judges told him he had to go to the Department of Public Safety, and renew his license.

“He just felt real bad, you know, because he’s voted all his life,” Parsley said.

It was earlier this month that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the new, Texas voter ID laws to stand.

NPR Report on ‘Other Than Honorable Discharge’

NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence.

NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence.

This week, NPR’s Quil Lawrence is reporting on veterans who did not receive an honorable discharge after service in the military.

Eric Highfill spent five years in the Navy, fixing airplanes for special-operations forces. His discharge papers show an Iraq campaign medal and an Afghanistan campaign medal, a good conduct medal, and that he’s a marksman with a pistol and sharpshooter with a rifle.

None of that matters, because at the bottom of the page it reads “Discharged: under other than honorable conditions.”

The “other-than-honorable discharged” have been turned away from medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs and from programs offered by other veterans’ organizations.

… more than 100,000 other troops left the armed services with “bad paper” over the past decade of war. Many went to war, saw combat, even earned medals before they broke the rules of military discipline or in some cases committed serious crimes. The bad discharge means no VA assistance, no disability compensation, no GI Bill, and it’s a red flag on any job application.

Yet, many with a bad discharge said it is due to post traumatic stress and other conditions directly tied to their military service.

You can read the full story and listen to the report here.

SCORE Hosts Free Veterans Entrepreneur Expo Sunday

Jack Grise, a Navy veteran and successful businessman, started the Veterans Initiative with Pinellas SCORE. Free mentoring, counseling and help with business start-ups for veterans and active-duty military and their immediate families.

Jack Grise, a Navy veteran and successful businessman, started the Veterans Initiative with Pinellas SCORE. Free mentoring, counseling and help with business start-ups for veterans and active-duty military and their immediate families.

As more and more active-duty military enter the civilian workforce, the number of Career and Job Fairs for Veterans has grown.

But very little so far has been offered to those veterans and military families who want to work for themselves.

 

Jack Grise with the Pinellas SCORE Veterans Initiative, sponsors of the free Veterans Entrepreneur Expo.

Enter Pinellas SCORE and its’ Veterans Initiative. For a second year, the free business mentoring group has planned a Start-Up Business Resource Expo for veterans, active-duty members and their families.

The Veterans Entrepreneur Expo: “Turn your Passion into Profits” is Sunday, Nov. 10, from 10 am to 5 pm at the Hilton Carillon Park, 950 Lake Carillon Dr, St Petersburg, FL 33716.

“The yearly expo is intended to take that 60-65 percent that think about self-employment but do nothing about it, I want them to know what resources are available,” said Jack Grise, a Navy veteran and vice president of the Pinellas SCORE Veterans Initiative.

Veterans and those currently serving can learn what is involved in starting a business and it’s all for free.

Pinellas SCORE has dozens of volunteer business experts ready to help veterans interested in starting their own business. Photo courtesy of Pinellas SCORE.

Pinellas SCORE has dozens of volunteer business experts ready to help veterans interested in starting their own business. Photo courtesy of Pinellas SCORE.

The Veterans Entrepreneur Expo is just the first step. What’s even better is that the Pinellas SCORE business counseling and mentoring is not a one-time stop.

“We work with the clients as long as they come back to us,” Grise said. “If you want to take advantage of the expertise and experience, the vast experience, that these SCORE mentors have, you’d be crazy not to, it’s free.”

The expo offers education tracks that cover the legal aspects of starting a business, social marketing, all about franchising, and most importantly ways to finance your business.

Pinellas SCORE volunteers serve as free mentors to entrepreneurs starting up or expanding businesses.

“I’ve invited a set of panelists. There’s an angel investor coming. There’s a crowd-funding person that started a crowd funding organization, (Small Business Administration) SBA subordinated loans from banks,” Grise said.

There are additional financing opportunities like the SCORE Pinellas business start-up grant program for veterans who qualify. It is designed to assist and guide veterans or their family members to achieve business success.

The keynote speaker is Mark Swanson. an Army veteran, successful serial entrepreneur and Bright House executive.

There is no cost. Prior registration is preferred but walk-ins will be welcomed.

Veterans and military who can’t make it to the Expo are invited to contact Pinellas SCORE to learn for training on the basics of starting or buying and successfully operating a business.

Researchers Work to Prevent Neglect Felt by Past Veterans

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

An estimated 2.3 million men and women have served during the nation’s 12 years of war. And as they transition out of the military, the veterans will need care for immediate and long-term conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

And many from health care professionals to retired military are concerned that the neglect of past veterans is not repeated with this new generation.

Troops in WWII came home in 1945 and went right back to work and college. There was no re-integration, no recognition of post-traumatic stress. So many WWII vets had to find their own ways to cope with the trauma of war.

“I never saw my father go to bed – in my entire life – sober. I never saw him go to work drunk,” said retired Lt. Gen. Martin Steele. “I always saw this tortured man with the self-discipline and commitment and resolve to live life one day at a time.”

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

Alcohol was how Steele’s step-father, a WWII veteran, dealt with his trauma of having his fighter plane shot down, spending a year in a Prisoner of War camp and being tortured by the Germans.

His step-father’s story of survival transfixed Steele who joined the Marines at age 18 and served two tours in Vietnam.

“Many of my generation in Vietnam struggle every day. They’re not coming out,” said Steele, who retired as a three-star Marine Corps general.

Yet only recently, did two of his closest buddies from Vietnam confided to him that they suffered from post-traumatic stress. Steel said they told him in the hope that current PTSD research could possibly help them.

Steele now serves as associate vice president for Veterans Research at USF – home to several veterans health initiatives for treatment of Military PTSD. One example is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). Dr. Kevin Kip, head of research for the College of Nursing, runs the ART program.

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

“We do have a new study starting up for post-traumatic stress disorder many of whom the veterans will be treated at the C.W. Bill Young Building on campus,” Kip said.

The goal of academia is to apply the research as quickly as possible according to Interim Vice President of USF Health Dr. Donna Petersen.

“We simply can’t wait for the usual trickle down of our scientific papers and years later becoming accepted practice,” Petersen told a gathering at USF’s national conference on veterans health.

But research is just the first step in caring for the new generation of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

“This population that we now have who have served in this 12 years of protracted war that we have to have a net for them,” Steele said. “Yes, they have to take care of themselves but we have to have a net for them to be able to welcome them with open arms and provide all the resources this nation can bring to bear to ensure that they have a quality of life.”

And Steele added that caring for today’s veterans will help mitigate the lack of services provided to veterans of WWII and his generation from the Vietnam War.

You can hear the radio version of this story at WUSF News.org.

World War II Veterans to Visit Closed Memorials

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

One of the iconic moments of the federal government shutdown took place at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. last week. National park security staff stood by as veterans from an Honor Flight – some in wheelchairs – pushed pass barricades to the closed monument.

That incident has not sway veterans from West Central Florida to delay their Honor Flight visit scheduled Tuesday.

Instead, Barbara Howard, a board member for the West Central Florida Honor Flight, said she and others contacted members of congress.

“It is their right to see their memorials,” Howard said. “So, I felt very very sad that there was this unintended consequence, the memorials being shut dow,n but I’m really happy they’ve made arrangements now that WWII veterans can get in and see them.”

English: Aerial view of the National World War...

English: Aerial view of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Howard received an email from Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor stating that Honor Flight veterans could visit certain memorials under their First Amendment Rights.

“We’ll be able to go into the WWII Memorial. We’ll be able go to the Korean and I think possibly the Vietnam. I don’t know that they’ll be able to go up into the Lincoln Memorial – we’re not sure that those stairs will be open,” Howard said.

Two other West Central Florida Honor Flight are scheduled October 29 from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport and November 12 from the Lakeland Linder Airport.

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