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Veterans helping veterans

| Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Growing up in Monessen, Jim Smith joined the Navy in 1954. He spent his career serving at various stations around the world.

While still in the Navy, he transferred to the Fleet Reserve Association in 1973.

The Fleet Reserve Association consists of active duty, reserve, veterans and retired personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The association works on veterans issues that include benefits, pay raises, housing allowances as well as dealing with policy changes for veterans by urging them to write to their representatives in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C.

Smith was placed on the retired list for the Fleet Reserve Association in December 1984, and went on to work for UPS until he retired in 1998. However, he stayed with the veterans organizations by staying on the Fleet Reserve Association Northeast Region.

The offices Smith held while in the Fleet Reserve Association Northeast Region, which consists of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, includes regional vice president, regional president and regional convention chairman, which he became in 2004 and continues to hold today.

Smith has contributed many hours of volunteer work at Aspinwall Veterans Medical Center in Pittsburgh. He's a life member of four veterans organizations, including the Fleet Reserve Association, Naval Enlisted Reserve Association, AMVETS Post 103, American Legion Post 301 and a member of the Navy Club of USA (USS Pittsburgh 720).

He's the Christmas Fund chairman of the American Legion Fayette County Committee, Memorial Day Committee chairman of the Uniontown United Veterans Association and a member of the Fayette County United Veterans Association's Liaison Committee.

The accomplishments of which he is most proud are setting up veterans' benefit seminars in Fayette and the surrounding counties, reviewing applications and making recommendations to the Fayette County commissioners for the new Veterans Affairs director and helping give veterans in the area a voice to express their need for a VA Clinic in Fayette County.

"I guess the fact that I see some good results out of it, that's invigorating," Smith said.

He added that while things don't always turn out exactly as he originally hoped, he tries not to be bitter, takes things in stride and accepts decisions that are made by a majority or higher powers over a project. Smith said the most difficult thing about what he does is trying to get others in higher positions to see issues through the point of view of local veterans.

"Other than that, I never really had a difficult hurdle," Smith said. "I always had great cooperation with the people I work with."

Smith has had such great cooperation that he's in demand whether it be speaking at veterans' events, setting up benefit workshops for veterans or just doing duties for the organizations with which he's involved.

"If I can do it, I will; I only turned down one because I didn't have the time," Smith said. "Scheduling and coordinating is the big problem."

Smith said he cannot put a number on the hours he puts into volunteering with the veterans, but said that his wife, Louise, jokes that she saw him more when he was on active duty.

"I enjoy doing what I'm doing and lose track of time," Smith said. While he may slow down a bit, he's not going to quit, he said.

= Ken White of Mill Run, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Growing up in a town north of Chicago near the Wisconsin state line, Ken White entered the Air Force in 1969 and then entered the Coast Guard in 1974, retiring from the Coast Guard as a chief warrant officer in 2001.

He and his wife, Fayette County Veterans Affairs Director Rosemary White, have over 60 years of service in the military. The couple settled in Mill Run, but while living in Michigan 15 years ago, White joined Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is a nationwide nonprofit organization with the mission to educate the public about POW-MIA issues and help American veterans from all wars.

A motorcyclist, White said one of the attractions of Rolling Thunder was that a majority of members rode motorcycles to various events and fundraisers.

"But that wasn't what it was all about," White said, adding that when he joined the Fayette Chapter 5, he found a need to fill the void of president.

Although reluctant, White said it was something that needed done and he has been president of the organization for four years. As president, he is in charge of the yearly calendar, activities, interacting with the public and fundraising.

Some of the activities in which Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 has been involved include vehicle runs to visit veterans in hospitals, help assembling and stuffing care packages alongside the CAHS Patriots for troops overseas and the annual Bataan Memorial Death March where riders and drivers visit different veteran memorials and replace flags.

Last year, the group held a motorcycle run to raise money for Vietnam veteran Robert Palmer of Uniontown who was being treated for cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange. Chapter 5 joined other Rolling Thunder members to stand before monuments in Washington, D.C., to protect them against any vandalism by anti-war protestors during an anti-war rally.

When they're not educating the public on POW and MIA issues and helping veterans, they spend time fundraising. White said the chapter's number-one fundraiser is selling corn on the cob at the Fayette County Fair, which they've been doing for five years.

"We get a lot of interaction with the public and make money selling corn," White said. "The corn and materials are donated by local businesses and is popular. People will attend the fair and go straight to the corn."

White said that anyone can join Rolling Thunder. "They don't need to be a veteran and they don't need to ride or own a motorcycle. All they need to do is attend a meeting that's held every third Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the basement of the AMVETS in Hopwood if they want to help out the veterans."

"We're a small organization," White said of the 25 members of Rolling Thunder Chapter 5. "But we're doing something that's important and needs to be done and we get results."

= Joe T. Joseph of Uniontown, Army.

Growing up in Uniontown, Joe T. Joseph graduated from the Uniontown High School in 1955 and later spent three years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. He then had an honorable discharge.

Back in Uniontown, Joseph worked for 22 years as a sales representative for SCI Corp., where he was the top sales person in 50 states for three consecutive years. He later ran his own vending-machine business from which he retired in 2001 after 20 years.

Even through his years as a civilian, however, Joseph worked with the veterans. His uncle, John Faris, a past commander and officer for Post 51 for over 60 years, encouraged him to join the American Legion, where Joseph has been ever since. He was the adjutant until this month.

Working with the American Legion and independently as the World War II Committee chairman, Joseph took between 15 and 20 calls from veterans on a daily basis. He has been involved in shipping more than 7,000 care packages to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending cases of supplies to wounded soldiers in hospitals and VA clinics and visiting those soldiers, delivering holiday packages to veterans in area nursing homes and chairing the annual Americanism Day Parade, which he said is the biggest parade in Western Pennsylvania.

He worked with Col. Ulysses Win and his ROTC cadets from the Albert Gallatin School District, providing food, clothing and shelter to many homeless Fayette veterans and providing thousands of Christmas toys to needy children in the area. He worked with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, took busloads of locals to Shanksville for the past two years for a 9/11 ceremony and presented a program in Shanksville.

He visited more than 30 grade schools and junior high schools in the area for flag programs and to promote patriotism and worked with veterans and their families one-on-one on a daily basis.

Joseph's recent and more noticeable accomplishment was the erection and rededication of the World War II Memorial in front of the Fayette County Courthouse. He is selling memorial bricks for the structure.

His future projects include the rededication of another memorial in Monarch, an All Wars Memorial to honor soldiers from World War I to the present war, helping with the efforts to purchase a new wheelchair for Isaiah Kiss, 8, of Uniontown, who had his wheelchair stolen in January as well as working to make the child's house facilities handicapped accessible. He is working on placing pictures and biographies of three generals from the area -- Gen. John Mier, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Frank G. Helmick -- at the World War II Memorial, working with an Eagle Scout to change flags and retire flags from the Fayette County Courthouse and helping put together the annual festival ball at the Lakeside Party Center for the Albert Gallatin ROTC.

"I'm taking on so many projects, it's unbelievable," Joseph said, adding that he could not do all that he does without the help of his wife, Loretta.

Despite his many accomplishments and more on the horizon, Joseph said he's going to remain focused on his mission, providing help to veterans and soldiers serving in harm's way.

"I don't have any intention of giving up until the last soldier is home," Joseph said.

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