#131: NYC Welcomes Home Its Vietnam Vets – The Wall That Heals Comes to Queens – Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Wednesday December 20, 2023

America’s Vietnam Veterans didn’t come home to parades. They didn’t come home to standing ovations. They didn’t come home to a welcoming public that embraced what they did overseas. When many of our Vietnam veterans came home, they got spit on. They were told that their uniform was a disgrace, they weren’t integrated into society, and many people shunned them.

58,281 of our Vietnam veterans never came home at all. Queens, NY bore more than its share of service and of loss. In September, Fran Racioppi had the chance to welcome home our Vietnam Veterans and all those who served from New York when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund brought the Wall That Heals to New York City.

A 3/4 replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the wall comes to those who can’t make it to DC. After the police escort, building the wall and the opening ceremony, Fran sat down under the lights with the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans Services James Hendon, Chairman of the New York City Council Veterans Committee Bob Holden, Vietnam Veterans Association National President John Rowan, and Tony Nunciato, one of New York City’s bravest veteran families, having lost his brother and Annello in Vietnam.

They talked about the struggles our Vietnam Veterans faced when they returned, how America’s institutions weren’t ready for so many who had seen so much, how many of them answered the call to lead in politics and set the foundation for small business and our economy, and what NYC is doing to support Veterans of every generation. 

Freedom’s never free. It wasn’t in the past, it isn’t now, and it won’t be in the future. To all our Vietnam veterans, thank you and welcome home. Learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube

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NYC Welcomes Home Its Vietnam Vets – The Wall That Heals Comes to Queens – Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Welcome to the Jedburgh Podcast, Commissioner James Hendon, Councilman Bob Holden, John Rowan, and Tony Nunziato. This has been an incredible and impactful last couple of days. We’re sitting here and in some ways, it’s a bit of a culmination, but it’s the start because we had the opening ceremonies of the Wall that Heals. We spent the last couple of days setting it up.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

Commissioner, you and I have been together. We’ve talked every step of the way about what it means to bring it here. Now, we’re going to talk about the meaning, what it is, why it was started, and why it was so important to bring it to New York City. We’re sitting here in Queens and counseling. We’re going to talk all about why it was important to bring it to this spot, then we’re going to hear from both Tony and John about what it means to each one of you. John, having served, and Tony, having lost your brother in the war.

I want to start with you, Commissioner, because this was something that’s been on your radar for the last couple of years. During these ceremonies, our mutual friend, Mark Otto, the Executive Director of UWVC, stood up and said that it was a year ago that you said, “I need you to do me a favor, go up to upstate New York. There’s going to be a wall up there, the Wall that Heals. Go check it out and see if it’s something we can bring to New York City.” Why was this so important to bring here?

Thank you for having us on the show. We appreciate you doing the show, first off. The median age of our Vietnam Veterans is 78, and we wanted to bring this to folks before it was too late. I first learned about the wall when preparing for an Agent Orange Remembrance event we were doing back in 2021.

As soon as I learned about it, I said, “I want to do everything that we can to bring this to New York City.” I had a lot of back-and-forths. I went and we saw the wall out in Delaware, in Connecticut, then we got to a place where we said, “Let’s send Mark Otto and Ryan Hegg from UWVC, United War Veterans Council to see it in Middletown in New York just so we can all get comfortable with what this looks like to get done.” Not just from our perspective but from our friends at Park’s perspectives and the folks from the Office of Special Projects and Events and PD.

We could all come together and figure out how to solve this riddle of bringing this wall as soon as possible. We’re so happy to have it here in Flushing Meadows. I give honors to the Councilman and Chairman of the Veterans Committee for the City Council. It was important for us to do this in Queens because the highest number of veterans in this city is in Queens. We wanted to make sure to bring it to most who would be impacted.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I’m going to have you run through the stats here in a minute because you know better than I do. I was trying to write them down because I’ve heard you rattle them off. First, Councilman, New York is a big place. As the Commissioner mentioned, the highest concentration of veterans is in Queens. It is the biggest borough, but why this spot? Why right here and why fight so hard? You’re a huge advocate for veterans in your district.

I was appreciative. I wanted it in Queens, but Flushing Meadows Park was a site of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair and the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. This has meaning to the people of Queens, and to have the wall come to this location is meaningful. It’s the center of the borough. You have transportation and the highways. We got to LaGuardia Airport so you get a nice view.

We got the takeoff path of the LaGuardia right here in 80 seconds.

It’s a little noisy, but still to get it here. I know the Commissioner and his team were out here at 7:00 AM, setting up and planning it. I know he worked so hard. I could see what an effort this was. This is not an easy task and look at this beautiful wall or this memorial. We owe to the men and women who gave their lives. To have this come to Queens is a tremendous accomplishment. I didn’t even know that we had the most veterans serve in Queens.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I didn’t know all this. The Commissioner’s team found that information out, but it is that born and raised in Queens. I was going to go to the service when the war ended. I was in college then. It was my generation’s war. We were so proud of our dads who came back from World War II. When we were kids, we all played army. We all had plastic helmets and guns. We’d all play army all the time because that’s what our dads would tell us, that they served and we were proud of them. They came back to fanfare. They came back to parades. Vietnam vets didn’t.

It was a very different time. It’s so appropriate that it comes to Queens, our hometown. Many of my friends are on that wall that I went to high school with. It’s nice having them, remembering them, and honoring them this way. Again, the commissioner did this and I had to say, this is a great feather in your cap and you’re a team, by the way.

The Wall that Heals is a three-quarter replica of the Vietnam Memorial wall that sits in Washington, DC. One of the things we’ve talked about over the last couple of days when we talk about our Vietnam Veterans is that they are aging now. Many can’t go to the wall. Many haven’t gone through to the wall. This is an opportunity to bring the wall to them. If you could talk about the numbers for a second because 58,281 names are on this wall and the wall in DC. There are 161 medals of honor. This one stands at 140 panels that make it up. There are over 1,500 that are still MIA from the Vietnam War. What about from New York?

To add to those numbers, as you mentioned, 58,281 names on this wall, of whom 4,119 are from New York State and 1,744 are from New York City. We need to also talk about those who are unaccounted for when we think about 1,578 who are unaccounted for nationally, 102 of whom are from New York State, and 36 of whom are from New York City.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

It was important to us when this wall first arrived in Staten Island before we did the ride to bring it here. I mentioned to you before I got emotional because I felt like we were bringing our people home. You have folks who once they left their neighborhood in Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, or Brooklyn, they never came home. This was the homecoming.

One other thing I’ll mention about this wall, you mentioned 140 panels. It’s important to note to our friends that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will say it. These are ordered chronologically by date of death. The first panel accounts for five years of combat deaths. The second panel accounts for five months of combat deaths. The third panel accounts for five weeks of combat deaths. You’ve got 73 panels that are just 1968.

Twenty panels from 1969 and fourteen panels from 1970. You get a real feel for the magnitude of what this is, what it meant, and why we speak about the service members who made that ultimate sacrifice. I make sure we don’t lose sight of the loved ones, the families, and all who are impacted by this.

[bctt tweet=”While we speak about the service members who made that ultimate sacrifice, make sure we don’t lose sight of the loved ones of the families and all who are impacted by this. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

Two hundred forty-six is the number of the most casualties in one single day during the Vietnam War in that period in 1968. John, you served in Vietnam. You said in your speech a few minutes ago that this war was different than wars we had fought in the past. Why?

It was different in a number of different ways, and not different in some ways when you look back on the history. We lived in the shadow of World War II. My father was a World War II veteran. He was a four after FTE. He never got out of Texas. He had gone to law school, but he filled his teeth because his parents were born in Ireland and couldn’t be trusted to do legal work. It’s great. This is the military for you.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

As Bob said, when we were growing up, especially here in Queens, Queens was post-World War II. The whole country was developed after World War II. All those people who moved in here had all these kids who ended up becoming Vietnam Veterans. Quite honestly, were all World War II folks. It was different because, unfortunately, the World War II veterans and even the Korean veterans to some extent came home to a country that gave a damn about them. It was ecstatic that we won and we had this great victory over the fascists. We were changing the whole world at the time.

The benefits that were given to veterans after World War II were a whole lot better than we got. Interestingly enough, the World War II GI Bill was only stopped in 1963, just before Vietnam got hot, and we started to bring body bags home, unfortunately. They killed a major piece of legislation that kept the World War II veterans going and made them the people that they are now. Sent people to school for the first time, and gave them a middle-class education, and living.

We came home to nothing. My GI Bill, when I went back to school, finally. Thank God, City University was still around and still free. It was $115 a month, period. That was it. That’s all I got. It went up a little bit over the years because I was early. I was out at the end of ’67. In December ’67, I had gotten out. I was out a year and a half early. My father had gotten sick with lung cancer so they said, “Go home, kid.”

One of the major initiatives and the role that you’ve held for a long time is the national president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, which has been instrumental in keeping the memory of Vietnam alive, investing in things like the monuments and the wall. Talk about that role and why that organization has been critical over time in keeping it alive.

The other thing was we were the flower children. We were all of that. We were the pot kids. We came home to a whole different lifestyle. Our fathers were the crew-cut guys who drank. Unfortunately, many of them drank too damn much. In the Vietnam generation, we had other alternatives besides that, like pot and all the rest of it. We lived with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, as the old saying used to go.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

We clashed with our parents. They didn’t understand us. We didn’t understand them. There was a lot of that with the veterans community. The old guys didn’t understand us. They also didn’t understand Vietnam. They said, “You’re only there a year.” The fact is most combat veterans from Vietnam who did their year spent more time in actual combat than the World War II vets did in five years because they would rotate people in and out. They would sit waiting.

When they went into combat, it was horrendous, and thousands of them died and were wounded. It was a very different thing. They also didn’t understand PTSD, which we didn’t even know what it was. We created it to make sense of what we were coming back with. We had to do a lot of things for ourselves in the process, which created a whole different understanding of what veterans go through. We did PTSD. We had a deal with Agent Orange. Toxic exposure stuff that frankly has killed many more of us than the VC did. All of that was a real change in the whole aspect of what being a veteran was, how to treat them, and what you need to do for them.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

We were also truly the first real integrated military. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of problems inside the military. I wouldn’t be the first to think we did some great revelation there, but the bottom line is we did how to serve together. There are more stories than you can count of people saving each other and people taking care of each other, no matter what their race was.

Tony, you told that story. A little bit of going just to set it up here. Your brother, Nello, was ten years older than you. Deployed to Vietnam. I have a son and daughters. A lot of my time in the military, I didn’t have any kids. You’re young, you go forward, and you do great things for your country. You never think about all the residual things that might happen to you, even though you’re losing friends. You’re losing people who work for you.

You get up every day, you go, and you do it for each other. That comradeship. There’s no Black, White, man, or woman. It doesn’t matter. You’re there because you’re there for each other. People ask me all the time, “How did you lead in combat? Did you agree with the mission?” I tell them all the time, “The mission didn’t matter. What mattered was making sure that everybody that I came with went home.”

I look at my kids now, and I often think, “What if I wasn’t here? What if my son went and answered that call that I did and never came home?” I heard you speak, and I heard the others speak. They talk about losing their children and their brother. It makes me emotional because I don’t know deep down, even though I’ve seen this firsthand, lost guys in combat, how I would deal with that when it was that close to me. Talk about your brother, his call to service, and what your family has gone through.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

My brother was a B-plus student. He was amazing. He received many awards from different organizations, including the Kiwanis. He was a Gung Ho. He was amazing. I was only 9 or 10 years old, and he said he was enlisting. He came from a history of military. My uncle and my father’s brother served in World War II, and he was killed in Belgium defending France.

He stormed the beach to Normandy. He did the whole thing, and he died. He got killed over there. My father was in the 9th Regiment. After that, he was in the military. My father’s father’s brother was in the military. The whole family was always in the military. They came over from 1911 from Italy, and it was America. It wasn’t Italy. It was America. We came here and acclimated instantly.

I’m with you. My grandparents all came from Italy. We’re just a little bit further North to Rhode Island.

There you go. North Italy. Not to our South. They came and acclimated. I never saw an Italian flag. Not that they were embarrassed. They were Americans. My grandfather and my grandmother worked. My grandmother had eleven children. I grew up with 31st cousins within three blocks. It was the American dream. He worked and worked.

He bought a family house, bought another family house, and all lived next to each other. It was an amazing thing. What you wanted to do was give to the country that was so good to you. My brother had no second thoughts. When he wanted to do it, he didn’t have to be drafted. He could have been safe. He had the mocks. He had everything, but he wanted to serve. He even came back for a short stint when I was in school at Saint Sebastian’s.

He would go around from class to class, showing the proper way of parachuting because he was in the 101st Airborne Division. I remember going from class to class and how proud I was. He was in his uniform coming in, how he’d count 1-1,000, 2-1,000, 3-1,000, pull a cord, roll over, and it was amazing. The guys’ eyes were wide open.

It’s the longest three seconds in their lives.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

When he first said 1-3,000, I said, “You’re going to hit the ground before 3,000.” It was such a proud thing. My brother did it all the way. My mother would send the packages. We did the whole nine. Send a salami to your boy in the army from Katsus. We’d send packages. We’d send everything. Tying a household. My mother would say, “The boys like to have a drink.” They sneak a bottle of whiskey, and they have to send it overseas, but it is all good. He wrote to my mother. He was the firstborn. My mother’s apple of her eye. I was the baby and I had three sisters in between.

My mom always had a revelation when she came. She knew the night before my brother wasn’t coming home. She saw it there and she said that she was sweeping the floor. She looked up and my brother was there in full regalia. She goes, “Neil, what are you doing?” He bent down to hold the shovel for her to sweep onto the shovel. She goes, “How did you get home?” He disintegrated right in front of her. The next day, the military came to her door to say the news that my brother was missing in action.

Again, the story of the river, my brother was there. I found the story out from the leader of the group from the division. He called me up. He came to me five years later. He said, “Your brother was there.” They were going to do recon for two men out in the watercraft and he goes, “My brother said no. It’s always three. I’ll make sure there are three.” As I said before, we didn’t grow up with racism. We grew up with Americans. There were two African Americans and my brother. My brother said, “I’m going with them.” He went there into the water, and my brother saw the snipers in the trees. He stood up and said to the people on the land, “We have snipers.”

They all took cover and saved everybody on the land. My brother and the two men that were in the boat were killed. They fought side by side. They died side by side. I lost a part of my mother and father after that. My mother was never the same. My father was never the same. He saw this tragedy with his brother. Now he has it with his son, then when we went to the funeral, my grandmother was alive. She saw the 21 gun salute again at the family grave.

My grandmother collapsed at the grave. Our family and all of us were distanced because it was a big void in our lives. It was something to see the wall to make sure his name was out there to show. He gave his life. He gave everything to serve our country and to see it memorialized, traveling around, as I said before, where he would never be able to travel. That his name is out there, and his pictures are on that wall. It gives me great homage because, as a baby of the family, my other ones always kept quiet, my sisters, because of that huge loss. To know that his name is out there, it’s being honored and remembered for the country. It makes me feel very proud that his name is alive.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I applaud the Commissioner, the Councilman, and the Vietnam Vets for making sure that this is there because it’s a little etching, but that person’s name, with 100 people behind it. It’s a lot of families. If we did that, it would be three million people’s names with all the families that are attached to that name.

John, you talked about PTSD and what veterans go through as they come back into society from any conflict or from any of their service. Commissioner and Councilman, you both are so active in the veterans community. I have to applaud New York City and New York State. Before we started, I was telling you about the show, but I run a business that’s certified as a service-disabled veteran-owned business in New York State. We work all across the state in security, operations, logistics, and procurement.

I had a meeting with my two guys, also veterans. One is a Marine and other Special Forces Operator who works on business development with us. In our whole company, about 8 or 10 of us are all Marines or Green Berets. We’ve come together to build this to work with New York City and New York State because of the opportunities they have provided to veterans and veteran organizations.

The VA is a place that historically has been a difficult place to go to. A lot of emphasis in New York and at the Federal level has been put on the VA. When I got out, I didn’t even know until a few days before that I could get medical care through the VA. As you look at our Vietnam Veterans and you look at the post-9/11 generation now and all of these initiatives that are here in New York, in the city, what are the priorities? I’ll start with you, John.

First and foremost is to identify our veterans. I mentioned earlier that many of our veterans don’t self-identify. There are larger reasons why. Both the numbers nationally, it’s 33.6 % due. In New York State, it’s 29.6%. In New York City, it’s 24.2%. In New York City, I tell folks, “If you see me, the three other folks who’ve served who you don’t see and who don’t even come up and say that they are a part of this community.” It’s a huge piece of it.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

Even when you mentioned how you found out that you were eligible for VA health care so late in the game, a lot of it to me comes back to the VA not spending to market its services, but also them not getting that funding. It comes back to us. Do we as a country want to pay the full cost of doing right by the men and women who served?

That’s the ultimate thing. For me, if we have more of our brothers and sisters coming from out of the dark to the light, that’ll be the sea change as far as seeing more folks utilize things. At the same time, it’s incumbent on us to put as much skin in the game to fight for our benefits in the same way that our Vietnam brothers did the decades before us. We stand on top of their sacrifices, even the PACT Act, which was just class. That wouldn’t have occurred if you didn’t have VVA advocating for decades for these things.

As the new generation of combat veterans, we need to be as tenacious when it comes to advocating for the things that we have earned. It’s a user-loser situation. I fear sometimes that there’s this complacency for our generation of vets where we take for granted what is available to us. If you don’t truly just fight and hold certain people accountable to make sure that you get what you’ve earned and deserved. It’s not about you losing it. It’s about the next generation of veterans not being okay. How do we handle that baton handover?

I was having a conversation with an organization about benefits, specifically disability benefits. The comment that I got was their boss said, “You didn’t get the right amount, so just suck it up and deal with it. Don’t fight for it.” My response was, “That’s completely unacceptable,” because that speaks to exactly what you’re talking about. If we don’t go that extra mile, if we don’t ask the right questions, and if we don’t understand the process, and we just deal with it, then the next person that comes along just deals with it. In 20 or 30 people, no one knows that the VA has healthcare for you the day that you get out.

Councilman, at the local level, we hear so much about the Federal level, but one of the great things about being in this New York and New York City contracting world is you see that the magnitude and the opportunities that exist all the way from the state level and the state organization down in New York City down to each one of the boroughs have their own opportunities. What is Queens doing? What are the opportunities that Queens has for veterans today?

You talked about priorities. My committee, the Veterans Committee, wants to help the Vietnam Vets. That’s my first priority because they’re the ones who came back and suffered from a lot of diseases. Not only from post-traumatic stress disorder but also from Agent Orange, as John mentioned. We didn’t help them enough. We still have them, unlike many of the World War II vets who were undiagnosed. My dad was undiagnosed of post-traumatic stress disorder. My uncle was witness to that.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

As a relationship, I didn’t have a good relationship with my dad because of that. I only found out after he passed that my uncle said, “Your dad was the greatest guy I knew, but you never met your real dad because the war changed him.” He never got the help. I would go down with my mom to try to get benefits for him. I tried to get him help, and we never got it. We only got it a few years before he died. My goal here is to not only do it for Queens. Queens is important to me, but the Veterans Committee is helping carry on the work my mom did.

My mom would go to the VA to read to the veterans who were hospitalized every weekend until she was well into her 80s. It’s ironic that the year my mom passed away, I got to be Veterans Chair and carry on her work. I got chills up. I didn’t even ask for the Veterans Committee. It was given to me. I think somebody up there says, “You got more work to do.” My work here is to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and veterans who are sick.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I had a veteran come up to me and say, “I had an abscess in my mouth. I had a tooth that was inflamed. I went to the VA, and they said they couldn’t do it because I didn’t get 100% disabled.” They wouldn’t even work on an abscess in his mouth. Yet he had cancer. He developed lung cancer because he worked on a ship that had asbestos. I said to him, “We’re going to get you 100%. You need to be treated and cared for.” This is not unusual. As the Commissioner said, a lot of the vets don’t know what they’re supposed to have and what benefits are there for them. If my committee can help with that and if I can help with that, I would feel that I’m accomplishing something.

John, you’ve seen a massive evolution. You served and you were out in 1965. You didn’t have that homecoming. You came back to the city, and you were put into that VA system.

When I came back, I didn’t have anything. I was never wounded. I was never shot at. My PTSD was real. They gave me a rating on that, which I thought was funny because I was not a grunt. I was an intel guy. A linguist of all things, but we changed things, Unfortunately, what happened to most Vietnam veterans is that the toxic exposure stuff was killing us literally and killed us already in great numbers.

That’s coming in your generation of veterans with the damn burn pit stuff, which is the fact that they did that after going through being exposed to all the issues with Agent Orange. That they did something stupid was unbelievable. I did see a tremendous change in the VA because I used to go to the VA with my father in the ‘50s. I went to the 23rd Street Hospital that I go to now. Back in 1956 or something when I was eleven, it was much better.

They’ve opened everything up, but we bitch a lot to get that done. We made them understand that they had to deal with this toxic exposure stuff. We made them understand that they had to deal with PTSD and take it seriously. They had to understand it. They had to make it understand what it led people to do and why some guys ended up in jail. We had to create all kinds of new programs, so we had to create vet centers that treat PTSD. They didn’t exist.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

We had to create the veterans courts in the City of New York to deal with guys while they were stupid and doing dumb things because of their PTSD. The criminal stuff they were doing wasn’t serious enough, thank God, to lock them up for a life. I served on a state commission back in the ’80s on the readjustment problems of Vietnam Veterans. We had all Vietnam Vets running the show. I remember the story of a guy upstate who came back after two tours of hardcore combat stuff. He was totally nuts. His wife was afraid. She called the cops and they took him away. They put him away for a little while. They let him back out again.

The second time he went nuts, she called the cops again. The poor state troopers were coming up the walkway. He goes out and shoots him and kills him, so the trooper is dead. They put him away immediately, and he never got out of jail again. He spent the rest of his life in Attica, and the family’s gone. They think they had one or two kids, I forget. That whole family is screwed. The state trooper’s family is screwed. Why? It’s because they didn’t treat this guy’s real issue, which was his post-traumatic stress. Thank God they’re getting very good at that now, and they’re a lot more attuned to it.

Thank God they’re more attuned to the toxic exposure issues, so they’re getting better at that. We created the Court of Veterans Appeals. My organization was the one that fought everybody, including the old guys, on making sure that when you went through the process of filing for disability, if you didn’t get it, if you didn’t get approved, you had a place to go to appeal it legally. They created the Court of Veterans Appeals, and that changed the rules. It changed everything. There are still issues with the disability ratings and stuff, but it’s a lot better now than it was in those days.

The biggest one for us too was the GI Bill. The GI Bill that folks get today is unbelievable. I deal with a group called Student Veterans of America. They’re friends of mine, and they’re sharp. These kids, the younger veterans are smart. Their board of directors is half veterans and half corporates, big corporations. I remember going to their convention when the guy who was on their board from Raytheon Corporation was talking and said, “We’re going to give you another million dollars to help you keep you and get your programs going.” I said, “Not bad.”

The bottom line is the real thing was they got these kids to go to school. The post of the post-9/11 veterans talk about stats, 70% of them have a college degree or better, master’s degrees, PhDs, MDs, or JDs, because we created that place to go back to school no matter where you went. We also browbeat the elite schools to open up their doors too. My wife’s cousin came out of the Marine Corps and went to Columbia.

The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

Columbia has a huge veterans program.

They have a great veterans programs up there. The tuition he paid was a lot less than the tuition the guys and gals sitting next to him paid, but rightfully so.

I’m a recipient of that. I went to NYU. The GI Bill paid for that, so thank you.

You’re welcome. It’s not just me. It was all of the Vietnam Veterans and our advocacy over the years because we knew we got screwed, and we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. The truth of the matter is that I laugh about this too. The post-9/11 veterans aren’t our kids. They’re our grandkids. We’re so freaking old. Our real children ended up in Dessert Storm. They were the real children of the Vietnam Vets. Now it’s the grandchildren.

Tony, I want to ask you real quick. Your family has given you a lifetime of service. You talked about your grandmother and your parents and what you’ve all given as a truly gold star family at every generation. We sit now at an interesting point in society. We come out of over twenty years in the global war on terror. We have a real threat that sits on the horizon.

We called it near-peer for a long time now. It is truly a peer-to-peer competition that we’re in. Veterans in Congress are at the lowest number that they’ve ever been in history. Although, this Congress that sat this year, the numbers are up since the last couple of years, which is great to see. What do you say to the families and the young men and women who are out there now who have that call to serve and have it somewhere in their mind that, “I might be able to make a difference if I go out there and do something?”The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I say God bless them because they have the real American spirit. I had a store, and when 9/11 happened, I had a driver working for me, and he was going to go enlist. He went to enlist because he said, “How can they do this to us?” It’s called pride of country. You have like the red ants. You have the people make the bridge. They sacrifice their lives so the other ones can cross that bridge.

For someone like that, it just shows their love for this country. My family never said, “Our country was America.” The thing is that we gave. We made sure we were safe and secure, and everybody else could have a great life. That’s what it’s about. You have that drive. My son is a police officer. Do I have an inkling that I saw my brother killed? I heard about my uncle, but they have that calling because they want to make America better. How can I say, “Don’t?”

Deep down, you say you wouldn’t want it, but they want to make it. I commend them. It’s a real American way of doing things. I’d say, “God bless and keep going strong,” because that’s what we need. It’s not free. Freedom is not free. We all see that. When the Irish came over, they put uniforms on them and said, “Come on, let’s go fight the war.” Everyone comes over. Every war that comes over, they went and they fought. They were proud to serve.

If they do it and they’re doing it for our country, God bless them, but we should support them. Great men like this, like our Councilman and the Commissioner. We have to make sure we support them, that they’re not forgotten, and that they have support when they come back. They make sure they’re taken care of if they have whatever it is and make sure they have an education when they come back if they want to go to school, they have all that at their fingertips. My brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel, is a West Point graduate. He served all over the place. The history goes on and on in my family. We’re proud of it, but as long as we’re taken care of and they’re treated like real heroes because there are true first-line defenses to make sure we have everything here.

We’re getting into the best time of the year, in my opinion, Commissioner, because we’ve gotten Veterans Day Parade in New York City coming up, so we’re going to be back out there with the Dodge WC-51. I’m going to build a podcast studio in the back of that thing, put it on the red carpet, and talk to everybody who’s involved in the parade.

The wall is going to be here for a couple more days then it’s going to move on to its next location. It’s going to continue to impact so many people every place that it goes. I sincerely appreciate every effort that each one of you has put in not only for this wall but for veterans of the city, the state, and our country, the younger generation of veterans.The Wall That Heals comes to Queens, NY to welcome home America's Vietnam Veterans under the lights with Fran Racioppi and The Jedburgh Podcast.

I’m a grandson. Now I have kids that I look at. I say, “Will they answer the call to serve? What will they do?” As you mentioned as you said, we owe it to them and to each other as brothers and sisters in arms to continue to support each other, be there for each other, and carry that message home. Let’s continue to build that next generation of leaders that will make this country great because we still have a long way to go.

The history of America has been around for a long time, and we’re going to continue to be great no matter what challenges face us. The tagline of the show is how you prepare today determines success tomorrow. That’s what we have to do, invest in our leaders. It starts with our military leadership. We have to carry that forward. Thank you so much.

[bctt tweet=”We have to invest in our leaders. It starts with our military leadership. We have to carry that forward.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Thank you.

Thank you so much.


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