- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am a regular reader of The Washington Times national weekly edition.

While not a veteran, I often read the Sgt. Shaft column. A few issues back you printed a poem by Lawrence Vaincourt titled “Just a Common Soldier.” The words hit home to me because I have a deep and profound respect for the soldiers of World War II whose courage, valor and sacrifice permits me the freedom I enjoy today.

Today, I had the sad duty to attend the funeral of my wife’s grandfather, Leonard Kowalski, a Pearl Harbor survivor who served as a machinists mate on the USS Phoenix, which was anchored near Battleship Row.

During the service today I read the poem out loud to everyone in church. I thought it was a fitting tribute to a man who was truly part of the “Greatest Generation.” Just wanted you to know there are some civilians who know which end of the tube the round comes out of.


Frederick P.

Liberty Center, Ohio

Dear Fred:

I am so happy that you and others have been touched by this special poem. After originally printing “Just a Common Soldier” in my column without attribution, I am happy to report we have since identified the author, A. Lawrence Vaincourt.

Please read on for a missive from his son.

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Every year we are flooded with requests for reprints of my father’s poems, particularly “Just A Common Soldier,” so the time seemed right to build an entire collection around his most requested piece.

Published by True Enough Books, this volume is available for purchase online.

Randy Vaincourt

Shaft notes

c The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) will hold its National Convention Oct. 13-17 in Nashville, Tenn. The convention will feature seminars, exhibits, an annual meeting, a speech by Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, a salute to the 101st Airborne Division, a dinner honoring past and modern-day military heroes, and a show by singer Ricky Skaggs. Registration for MOAA members is at www.moaa.org.

• A special salute to the American people for honoring our troops and their families by their donations to the United Service Organizations (USO).

The USO has distributed more than 300,000 care packages to our troops since the program began in September 2002.

Initiated by the USO of Metropolitan Washington, Operation USO Care Package is a way for the American people to show their support for service members, officials said, and is endorsed by the Defense Department.

The packages include items specifically requested by military personnel serving in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, such as prepaid international calling cards, disposable cameras, toiletries, snacks and playing cards.

“The tremendous success of Operation USO Care Package is a true testament to the support USO volunteers and the American people provide for our men and women deployed in the war against terrorism,” said Edward A. Powell, president and chief executive officer of USO World Headquarters. “This is but one example of the bridge the USO provides to individuals and corporations to reach out and show their support for military personnel.”

Expanding its outreach to troops, the USO opened a center in Kuwait in December, and recently opened centers in Qatar and in Vicenza, Italy. The Qatar center offers troops a 96-hour pass through the Rest and Recuperation Program, where they can take a break and enjoy cultural and sporting activities.

Another special program for deployed troops is USO Operation Phone Home. Donations to this program help the USO purchase prepaid, international calling cards for service members, including those stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To help boost troop morale, the USO also increased the number of celebrity entertainment tours over the past few years. These included numerous tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations in the Persian Gulf region, as well as stateside “welcome home” celebrations for returning troops, USO officials noted.

To support these special programs and other services the USO provides to military personnel and their families, call 800/USO-7469 or go to the USO World Headquarters Web site at www.uso.org.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has awarded a grant of more than $6 million to Maine to construct a residential care facility for veterans at Machias, which will be Maine’s sixth state veterans home.

“This grant reflects the federal-state partnership that is honoring our commitment to care for the men and women who have served in uniform,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi. “This partnership provides a comfortable setting for veterans in a time of great personal need.”

The award of $6.17 million will pay up to 65 percent of the cost to build the 30-bed domiciliary. The overall cost of the project is nearly $9.5 million.

Maine has veterans’ homes in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Scarborough and South Paris. They provide rehabilitation and skilled nursing care.

Information about the state’s veterans’ homes can be obtained on the Internet at www.maineveteranshomes.org.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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