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Page 4 POST-GAZETTE, FEBRUARY 17, 2012 S i m p l e TIMES... by Girard A. Plante Recently, I received a wel- comed e-mail from a long- time friend who retired four years ago from the daily grind of fixing broken lives as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. George worked in 'the trenches' of bureau- cratic battles for 30 years as he secured services for dis- abled veterans fresh out of VA hospitals after serving America's military in the Vietnam War. You see, George dove next to a grenade to shield the Army platoon he led into the Mekong Delta in 1966. Ex- ploding shrapnel tore through the left side of his head, dam- aging fine motor skills to the left side of his body, and slowing his speech. He was "deader than a door nail," he quipped. But after surgeries and three years of rehabili- tation in and out of a New York City VA hospital George regained normalcy. I met George in the sum- mer of 1979 at my home- town's regional office of New York State's vast vocational rehabilitation system. I did not visit him in his office as a veteran of that Lost Gen- eration who sacrificed their youth for our government's interests. My purpose for meeting George arose out of neces- sity after a spinal cord injury during high school in 1974. I desired to become the next Bob Woodward and go to journalism school. George's reason for becoming a voc rehab counselor came to him through fate in those far-away jungles of South- east Asia. Though he and I are lumped into the Baby Boomer Generation, our back-grounds differ. I was born and raised in mostly white, conservative Upstate New York. George's German parents hailed from one of Brooklyn's multi-ethnic neighborhoods. Yet we share common ground simply be- cause we're categorized as "persons with disabilities" by the state and federal govern- ment that must define and validate its various levels of the bureaucracy. After our initial introduc- tion 31 years ago, and sev- eral more years working closely to get me through college and ultimately se- cure gainful employment, we've remained good friends. My entire family has known George as long as I. He wouldn't have his unique role as counselor any other way. Despite time and dis- tance we've stayed in touch. The world defnitely has changed since[ first met George. I had een using an old Royal sliding car- riage typewriter to write. In 1982, the IBM Selectric III's typewriter made writing easier. By 1988, the year I graduated from college, I began using my first word- processor, allowing me to write in ways far beyond a typewriter's capability. The internet has further allowed us myriad other op- portunities to conduct light- ning-speed research on all manner of topics and issues. Deadlines can be met more quickly as research alone rarely requires a trip to the local library or area archi- vist. And the Web has grown into a miraculous techno- logical tool especially for a writer with a disability whose penchant for creating vivid human-interest stories for this column and other writ- ing projects never ends. I set out to write this week's column about a per- son everybody from my generation and those of the past seven decades could relate to. The theme would coincide with Black History Month. I "con,ducted my search for a subject on Google. After watching and listening to Ray Charles sing his sweet, soulful ren- dition of America the Beauti- ful, which soared to number one on the R&B charts in 1972, I had my topic. Ray Charles was a guest on the popular weekly Dick Cavett Show during that autumn. Listening to Charles's ver- sion of our nation's proud hymnal stirs the patriotic emotions. So I sent the video off to numerous family and friends who enjoy all things Americana. After all, our fa- thers were WWII heroes and our mothers ensured the home-fronf kept going strong by their unique and selfless commitment to their respec- tive communities. Yet the one reply from my multi-list e-mail that grabbed my attention is George's. In his Friday, Feb- ruary 3 rd e-mail reply to me, George writes: "1972 was the year I graduated from college The Agency for all your Insurance Coverages Owned and operated by Pamela Donnaruma, Publisher, Post-Gazette Richard Settipane AUTO HOMEOWNERS TENANTS COMMERCIAL Experience makes the difference SPECIALIST in RESTAURANT and BUSINESS POLICIES CALL TODAY FOR YOUR QUOTE 617-523-3456 - Fax 617-723-9212 1 Longfellow - Place Suite 2322 - Boston, MA 02114 Conveniently located with Free Parking and started working in the by Sal Giarratani Rehab field." He placed me smack-dab in the middle of the Vietnam generation's struggle to accept their role in a war that blew away all their preconceived no- tions of what it's like to be American! George continued: "I was a young veteran then and President of Veterans Fra- ternity. All different back- grounds, military experi- ence and political leanings. Sometimes leading to heated discussions between liberal and conservative views." Shortly after he began his stint, a veteran friend contacted George and mem- bers of the Fraternity about raising funds for an orphan- age for Vietnamese children whose parents were killed by American soldiers. They organized the event and booked the rock group Steppenwolf to entertain at the event weeks later in the autumn of 1972. While plan- ning the fundraiser debates about politics broke out. The evening of the big event grew tense when war pro- testers showed at the door. Vietnam veterans were also anxious. As time wore on the gath- ering of veterans grew calm, George recalled. "All our po- litical differences were put aside. We had time to kill while the band (Steppenwolfl was setting up. We took time to tell anxious students why we were holding this fundraiser and started the evening off with The Pledge of Allegiance, which was met with some boos from anti- war/veteran protestors. A clever master of ceremonies won the crowd over by suggesting the crowd listen to Ray Charles "Tribute" to America, without regard to politics. He asked for out of pocket donations. That grew a great response and donations exceeded our ex- pectations to our orphanage project." Music unites people the world over. And during the tumultuous time of the Vietnam War a black singer whose love of his country no matter the sea of rage and anger swirling around racial integration, protests, riots and assassinations, brought calm and soul-searching re- flection through his unique rendition of America the Beautiful. Go to Google.com and listen to Ray Charles's infectious pride for a great nation hurt- ing anew. We are Fast Becoming Dollar Tree America I don't know about you, but percent and divert attention everywhere I go nowadays, I away from Washington and find some kind of dollar direct it to Wall Street. store. The best one of this We cannot succeed as a bargain crop is the Dollar nation if we lose our hope, Tree Store where everything our pride and a belief in our is actually just a dollar. I shop future. During the Super there for household supplies Bowl, Clint Eastwood said all the time because the America was at Half-time. price is so right. Where else We have a choice in the sec- can you buy eight pairs of ond half. We can work to- shoelaces for a buck? A bottle gether for the common good of Mr. Plumber to unplug a or we can keep looking for sink? Did I mention toilet dollar rolls of toilet paper. paper? Life is good as you The choice really is in our spread your paycheck out on hands. We're still a long way the cheap, from the final two minute Our country seems to be warning but we have no op- falling down and on the tion to quit on ourselves. decline. A dollar ain't worth Is a dollar store the sign of what it used to be. a good bargain or a sign of Everything is made some- national failure? Do we play where else. Sometimes you pretend by punching rubber just feel so down in the balls or do we act like citi- dumps and have to laugh or zens in a democratic repub- you'll go crazy. Recently, lic looking to succeed? The while in the checkout line Democrats like failure and at Dollar Tree, the shopper making us all dependent on behind me keeps bouncing government for everything. a rubber ball. I finally turn We need to stand up against around and ask him if he the tide of dependency on just wants to make sure the government for our daily ball works. He immediately needs. We need to work for a puts it down on a shelf. The society in which Dollar Tree noise stops, I'm content Stores are not viewed as god- again, sends. We need to work for a Recently, over 160 million society where our freedoms fans watched the Super Bowl are rooted within us and nor to escape from the idea that government-given. America is failing the test of Government is all about survival for most of us. The all of us. Either we make US Marines have a great things work or we create billboard out there, "For our failure. Government is in country. For us all." The last our collective hands. No one time I saw national unity walks out of a bargain store was on September 11, 2001 without smiling but I'd be a when terrorists attacked lot happier knowing that my America. We stood together leaders in government were as one. Horrified by what we representing our interests saw and fortified by our re- much better than they are solve. The immediate dan- to date. ger passed and we fell back We should care about the into pockets of division once business of government at again, least as much as saving a President Obama the other buck or two when we go out day said he deserves a sec- shopping. Destiny is in our ond term. Why? He's been hands since things -- all such a failure when it comes things -- will be as good to jobs, housing, education as we want them and as bad and seemingly everything as we allow things to be. We else that is important to us. are Americans. This may be His answer to our woes is to half-time but the game ain't go on a class warfare tear. over yet. Turning things Don't take ownership of your around is up to us and for us failed policies, blame the 1 all. NORTH END00. Quality Printing for all your Commercial and Personal Needs Stationery Business Cards Menus' Flyers ] Program Books * Wedding and Party Invitations [ ocernents *Business Forms and Documents ] m COMPETITIVE PRICES n 617-227-8929