An ambitious effort to thank American servicemen and women all over the world, and raise money to help them when they return home, was launched Thursday by several Vietnam War veterans organizations and Seneca Gaming Corp.
"The four words every returning service member likes to hear are 'Thank you' and 'Welcome home,' " said Patrick W. Welch, president of Chapter 77, Vietnam Veterans of America, based in the Town of Tonawanda. "We want Western New York to spread these words loud and clearly."
The initiative, announced during a news conference Thursday in Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, is called "Buffalo/Niagara to Baghdad." It centers around the production of a video titled "Thank You for Serving," that will contain encouraging messages and be sent to every U.S. military base, USO organization, U.S. ship at sea and U.S. veterans hospital in the world.
A gala event on June 15 in the casino's Seneca Events Center will premiere a preliminary version of the video and feature the Marine Corps Band from Quantico, Va.
Sponsorship packets will be mailed to area businesses and community groups in the coming weeks, gaming corporation spokesman Philip J. Pantano said.
"This is a call to action for sponsorship," said Brian Hansberry, president and chief executive officer of the gaming corporation. "It is our deep hope that the generous spirit of Western New York will come through once again and we will have many partners."
This event will mirror a gala and video-production effort held last October in New York City called "Broadway to Baghdad." That effort was organized by the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Patrick Gualtieri was chairman of that event, and will head up the effort in the Buffalo Niagara region. He said many cities are considering similar efforts.
"I got calls from all over," Gualtieri said Thursday. "They wanted to do a Boston to Baghdad, Buffalo to Baghdad, even a Tampa to Tikrit."
Welch said the Buffalo Niagara region is a perfect fit because it is home to more than 151,000 veterans, the fourth-largest such population in the state.
"All too often, we get sent off to war, and when we return, it seems they kick us aside and don't want to take care of us," Welch said. "We fight for health care. The mental and physical wounds of war stay with you forever. They do not ever leave you."
Marvin "Joe" Curry, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, said he has seen plenty of examples of why more support is needed for returning soldiers.
He told the story of a counselor whom he asked to visit a veteran on the Cattaraugus Reservation. The counselor worked with the veteran of three wars and "returned him to life," Curry said, adding that the program doesn't have funding to send counselors to the reservation anymore.
Organizers said some of the money raised also will be donated to Buffalo Police Officer Patricia A. Parete, who was shot by a suspect in December while on duty and is undergoing extensive rehabilitation from spinal injuries.
For information on the initiative, call 501-2440 or (866) 951-7100.