2003-01-11 / Community

Vietnam Vets Look To Rockaway For New Recruits

When Pat Toro finished his tour with the U.S. Marines in Da Nang, Vietnam in 1970 and returned home, he found that the traditional veteran’s organizations were not very welcoming to the vets coming home from the jungle war.

"Organizations like the American Legion and Veteran’s of Foreign Wars did not treat us very well," he told The Wave last week. "They were not very welcoming. The older, World War II vets looked at us a little suspiciously"

By that time, Congress had charted a new organization, however, "The Vietnam Veteran’s of American."

In 1981 a Queens Chapter of the vet’s organization was started.

Toro is now the president of the Queens chapter, the first U.S. Marine to head the local group in its 22-year-history.

And, while the membership, now 247 strong, has centered on central and northern Queens, Toro says that he is now actively seeking membership in Rockaway. He says that he is actively seeking a site for a seminar in Rockaway in the near future.

"For many years, we were meeting in church basements and private homes," he said. "Now that we have our own place in Glendale, we can start moving out to other areas of the borough."

Toro says that anybody who served in any branch of the armed forces from 1961 until 1975 is eligible to join the organization.

"The organization has two focuses," the ex-Marine says. "They are service to the community and assisting veteran’s to get the health care and the benefits they are entitled to."

To that end, the organization and its honor guard are involved in many tributes to fallen firefighters and police officers, as well as helping out at a nearby battered women’s center.

The organization also funds a veteran’s assistance center at the Lost Battalion Hall that helps veterans to get their benefits and to access the health care system.

"There are lots of vets from Vietnam with Agent Orange-related illnesses and with Post Traumatic Syndrome, what used to be called "battle fatigue" in past wars.

The vet’s organization is also trying to bring the "moving Vietnam Wall" to Queens.

The organization meets on the last Friday of each month (although this month’s meeting will be held on January 24) at 88-61 76 Avenue in Glendale, just off Woodhaven Boulevard.

Toro, who was an aviation mechanic with the Marines, recently retired from the Port Authority Police Department. He believes that all Vietnam era vets should "come home" by joining the organization.

He also believes that it is time for Vietnam era vets to get the respect that has been lacking in the past.

""Whether people liked the war or not, is not important," he says. "What is important is that they should respect those of us who went there and served their nation."

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