by Danny Maerten
Nearly 100 people listened and watched an inspiriting presentation by Vietnam War veteran, business owner and martial arts teacher Bob Kunkel at the Niagara County Patriot's Monday, May 19 meeting.
As Kunkel put it, he fought in Vietnam for nine months until his injuries were severe enough to be sent home. He was truly crippled in and with every possible aspect, then, after much healing and time, he was "just" disabled.
About seven years ago, Kunkel was compelled to do something; he had 35 years of "adaptive experience" and 20 years of martial arts training. During the past six years, Kunkel has spent for two to four days each week assisting, aiding, listening, teaching, inspiring, giving hope and dedicating his life to all veterans. He stated it is a privilege to interact with the "newly injured."
Three short DVDs were played showing how the conditions some veterans were brought home, with severe injuries and/or amputations. With ample emotional and physical support and with prosthetics and special equipment, these young veterans felt they had regained a functioning life.
Kunkel showed a few tools for amputees including: a Knork, a combination knife and fork, Ex-Dine, a combination preparation and serving plate (both for the one handed) and a hands-free can opener. Kunkel has had a role in the concept, development or distribution of these types of tools.
Robert Banks, a Niagara Youth Marine Cadet, assisted by passing the items to the people along the rows and tables. Two points Kunkel stressed to the audience were: 1) our veterans, in the prime of their life, signed a piece of paper to defend their and our country and constitution not knowing if they would ever return; 2) the real heroes of our country are the men and women defending and aiding us not the high paid athletes and celebrities.
Discussion on illegal immigration struck nerves. With the very open Mexican border, not only are Mexicans, Central Americans, drug lords invading our southern states, but terrorists can easily walk onto American soil. Border Patrol Agents are constantly in harm's way, risking their life each day. The topic proceeded to Afghanistan and Iraq, our men and women our fighting over there, risking life and limb, to procure freedom, democracy and the right to vote. While back home, here in the USA voting turnout is shamefully low and it appears our freedoms, as citizens, to make our own personal decisions is being confiscated.
Amy Duell presented three historical segments with a New York connection. The present Memorial Day holiday is a blend of customs, a day of decorating graves and remembering our fallen heroes. New York was the first state to recognize May 30 as Memorial Day, with Waterloo, NY, as the holiday's birthplace. The song "Over There" was written by George Michael Cohen as he rode the train from New Rochelle to New York City. "Taps" was conceived by New Yorker and Union Army Brigadier Gen. Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general, and was used for the first time at a funeral in 1862 at Harrison Landing.
World War II re-enactor John Evola was present with his collection of World War II memorabilia and an outline of his all-volunteer unit.
The next Niagara County patriot's meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, June 28, in the Wheatfield Community Center. The guest speaker will be the Rev. Bob Heisner, minister, martial arts instructor and head of Project Future. All meetings are free and open to the public. For additional information, call 731-3696.