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Pennsylvania organization for Vietnam veterans disbands

By JIM LOCKWOOD | The (Scranton, Pa.) Times-Tribune | Published: January 30, 2019

SCRANTON, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — A Vietnam veterans national fraternal organization headquartered in Jenkins Township, which had its first post in Scranton, disbanded because of dwindling membership, officials said Tuesday.

Veterans of the Vietnam War and the Veterans Coalition dissolved Dec. 31, said the organization’s former executive director, Nancy Verespy-Forbes of Plains Township., and Post 1 Commander Michael Lasher, of Falls Township.

What started in 1980 as a local grassroots initiative to assist Vietnam War veterans grew to about 10 posts in northeastern Pennsylvania, 115 posts nationwide and some international chapters at the organization’s peak many years ago, Verespy-Forbes said.

Dwindling membership, particularly during the past decade, led to its demise, Verespy-Forbes and Lasher said.

“The guys get older and pass on and we can’t sustain the post’s activities and the national,” Lasher said.

At its inception, the organization filled voids not necessarily being addressed by traditional veterans organizations, he said. During the 1970s, many Vietnam veterans struggled to readjust back home. By the end of that decade, the time was ripe for a Vietnam-centric organization, he said.

“We were not respected at all,” Lasher recalled of the overall, general situation in the nation back then. “There was a lot of bitterness back then.”

At the start, many interested veterans lived in Lackawanna County, and so Post 1 began in Scranton, incorporated May 5, 1980, at a bar on Prospect Avenue. Lasher joined in 1981.

The post also met at other locations over the years, including in recent years at the Marine Corps League on Alder Street.

The organization’s advocacy for Vietnam veterans included dealing with issues of illnesses from Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military during the war, and on POW/MIA matters, to name a few, he said.

“Many of our original membership suffered from Agent Orange, myself included,” said Lasher, a Navy veteran who served 18 months from mid-1967 into early 1969 as a gunner’s mate on a river patrol boat during the war.

Lasher recalled how he, through Post 1, advocated in the late 1980s for a state law that made sure veterans’ Agent Orange litigation awards didn’t jeopardize other assistance they might have been receiving.

Also in the late 1980s, Lasher and others from Post 1 conducted a pilot mortality study of Vietnam veterans in Pennsylvania that determined they died more often than others from accidents, suicides, cancers and cardiovascular problems.

Verespy-Forbes, who started volunteering with the organization in 1985, said the organization also sent thousands of support packages to other veterans overseas.

Post 1 Vice Commander Nate Warshawsky of Scranton recalled members holding fundraisers and marching in parades.

In 2000, the national operation purchased a headquarters in Jenkins Township, in Luzerne County. That building, long known for a large U.S. flag flying from a pole and visible from the South Township Boulevard/Pittston bypass, now is for sale, said Verespy-Forbes, 68.

To appeal to younger veterans, the organization added “veterans coalition” to its title 15 years ago, she said.

Early on during her volunteerism, in 1987, she met Peter Forbes, a combat medic with Australia during the Vietnam War, and who later became the longtime national commander of the Veterans of the Vietnam War organization. They wed 12 years ago.

“He had no reason to have to help American veterans. He felt he had to do it,” she said of her husband’s leadership role in the organization.

After Forbes died in July, she found it difficult to keep the organization going.

“Our goal was to make sure veterans got what they deserved,” she said. “I think we did a good job. It just became too hard. It breaks my heart to give it up.”

Lasher said Post 1 had $1,100 left in its account and donated it to charities, including the Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House, the Wounded Warrior Project, Friends of the Poor and the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center.

“I’m really sorry to see it go,” said Warshawsky, 73, a Navy veteran. “Unfortunately, maybe it was its time to go.”

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