Veterans' advocate to be honored despite keeping low profile about work
By BRADEN CAMPBELL | The Press of Atlantic City | Published: December 5, 2012
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Fred Vineyard, of the Scullville section of Egg Harbor Township, is a champion of veterans causes, dedicating hours to veterans societies and initiatives each year — but in his own eyes, these efforts are about as remarkable as drinking a glass of water.
Vineyard won't extol his own virtues, but a who's who of New Jersey leaders know him and sing his praises. This April, Vineyard will receive national recognition for his work when he travels to Alexandria, Va., to accept the coveted Silver Helmet award, the top honor given by the national veterans' association Amvets.
Amvets New Jersey Commander James Spreng, who recommended Vineyard for the award, said he wants Vineyard to be honored for his work in spite of his attempts to avoid the spotlight.
"Fred likes to be in the back — do everything, and don't take credit," Spreng said. "I didn't like that. If you're going to do the job, take your credit."
Amvets was established in 1948 as a World War II veterans association, but has since been expanded to include all those who have received an honorable discharge from any military branch. As such, it is the most inclusive of the major veterans associations; others require combat service or service during wartime.
Silver Helmet awards have been given annually since 1954, with past honorees including John Wayne, Joe DiMaggio and President Harry S. Truman. Vineyard is one of three New Jersey recipients for 2013.
Vineyard, who was notified in October that he has been chosen, said he was surprised and honored to join the elite group of Silver Helmets recipients.
"If you look at all these people who have received this in the past, I mean, I can't believe that a guy like me from South Jersey is going to receive this," said Vineyard, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. "I mean, I'm no J. Edgar Hoover, President Truman."
Vineyard has been actively involved in Amvets since 2008, when he co-founded Amvets Post 911, which meets monthly in Somers Point. Post 911 has quickly become one of the largest and most prominent of the state's 18 chapters, Spreng said, much of that due to Vineyard's leadership.
Vineyard previously served as commander of Post 911, and now serves as commander of District 1, overseeing the group's efforts in New York, New Jersey and the New England states.
Locally, Vineyard coordinates Post 911's No Veteran Shall Die Alone program, a partnership with Compassionate Care Hospice that arranges visits and care for dying veterans as well as the New Jersey Mission of Honor program, which tracks down missing remains of service members and returns them to their families. He even has organized fundraisers to purchase pet-sized oxygen masks for local fire departments and sent care packages to area residents serving overseas.
Vineyard's wife, Sandy, said she was shocked to hear her husband was to receive this honor, but believes he's more than earned it.
"It's jaw-dropping, but to tell you the truth, he's very deserving," Sandy said. "From how I see him work all the time — 2, 3 in the morning, on the computer, all the time."
Amvets Post 911 boasts more than 300 members from throughout the area, many of them attendees because of Vineyard.
Robert "Uncle Woody" Woods, a Post 911 member from Somers Point, said its largely Vineyard's leadership that makes the local branch an example for the rest of the organization.
"Fred's an organizer," Woods said. "He gets people together and makes things happen and that's why everybody, he takes the initiative but everybody follows him, because they know it's going to get done. He was involved with the Elks for a while, the VFW for a while, and now the Amvets is his mission."