By Steve Beynon/Stars and Stripes FEB 03, 2020 James Byrne, the deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, was fired Feb. 3 after holding the post for less than five months. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he terminated Byrne due to a loss in confidence in him. “Today, I dismissed VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties,” Wilkie said in the statement. “This decision is effective immediately.” Byrne, 55, was a former Marine infantry officer. He was sworn in Sept. 16 as deputy secretary and previously served as the department’s general counsel, leading the VA’s legal team, for about two years. Byrne was confirmed as deputy secretary by the Senate in a vote of 81-11. The VA’s top leadership has been in turmoil in recent years. President Donald Trump’s administration has gone through four deputy secretaries at the VA, with two of them in temporary acting positions. The Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations all had two deputy VA secretaries across both of their terms. The previous deputy secretary, Thomas Bowman, retired in June 2018 after being passed over twice for the position of acting secretary. Byrne took over as the VA’s second in command in August 2018, but he wasn’t confirmed until a year later. The VA has not yet named a deputy secretary to replace Byrne. Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is accepting applications through March 17 for up to $15 million in grants for civic groups providing adaptive sports and therapeutic recreational opportunities to Veterans and members of the armed forces with disabilities. Application instructions and eligibility information for these grants — which will help qualified organizations plan, develop, manage and implement these programs — are available at VA Adaptive Sports Grant Program. “Built on VA clinical expertise and operations, with essential support from community partners, the adaptive sports grant program allows VA to extend its level of care beyond the clinical setting,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We are pleased to offer grant funds to community organizations as it means there will be more Veterans engaging in the challenge of sports and more Veterans who are exposed to new skills for healthier living.” In 2019, VA awarded $14.9 million in adaptive sports grants to 126 organizations, estimated to serve more than 11,000 Veterans and service members from every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Of the total awarded, $1.5 million is being used to assist organizations that offer equine-assisted therapy to support mental health. All applications must be submitted to www.grants.gov by 8 p.m. EST, March 17. VA will announce awards based on a competitive selection in fall 2020.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released in January an updated Department of Defense (DOD) list of locations outside of Vietnam where tactical herbicides were used, tested or stored by the United States military. “This update was necessary to improve accuracy and communication of information,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA depends on DOD to provide information regarding in-service environmental exposure for disability claims based on exposure to herbicides outside of Vietnam." DOD conducted a thorough review of research, reports and government publications in response to a November 2018 Government Accountability Office report. “DOD will continue to be responsive to the needs of our interagency partners in all matters related to taking care of both current and former service members,” said Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper. “The updated list includes Agents Orange, Pink, Green, Purple, Blue and White and other chemicals and will be updated as verifiable information becomes available.” Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including an Agent Orange Registry health exam, health care and disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure. Their dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits.
Newswise — WASHINGTON -- To help service members perform better in the field, military training emphasizes the importance of certain traits associated with traditional masculinity, including suppression of emotion and self-reliance. But when veterans return home, strict adherence to these traits can become detrimental, leading to more severe post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and making it more difficult to treat, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. “These findings suggest that veterans with rigid adherence to traditional masculinity may be at increased risk for developing PTSD, may have more severe PTSD symptoms and may be less likely to seek mental health treatment for PTSD,” said Elizabeth Neilson, PhD, of Morehead University and the lead author on the study. The research was published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities. Neilson and her co-authors analyzed data from 17 studies, comprising more than 3,500 military veterans, conducted in the last 25 years that involved, at least in part, measuring the relationship between adherence to traditional masculine ideals and trauma-related symptoms. The studies primarily focused on men, but one included both male and female participants. While most studies were conducted in the United States, the researchers also included studies from Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel and Vietnam. “Overall, we found that strict adherence to masculine norms was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms in veterans, but more detailed analysis suggests that the association may specifically be caused by the veterans’ belief that they should control and restrict their emotions. In other words, they should be tough,” Neilson said. This held true for both male and female veterans. While all members of society are exposed to aspects of traditional masculinity, members of the military receive messages that normalize, reinforce and instill values of masculinity as part of their training, according to Neilson. “Previous research has found that military personnel report high levels of conformity to traditional masculine norms, such as emotional control, self-reliance and the importance of one’s job,” she said. “These values can promote self-confidence and skill-building in the field, but when a service member is confronted with physical or mental trauma, they can also contribute to more severe PTSD.” Traumatic experiences, including combat and sexual trauma, can lead to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, both of which are in direct opposition to what society expects of men: That they should be strong and in control. The discrepancy between reality and societal expectations can exacerbate PTSD symptoms. Research estimates as many as 23% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD . Adherence to masculine norms can also create barriers to getting necessary treatment, according to Neilson. Previous research on veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan found pride in self-reliance and a belief that one should be able to handle mental health problems on one’s own kept service members from seeking help when they needed it. And even if veterans did seek treatment, the emphasis on stoicism and mental fortitude within both military culture and traditional masculinity could make treatment more difficult, she said. The two most widely used, evidence-based therapies for PTSD require explicit discussions of emotions, thoughts and behaviors related to traumatic experiences. PTSD is perpetuated by avoiding stimuli associated with a traumatic experience, including emotions. Successful PTSD treatment involves breaking that cycle of avoidance and confronting those stimuli, she said. “Both military culture and traditional masculine ideals lead to the avoidance of disclosure and speaking about traumatic experiences, which may interfere with appropriate treatment,” Neilson said. Another trend the researchers found was that veterans often try to reaffirm their masculinity following trauma, engaging in exaggerated stereotypical male behavior, such as aggression and increased sexual behavior, to compensate for the injury the trauma had on their identity, according to Neilson. “In one study we reviewed, veterans reported engaging in frequent sex to avoid negative thoughts, because feeling sexually desirable temporarily suspended those negative thoughts about their self-worth,” she said. APA published voluntary guidelines in 2018 recommending that therapists consider discussing masculine ideology and the effects of cultural expectations of men and boys when treating male veteran clients. Neilson hopes that future research will examine how clinicians already are addressing conformity to masculinity ideology in their treatment of PTSD. “It would not surprise me if some clinicians are already considering how a veteran’s masculinity ideology contributes to their PTSD symptomology and treatment engagement,” she said. “Consistent with APA’s recommendations, I suggest that clinicians discuss beliefs and adherence to traditional masculinity ideologies with the patients. This information is important for conceptualizing patients’ mental health and identifying specific behaviors to target in treatment.” Article: “Traditional Masculinity Ideology, PTSD Symptom Severity and Treatment in Service Members and Veterans: A Systematic Review,” by Elizabeth Neilson, PhD, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, and Morehead State University; R. Sonia Singh, PhD, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, University of Arkansas and South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; Kelly Harper, PhD, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, and The National Center for PTSD at Veteran Affairs Boston Healthcare System; and Ellen Teng, PhD, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center. Psychology of Men and Masculinities, published online Jan. 27, 2020. Full text of the article is available online at https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/men-men0000257.pdf
Four Purple Heart recipients participated in the 37th annual VFW magazine-Donnan Gulch Outfitters Disabled Veterans Antelope Hunt this past October near Broadus, Mont. (From left to right) Edwin Ohmann, Barry Johns, Larry Haskett and David Thomas, all Vietnam War veterans, participated in the 2019 VFW magazine-Doonan Gulch Outfitters Disabled Veterans Antelope Hunt in October near Broadus, Mont. The event marked the 37th year of the hunt. Photo by Dave Spiva. Doonan Gulch Outfitters is owned and operated by Russ and Carol Greenwood. The couple started hosting the annual hunt in 1982 because they didn’t like the way Vietnam War veterans were treated when they came home. Russ Greenwood also has a personal connection to Vietnam War veterans. His twin brother – Roger, a member of VFW Post 987 in Baraboo, Wis. – flew helicopters during the war. While the hunt started as a way to honor veterans of the Vietnam War, it evolved into an event that included veterans of every generation. Larry Haskett, VFW Post 6242 in Beloit, Kan.Larry Haskett is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Army with C Co., 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt., 1st Inf. Div. He arrived in Vietnam September 1966 and left March 1967. “My family has always been in the military,” Haskett said. “From the Revolutionary War through all major wars, my family has served everywhere.” Haskett said he was wounded during a firefight on Feb. 27, 1967, by a Viet Cong hand grenade. Haskett, who was an infantryman, said two of his ribs were blown off and three-fourths of his intestines were hanging out of his body. “When that happened, a medic came over and started working on me,” Haskett said. “Then, the Viet Cong threw another grenade at me. That one didn’t go off.” He was medevacked to Tay Ninh, where he stayed for two weeks, then transported to 106th General Hospital in Yokohama, Japan, where he stayed until May. Haskett spent the remaining four months of his time in the Army at Fort Carson, Colo. Barry Johns, VFW Post 3303 in Newcomerstown, OhioBarry Johns is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Marine Corps with Charlie Co., 1st Bn., 5th Marines. He arrived in Vietnam October 1968 and left January 1969. Johns said he was wounded during a firefight southwest of An Hoa Combat Base on Jan. 12, 1969. “We were doing road security that day,” Johns said. “Some NVS crawled several hundred yards through some tall grass near us, and came up and started shooting at us from about 50 yards away.” Johns said he received a gunshot wound to his spine, as well as wounds from shrapnel, during the fight. He left the country and spent three months on Guam, then to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Johns left the Marine Corps in July 1969. Johns said he has “no regrets” from serving in the Marine Corps. “I’m very proud of my service, but I wouldn’t recommend it for my sons,” Johns said, while laughing. “It’s one of those things that I’m really glad I did, and I would do it again in a heartbeat if I was that young and stupid again.” Edwin Ohmann, VFW Post 9433 in Rosemount, Minn.Edwin Ohmann is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Army with 3rd Bn., 187th Inf. Regt., 101st Abn. Div. He arrived in Vietnam in August 1970 and left in October. As a platoon sergeant, Ohmann said he lost both of his legs to a booby trap on Oct. 17. “It was really stressful when I realized that I lost my legs,” Ohmann said. “I had just had my 21st birthday the month before, and I had 17 men my age or younger under me. I felt responsible for them.” All while having lost his legs, Ohmann said there was a “sense of relief” from his wounds. “I thought, ‘I finally get to go home,’” Ohmann said. “It was like a weight had lifted off of me. Even though I was injured, I was, frankly, a little relieved.” He spent 10 days in Quang Tri, then a night in Da Nang before leaving the country. After brief stays in Japan and Travis Air Force Base in California, Ohmann spent seven months recovering at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colo. He was discharged from the Army in June 1971. Ohmann said he was thankful for the Greenwoods for hosting the antelope not just for him, but for all veterans who fought in war. “They don’t do this out of guilt,” Ohmann said. “They seem like they are doing this because they simply want to help and honor veterans.” David Thomas, VFW Post 1888 in Trenton, Mich.David Thomas is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Marine Corps with Golf Co., 2nd Bn., 5th Marines. He arrived in Vietnam March 1970 and left in July. Thomas said he was wounded by a claymore mine blast on July 20 near An Hoa Combat Base, located about 8 miles southwest of Da Nang. “We were setting up a defensive perimeter the night before,” Thomas said. “I set up a claymore. We heard movement through the night, and I wanted to set it off, but I was denied permission.” Thomas said that his leadership wouldn’t allow him to do it because of recent “friendly fire” incidents within a six-week period. He said there was Marines at a listening post near the perimeter. “In the morning, my squad sergeant told me to go out and get the claymore,” Thomas said. “I told him no, and that I wanted to set it off during the night, but permission was denied.” Thomas said that his platoon sergeant then ordered him to go out and find the claymore. “There was the right amount of authority and intimidation for me to do it,” Thomas said. “I went half way out and remember seeing a big white flash. I wound up on my back.” He lost both legs and was unconscious for at least a week. “I don’t remember much,” Thomas said. “I almost died twice. I know about one time because I remember it, but the other time I was told by someone else.” After being transported to Yokosuka, Japan, Thomas was sent to Naval Hospital Philadelphia, where he spent months recovering. He was discharged from the Marine Corps in February 1971. Thomas thanked the Greenwoods for their “hospitality” and dedication to veterans. “A lot of people come up to veterans and say, ‘thank you for your service,’” Thomas said. “But with Russ and Carol, they are putting their money where their mouth is. They donate their time and space for us, and I couldn’t thank them enough for doing so.”
Newswise — In the largest genetic study on anxiety to date, VA researchers found new evidence on the underlying biological causes of the disorder. The study used VA Million Veteran Program (MVP) data to identify regions on the human genome related to anxiety risk. The findings could lead to new understanding and treatment of the condition, which affects 1 in 10 Americans. According to Dr. Dan Levey of the VA Connecticut Healthcare Center and Yale University, one of the lead authors on the study, the findings are "an important step forward" in the understanding of anxiety disorders and how genes contribute to mental conditions. The results appear Jan. 7, 2020, in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Anxiety refers to anticipation of perceived future threats. In anxiety disorders, these concerns are out of proportion to the actual anticipated event, leading to distress and disability. Anxiety disorders often occur alongside other mental health disorders like depression. Only a third of those with anxiety disorders receive treatment. Some forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, have proved effective, as have medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In other fields of medicine, genetic studies have led to precision medicine approaches--tailoring drug treatment to patients' individual genetic and biochemical profiles--for a number of diseases. The researchers hope more genetic insight will lead to similar approaches for anxiety. The researchers compared the genomes of nearly 200,000 MVP participants. They identified five locations on the human genome related to anxiety in Americans of European descent, and one in African Americans. Gene variants at these genome locations could increase anxiety risk, say the scientists. The findings for the African American participants are especially important, says Levey. "Minorities are underrepresented in genetic studies, and the diversity of the Million Veteran Program was essential for this part of the project. The genetic variant we identified occurs only in individuals of African ancestry, and would have been completely missed in less diverse cohorts." The study produced the first genome-wide significant findings on anxiety in African ancestry, notes Levey. About 18% of MVP participants are African American. The anxiety-related genome locations also show overlap with other psychiatric conditions. One of the identified locations has previously been linked with risk for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The study also shows genetic overlap between anxiety symptoms and depression, PTSD (which is related to anxiety), and neuroticism--a personality trait that has been shown to increase risk for anxiety and related disorders. The results support the idea that overlap with these other traits is at least partially due to a significant genetic commonality, according to the researchers. MVP is a national, voluntary research program funded by VA's Office of Research and Development. It is one of the world's largest databases of health and genomic information. MVP partners with veterans receiving care in VA to study how genes affect health. As of November 2019, MVP had enrolled more than 800,000 veterans. "MVP has enormous potential for increasing our knowledge about the genetics underlying a huge range of traits, including psychiatric traits. It is one of the best samples in the world for this purpose," said Dr. Joel Gelernter, also of the VA Connecticut Healthcare Center and Yale University. Gelernter is one of the senior authors of the work, together with Dr. Murray Stein of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and University of California San Diego. For more information on MVP, visit http://www.research.va.gov/MVP. Thumbnail Photo Credit: Robert Lisak
VA ANNOUNCES PROPOSED RULE REGARDING EQUAL TREATMENT OF FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATIONS IN VA-SUPPORTED SOCIAL SERVICE PROGRAMS
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed a rule, Jan. 16, that would implement President Trump’s, May 3, 2018, Executive Order (EO) establishing a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, to remove regulatory barriers allowing religious and non-religious organizations equal treatment in VA-supported social service programs. The proposed rule ensures VA-supported social service programs are implemented in a manner consistent with the Constitution and other applicable federal law. Under current regulations governing these programs, religious providers of social services — but not other providers of social services — must make referrals under certain circumstances and must post notices regarding this referral procedure. VA’s proposed rule would eliminate religious providers from this requirement. The current hinderances were not required by any applicable law, and because they were imposed only on religious social service providers, they are in tension with recent Supreme Court precedent regarding nondiscrimination against religious organizations. The proposed rule will foreclose other unequal treatment of religious organizations by ensuring they are not required to provide assurances or notices that are not required of secular organizations. By compelling religious organizations, but not secular organizations, to post special notices and make referrals, the alternative-provider requirements unequally placed impediments on religious organizations and cast unwarranted suspicion on them. Additionally, the proposed rule will clarify that religious organizations may apply for awards on the same basis as any other organization and that when VA selects award recipients, VA will not discriminate based on an organization’s religious character. The proposed rule further clarifies that religious organizations participating in VA-supported social service programs retain their independence from the government and may continue to carry out their missions consistent with religious freedom protections in federal law, under the First Amendment. The proposed rule incorporates the Attorney General’s 2017 Memorandum for All Executive Departments and Agencies, Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty. That memorandum was issued pursuant to President Trump’s, May 4, 2017, Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, which guides all federal administrative agencies and executive departments in complying with federal law. “Protecting religious liberty is a key part of ensuring Veterans, families and potential partners — no matter their religious beliefs — feel welcome to work with and seek services from VA,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These important changes will help us accomplish these important goals.”
The Mission Continues helps Veterans and other service members continue their service after serving in uniform. Utilizing skills developed in the military, Veteran volunteers deploy to work alongside other non-profit groups to make improvements in under-resourced communities. The Mission Continues Core Values The non-profit centers their work around five core values: Work Hard Trust Learn and Grow Respect Have Fun These values influence how the organization and its volunteers operate. Who Can Volunteer? Thousands of volunteers throughout the country work with The Mission Continues every year. Volunteering opportunities are open to Veterans, National Guard and reserve members; some are open to civilians. The organization offers programs for volunteers to help communities, including deployment groups that work in a particular city. These groups work on various projects, including helping to renovate schools and clean up parks, as well as working with organizations like The Boys and Girls Club of America. Leaders of Social Change One of the leading training programs offered, the Service Leadership Corps, prepares volunteers to become community-based leaders of social change. The program requires an application and Veterans must commit to three to five hours per week for approximately six months, along with attending four weekend sessions. The program pays for travel, meals and lodging for these four sessions. In addition, volunteers must reside in a metro area of a city where the organization operates in and meet certain requirements relating to their service record. Professional Development Grants are available for qualifying members who complete the Service Leadership Corps program. There are also job openings offered by The Mission Continues, with over 50% of their employees being Veterans. Connect with other Veterans Volunteering with The Mission Continues provides many benefits. Veterans use skills developed from the military to help a community while making connections with other Veterans and those in their area. Volunteers also build on communication and resilience skills throughout their work. Learn more at: https://missioncontinues.org/. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA. Written by Isabel Nulter and graphics designed by Austin Waters, student interns working with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team.
By Steve Beynon/Stars and Stripes Housing and veterans officials told House lawmakers Tuesday that the veteran homeless rate has dropped to a 10-year low as thousands of federal vouchers that could help get more veterans off the streets went unused. “There are so many unused vouchers and so many homeless veterans remaining,” Keith Harris, the national director of clinical operations for Veterans Health Administration, said Tuesday during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on veteran homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported last week that the homelessness rate among veterans is at a 10-year low, as overall homelessness increased across the country. Some lawmakers and Department of Veterans Affairs officials have largely credited the decrease to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, which helps veterans with rental assistance and VA support services. Harris said more than 800,000 veterans and their families have used the HUD-VASH program since 2010, calling it one of the “most important resources for ending veteran homelessness” and saying the collaboration between nonprofits and multiple state and federal agencies makes eliminating veteran homelessness an attainable goal. Nationally, the homeless population is up 3%, which HUD attributes to a ballooning crisis in California where homelessness increased 21% between 2018 and 2019. But the number of homeless veterans in the United States is down to 37,000, according to HUD. This is a decrease of 2% in the last year and a 50% decrease since 2010, said Hunter Kurtz, assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing for HUD. Last year, about 8% of the homeless population were veterans. But the program intended to help veterans find a place to live isn’t being used by thousands of potentially eligible former service members due to a lack of VA staff and skyrocketing costs of living in some parts of the country, according to Harris. “One homeless veteran is one too many,” Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., said during the hearing. “Right now we are not good enough at identifying at-risk veterans and connecting them with services before they become homeless.” The HUD-VASH program has more than 100,000 vouchers issued nationally right now, but 11,000 are not being used by a veteran. Of the 37,000 homeless former service members, nearly one-third of them can possibly find subsidized housing. A roadblock with vouchers for some veterans is skyrocketing costs of living in some parts of the country, specifically urban areas, according to Harris. “All over the country the vouchers are just not enough,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla. “Veterans are having a hard time because it’s just not enough and they’re having a hard time paying for things like electricity. We’re very fortunate to have nonprofits kick-in.” Harris said HUD is working to increase the number of federal subsidized living spaces, put a ceiling on rising rents and make the vouchers more useful. He also pointed to the VA being short staffed with case managers, which the department is seeking new ways to process homeless case work such as using contractors. “One critical strategy [to ending veteran homelessness] is increasing the number of case managers,” Harris said. “Along with the lack of affordable housing, the lack of case workers is unquestionably the great limiting factors in voucher utilization.” Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.
Jim Pasqualini’s search for his uncle’s final moment landed him in Normandy, France, face-to-face with an old stone church sitting at the center of a roundabout and guarded by two oak trees towering over its steps. Jim Pasqualini in November stands near where his uncle, Frank, was believed to have died back on July 11, 1944, in Saint-Georges-d’Elle, about six miles northeast of St. Lo, France. He stood there, studying a World War II battle map that had taken him on a route through a swath of old farm homes flying both the French and U.S. flags across Saint-Georges-d’Elle, a small village about six miles northeast of St. Lo, France. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of this old stone church,” said Pasqualini, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and member of the VFW Department of Virginia residing in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. “I just knew that my uncle had seen this church on the day he died.” Frank Pasqualini had lived through D-Day, being one of the first on the shores of Omaha along the coast of Normandy with the 741st Tank Battalion. But unlike the U.S. troops that would later bask in the glorious sea of Parisians welcoming their saviors during a parade across the Champs Elysees, he met his fate on July 11, 1944 — a month and 18 days before the liberation. “He was the only one of my four uncles that died in battle during WWII,” Pasqualini said. “I remember my grandma, Dina, speak fondly about him. I always wanted to honor him by visiting the site where he died 75 years ago.” Prior to his trip to France in November 2019, Pasqualini had previously honored his uncle Frank by arranging a memorial ceremony at Richmond National Cemetery in Virginia, where a joint grave held his uncle and two other men, Thomas R. Fair and Willis E. Nixon. At Saint-Georges-d’Elle, however, Pasqualini came full circle. The locals in Saint-Georges-d’Elle, a community of about 200 residents, showed Pasqualini and his girlfriend around, helping him decipher the exact location where in 1944 a German rocket obliterated his uncle’s M4 Sherman tank — taking the lives of four of the five soldiers inside. During a dinner visit with a French couple residing in one of the 20 modern townhomes in town, Pasqualini found his answer. The couple happened to live behind a ravine dubbed “Purple Heart Draw” by the Americans during the war, a nickname attributed to the loss of many U.S. soldiers that died fighting to overtake Hill 192 from the Germans. “We started to line the roads up with the map at dinner, and it turned out that their house was exactly where two of the four Sherman tanks were destroyed. Now I’m not entirely sure if my uncle was in one of those two, but we were at least within 100 yards of where he was killed,” Pasqualini stopped. “I had seen what he saw on his last day of life.”