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  • Sunday, February 07, 2016

    ‘Operation Comfort Warriors’ on Commander’s Mind in Ontario County Swing

    Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW), the American Legion program to help wounded and injured service members and veterans, was on the mind of Department of New York Commander James Yermas as he swung through the 7th District’s Ontario County Saturday, Feb. 6.  (See photo gallery.)

    Now it’s on the mind of local Legionnaires and some staffers at the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua.

    Apply for OCW grants, he told the Legion Family during lunch at Canandaigua Post 256, then staffers at the VA Medical Center and Crisis Hotline during an afternoon tour, and the Legion Famiy again at the visitation dinner hosted at Seeley B. Parish Post 457 in Phelps Saturday night.

    OCW provides comfort items, and recreational and rehabilitation equipment for use by veterans – especially in VA facilities and homes that don’t have the budget for such items, Yermas said.

    “Come up with a wish list, and apply for a grant through the local Legion Post,” he told Canandaigua VA Volunteer Services Manager Robin Johnson and Inpatient Registered Nurse Karen Buongiorno.

    Crisis Hotline Supervisor Roberta Calhoun-Eagan led the tour through the 24-hour Crisis Hotline Center, whose main mission is “crisis intervention and suicide prevention.” Started in 2007 with three employees, the center now boasts over 300 staffers, with 55 on duty at any one time.

    “It’s the only call center in the United States dealing with veterans in crisis,” noted past Canandaigua Post Commander and County Adjutant Norma Weissand. “This is right here, in our home town, all day and night.”

    The center was the subject of the award-winning HBO documentary, “Veterans Suicide Hotline,” which was shown at the luncheon. “Heart-wrenching” is how Sons of the American Legion Detachment Commander Joseph SantaCroce described the film in his evening dinner remarks – where he also did a shout-out to new Eagle Scout Colin McDaniels, who serves as the Detachment’s assistant sergeant-at-arms.

    Department Auxiliary President Janet Mahoney opened her dinner remarks by referring to the “super soup fest” at Canandaigua Post, catered by a soup brigade from Honeoye Auxiliary Unit 1278. The luncheon featured a robust offering of soups – chili, lasagna soup, turkey kale soup, beef soup, broccoli and cheddar, chicken noodle soup, sausage and potato soup, vegetable soup, and poor man’s soup.

    Before departing for the VA tour, the state delegation visited the Canandaigua Post’s Trail of Remembrance, which features markers for every war since the American Revolution. Weissand noted that the latest artifact was added to the Trail’s 9/11 Memorial last fall — a piece of twisted metal from the Twin Towers.

    Seeley B. Parish Post 457, which hosted the dinner as it’s the home post for County Commander Tom Baker, is so active that it boasts three color guard squads – the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion (SAL).

    The Legion Color Guard posted the colors for the dinner, and, despite the ages of its members (60s, 70s and 80s), the squad marches in about eight parades a year, plus does funeral and other ceremonial duties, noted Color Guard Commander John Sherman.

    “We’re lucky as we have SAL and Auxiliary color guards” that also march in parades.

    A husband-wife team, Ray and Dawn Lawson, captain the SAL and Auxiliary squads, respectively.

    “They get along well enough to make it work,” said Sherman.

    “Well, sometimes,” quipped the Lawsons in unison.