What are the odds you could ever find two Veterans, of two entirely different wars no less, who VA had somehow shortchanged out of years and years of compensation. Granted, towards the end they were munificent beyond belief in actually tossing this now 94 year-old Vet a doggie bone called a pension. Not just any Vet. Lenny was a Marine amphib tractor driver the day he almost met his Maker(the first time) when he went ashore at Guam in the second wave. He went ashore at Okinawa too. Same second wave. He was on Graves Registration from New Georgia on. Nowadays, some armchair MSNBC Afstan reporter would give this the obligatory 20,000 foot test (flyover) to come to the conclusion that it appeared to be a lot calmer by the second wave from where they were sitting.
In 1944, reporters didn’t have this luxury. This is how they did it (live) back in July of 1944:
That’s pretty hard to read. Here’s what it says:
Jap Souvenir Blasted Right into His Hands
-Guam—(Delayed)—A Jap souvenir was fired into the hands of marine Pfc. Leonard J. Virgili, of 1107 Corbin Street, Rockford, Ill. Landing with his amphibian tractor unit, he dug in on the beach as shells from Jap mortars dropped nearby. As one shell exploded, Private Virgili felt something strike him in the right shoulder. Looking down to see if he had been wounded, he found that he had been struck by a packet of Japanese post cards. The packet, apparently abandoned in the sand, had been blown against him from the concussion of the bursting mortar shell. A veteran of the New Georgia campaign, Private Virgili enlisted in November 1942.
Pretty tricky huh? Lenny snuck back to Chicago and planted his story there. No flies on those VA raters. They could smell a rat. No comp. money for Lenny.
Lenny was loquacious and prolific in his recitations of all those bodies and parts. He told of nightmares. He filed and filed. Good old AmLeg and DAV kept filling out his forms and sending them in. VA was just as quickly saying “Lenny, it’s all in your head, mon. Your 214 says you were a draftsman and worked in a machine shop. It says you went to camouflage school and learned how to operate a bayonet, see? No evidence here, bud. Where’s your proof of a stressor? Where’s your CIB?” To a World War Two Marine Infantryman who was a Veteran of two landings without a scratch, “stressors” were like Badges. Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ Badges! It was the Graves and Registration duty after the lead quit flying. Don’t you get it? Dead bodies. Dead friends. Dead pieces of bodies. Hands, feet, toes. Boots with feet still in them. They come back to haunt me.
So Lenny dives into the Chicago Times August 1944 microfiches and pulls up an article about himself that day he was tippin’ a cool one and sun tanning on Agana beach with his best buds. Hell, Lenny went them one better and sent in a selfie of them all checkin’ out the Local Motion that day. Seems like that picture would speak a thousand words and more.
A while after this picture was snapped, a Japanese 150 mm infantry mortar landed thirty feet in front of them and killed seven Marines. Fortunately, things had “calmed down” by then though. Lenny, of course, began his Graves registration duty earlier than he’d planned on that day. War is Hell.
All this was in the c-file in 2004-May 5th to be exact, according to VA’s date stamp. A few pages later is his discharge summary. Right there, large as life is what he was doing after the battle was over- and sometimes before that.
So, in essence, old Lenny had been shucked and jived by his VFW rep for about twenty or thirty years and told by VA that he had “a little anxiety” and some bad dreams. Well boy howdy do we have fix for you. Lenny. Here’s some Ambien and Seroquil to make you right as rain. And to show we’re good guys, we’ll throw in 50% for “nerves” as a pension which, of course we’re gonna have to deduct from your social security so you’ll only get another $322 dollars a month- taxable of course. Y’all come back now and don’t forget to eat your meds, hear?
Thirteen years later, his daughter was introduced to me by Cupcake at a charity fund raiser in Silverdale, Washington (the other Washington). We talked a spell and I explained one or two of those ugly facts of life about the VA. She was beside herself and her parents were way back there in Chicago. In fact, they still lived in the same house where Lenny lived when he was born and where Marcie was born and raised. What to do? Shooooooooooo, doggies. If you want a rip snorter of a good idea, always ask someone with Tourette’s Syndrome born on April Fool’s day. Don’t get mad. Get even.
I thought this one over and over. We’re talking pure gold. One of the last survivors of World War II, ninety four, a combat Marine Veteran of two brutal campaigns. This is like hiding in the bathroom at Haagen Daz with your favorite spoon ’til they close. We opted for a “landing” on the Chicago RO Beachhead @ 0 dark thirty waiting for the door to open. Third Marine Amphib- Lenny in his wheelchair. And daughter Marcie with a biiiiig frown. She was far nicer than I would have been in those circumstances. Nevertheless, much blowing of coffee through nasal orifices commenced after the beachead was secured. The RO director came down a few minutes after being summonsed(by name), along with the VSCM (ditto). Several VSOs began to congregate in the visitor’s area to watch the show. I told Marcie to keep CBS news’ downtown TV Studio address in oversize letters in her right hand facing outwards). She informed all that was her next stop just in case they missed it if no progress could be made right then and there. Why, she didn’t have time to flit back and forth between Seattle and Chi-town to tell these chowderheads how to help her dad. Hellooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo?
I believe that was around December 8th. Lenny got a 30% comp. rating for PTSD on December 31, 2015. So, that’s our deadline for his NOD. We have sixty days and we’re collecting the IMO as I write this. I think VA could see a rating from 2004 considering they were paying him 50% for NSC pension then and now have effectively reduced him to 30%. Always remember Jones v. Shinseki -rate the disease/injury before medicating it, not after. I personally don’t think it would be fair to Lenny to take away his meds just to find out how bad his nightmares are. To add insult to injury, his wife is in a nursing home recovering from a fall and a broken hip. They moved back here to live with their daughter which effectively makes them homeless in VA’s eyes. VA cannot ignore that or spend years on a SOC. I hear they hate that when this happens. Haste makes waste at VA which might explain why it takes two years to get a SOC.
And, like our forgotten Vet Butch Long of LZ Cork, I discovered something unique. I remembered a long time ago in Vietnam the Marines were all moaning about how Army pukes got a Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) if they so much as saw the the enemy. Marines were eating gooks for breakfast, lunch and dinner up-country at a R&R spot called Khe Sanh so it seemed a mite unfair not to get a medal for that and the actual carnage, too. In January 1969, almost a year after the Tet Huê debacle, the Secretary of the Navy agreed, created the Combat Action Ribbon and made it retroactive to 1961. But, what of all those other Infantrymen of prior wars? Yeppers, folks. In late 1999, they made it retroactive to on or after Pearl Harbor Day. I’d say that puts old Lenny in mighty high cotton.
Lenny has a medal coming and a great big Dog and Pony show. He separated December 3, 1945 so that would be a really wonderful present seventy one years later. I’ll keep you posted. Cool beans, huh? Gotta love these fuzzy good tales in front a warm fire with some B&B. Y’all come back now. We’ll keep you posted, hear?