By: John Cuddy – Feb. 2022
This month is a rare, second interview with a local Veteran, first interviewed by our editor Tom Duggan in October of 2016. Since that time, US Air Force Veteran John MacDonald, has been very busy, assisting Veterans throughout the Merrimack Valley and the United States.
Had a meeting with the newly elected Lowell American Legion Post 87 Commander John MacDonald over breakfast this month, at the “Broken Yolk Grill” in Pelham, New Hampshire. (Get the Lobster Eggs Benedict) Our breakfast led to a discussion on the needs of the Merrimack Valley’s Veterans. We discussed what is being done, and more importantly, what needs to be done, to meet our Veteran’s needs.
A Lowell resident, with two daughters in college, John MacDonald first served our country as a US Air Force Airman, and firefighter. Now, he is widely known for his tremendous work helping our Veterans in the Merrimack Valley and around the country as well.
John MacDonald enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1989 and was initially stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. A year later he would find himself deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. Senior Airman MacDonald was stationed at King Khalid Military City, about 20 miles from Saudi Arabia’s border with Kuwait, and just a few miles from the infamous “highway to hell”, the result of the US air attack during Desert Storm.
While serving in the Middle East, he was part of a firefighting unit tasked with saving and retrieving crashed American/Allied aircraft and pilots as they lifted off and landed from the base. Within the first month or two of arriving in the country, Senior Airman MacDonald’s unit was awarded the best fire department in Air Force.
All the Iraqi and foreign prisoners of war, captured by Allied Forces, were brought to this base, and held until a final determination could be made on their status, and their culpability concerning war crimes. John MacDonald said that his base supported both US Air Force aircraft and a US Air Force Surgical Hospital. MacDonald told me that Iraqi SCUD missiles were fired at his base, and recounted how he was eating lunch one afternoon, when he saw a PATRIOT missile take out one of the Iraqi SCUDS fired on US Troops.
John MacDonald is one of the original board members of Veterans Assisting Veterans. One of the first projects this group organized, was an official “Welcome Home” concert for Vietnam Veterans at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
Veterans Assisting Veterans, now commonly referred to as the “VAV,” is a group of veterans who volunteer their time to assist their fellow veterans. John MacDonald said he became involved because our veterans today are “not being treated much better by our federal government than our Vietnam veterans were when they came home in the 1960s and 1970s”. The mission at VAV is to raise money and help as many local Veterans as they can. What has made them so successful is that 100% of the funds they raise, all goes directly to Veterans. The group does not employ professional fundraisers or paid clerical staff to process paperwork and claims.
Why is there such a need for groups like Veterans Assisting Veterans and the American Legion? One of the topics we discussed was the rise in Veteran suicides during the COVID pandemic. According to research, compiled by the Costs of War Project at Brown University, the staff at Brown University found an estimated 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans have died by suicide, this figure includes only those who have served in the US military since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These deaths are over triple the 7,057 military personnel killed post 9/11 while conducting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The detailed research report was compiled by Dr Ben Suitt, PhD, the author of “Finding Resonance Amid Trauma: Moral Injury and the Role of Religion Among Christian Post-9/11 U.S. Veterans.”
Dealing with Veteran suicide prevention, Veteran homelessness, Veteran Substance abuse is one of the many missions of Veterans Assisting Veterans, the American Legion, Hidden Battles, and several other Veterans organizations. John MacDonald said the VAV is dynamic and effective because there’s very little paperwork and the VAV team can react to a Veteran’s need right away. “We review individuals who need the help. Then determine if they are worthy of us spending money, and once we do, we go out and service the Veteran’s needs.”
We discussed how recently a local American Legion post, addressed the needs of a Veteran with a family. The Veteran was at risk to lose his job, due to his car needing repairs, the local Legion Post contacted a local repair shop, had the Veteran’s car repaired, inspected, and registered. Paying the repair shop directly out of American Legion funds. The actions of this Legion Post, prevented a local Veteran from losing his job, risking homelessness, and substance abuse or worse.
John accepted the position of Post Commander in Lowell because he feels that he can leverage the American Legion’s experience of 102 years of helping Veterans and their families. John feels that the existing programs with the American Legion framework, are effective in guiding Veterans to resources for meeting their education, employment, housing, and health care needs. The camaraderie of an active American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or American Veterans Post is a great way of combating the isolation, depression, and loneliness many returning Veterans experience.
One of the many topics we covered was the importance of the Veteran and his entire family, registering to VOTE, and checking Veteran on their town or city’s census. Continually helping his fellow Veterans, over 30 years after his own service in Persian Gulf War, John MacDonald, is truly a “Hero in Our Midst”!
The Dracut American Legion asks all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, working with Congress, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 25 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War, Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com ◊