Volunteer on Maui treated badly by Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

VIEWPOINT

In 1979 I decided that America needed a national memorial engraved with names of the fallen from the divisive Vietnam War. Somehow, we were able to get the memorial built in just over three years. I had a lot of help from talented people. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial gets over 5 million visitors annually. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) is the group I formed — which I now avoid with great vigor.

On Veterans Day 2017 I was in a coma and not expected to live. I had contracted endocarditis, an infected heart valve. It was inoperable. I was on life support. Unexpectedly, in December 2017, I woke up from the coma. Within a month I was out of a wheelchair. By June, I was playing golf, lifting weights and walking a couple of miles a day. Many people were praying for me.

My major goal upon full recovery was to bring an end to the Education Center at The Wall. I had started this effort in 2000 with support from then-Sens. Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, Bob Kerrey and John McCain, and other impressive leaders in Congress like Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. By 2014 there was still a decent chance of success with a television ad campaign paid for by NewDayUSA and a grant of $25 million from the annual defense appropriation. Both would take considerable work, but the commitments were solid. The cost of the center eventually increased to $130,000,000.

In September 2014, it was time for me to move on. Retirement was at hand. The TV ad campaign and defense appropriation were not pursued by VVMF. Within a year, the entire project was in jeopardy due to mismanagement of a struggling capital campaign and a pointless conflict with the Native American Seminole tribe of Florida. In April 2016, I asked the board of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to end the campaign and return the money to Korea, Australia and the Seminole tribe among others. VVMF’s new CEO envisioned historic glory by turning around the failing campaign. He failed miserably. The campaign is now over.

The VVMF’s fundraising plans were not feasible and were almost laughable. A Manhattan hedge fund king would give $100 million if the facility was named after him, a questionable outcome. The alternative plan explained to me was for VVMF to find 10,000 Vietnam vets to give $10,000 each. The madcap endeavor needed to end. Gold Star families were giving money and support. A volunteer in Maui, Janna Hoehn, had raised over $70,000 with three fundraising events and by setting up a booth in shopping centers. She also got around 7,000 photographs. Her heart is pure. She feels treated badly by the VVMF. I agree. The money she raised was perhaps used for bonuses.

The donations from people like Janna were fueling a well-paid staff determined to keep the Education Center going. The leaders of this failed campaign last year got bonuses of over $70,000. A successful campaign can often be rewarded, but failed campaigns deserve little beyond a job change for the staff. Last week over $10 million was returned to donors. VVMF has refused to comply with requests for financial information from Task and Purpose, a veterans publication. One employee is paid, I am told, far more than Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who earns $203,000 annually.

There are people who have real integrity who I have known for years. One is Allen Hoe, a Honolulu lawyer. He volunteered and became a combat medic in Vietnam, doing his duty as a citizen. He had a great son, Nainoa Hoe, who led American troops on a dangerous mission in Mosul, Iraq. An enemy sniper fired a bullet ending the life of this patriot who had an MBA from the University of Hawaii and was an exceptional surfer.

The stamina and courage of Janna Hoehn is also impressive. She traveled from state to state getting photos and raising money for the VVMF Education Center. VVMF should give her a huge award, but Janna got nothing but heartache for her work.

Heroes like Allen Hoe and Janna Hoehn need to be elevated and recognized. Their work serves as an example for others to follow. Each of us can do more for others. Let us elevate those who give their time and talent. And let us always remember those who are forever young, whose lives ended in places like Vietnam and Iraq.

Mahalo, Allen Hoe.

Mahalo, Janna Hoehn.

* Jan Craig Scruggs is the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., chairman of the Selective Service National Appeals Board, member of the board of advisers for the Global War on Terror Memorial, and a decorated rifleman in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

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