Korean War veteran Fred Ruge, who was voted as one of The Maui News' "People Who Made A Difference" last year for his volunteer efforts to help Maui veterans, will add another award to his already long list of accolades.
Ruge, 82, was recently voted as the Hawaii state winner of the Salute to Senior Service contest, an annual contest hosted by Home Instead Senior Care to recognize seniors who volunteer to positively impact their communities. As a state winner, Ruge received $500 to donate to a nonprofit charity of his choice.
"Fred devotes more than 40 hours a month in helping his fellow veterans. He takes them to doctors' appointments, accompanies them to Oahu by plane for appointments, helps them with their benefit paperwork . . . He is the most selfless man I have ever met," said Wailea resident Janna Hoehn, who nominated Ruge for the award.
Ruge opted to donate his award money to his and Hoehn's ongoing effort to fund The Education Center at The Wall, a learning facility under construction near the memorial in Washington, D.C., Scheduled to open in November 2014, the facility will feature pictures of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers who died fighting in Vietnam, including 42 men from Maui County.
"I served in the Korean War, which a lot of people call the Forgotten War because people forget us," Ruge said. "I just want to make sure they don't forget the veterans of the other wars. That's how come I do so much work for them."
News that he had won the Salute to Senior Service state contest came as a surprise to Ruge, who was unaware of the contest until its officials called him about three weeks ago and told him he had won.
"Quite frankly I was really surprised," said the combat veteran of the Korean War's 25th Infantry Division, known as Tropic Lightning. "I was extremely flattered that I won for the state of Hawaii . . . It felt kind of good to be recognized."
Ruge advances to the national contest, in which a panel of judges will choose a national grand prize winner to receive an additional $5,000 to be donated to the winner's charity of choice. The national winner will be announced June 30.
Over the past two years, Hoehn and Ruge have spent countless hours giving presentations to businesses, organizations and individuals to raise the $42,000 ($1,000 per soldier from Maui County) to fund all of their photos at the Washington exhibit.
"The sacrifices that these young men made, we can't forget them," Hoehn said. "Vietnam was a controversial war. The boys did not always get treated properly . . . It's still in my heart to do something for them, and this is what I can do."
Hoehn, who was named a "Person Who Made a Difference" in 2011 for her work on the veterans photo project, has been volunteering her free time over the past few years to locate photos of all 42 "Maui Boys" who died in the Vietnam War.
Hoehn and Ruge have raised nearly $27,000, according to Hoehn. They still need about $15,000 to reach their goal.
"When mothers or widows or fathers come up to me and thank me for remembering the veterans, that means a lot," Ruge said. "It makes me feel good that I can help my fellow veterans."
To donate to The Education Center or the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund, send email to Hoehn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.