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DAV comes through for a horse soldier.

It was one of those conversations all DAV members experience from time to time. The person you are talking to knows or discovers you are a DAV member and makes a comment about being a veteran also, or about a relative or friend who is a veteran.

The person begins to tell a little more about the veteran they know, and something piques the interest of the listening DAV member. Then it happens--the questions. The DAV member asks, "Is the veteran a DAV member? Does the veteran have a service-connected disability?"

The question, like hand and glove, always go together. Whether asked in the possibility of recruiting a new DAV member, concern for the veteran, idle curiosity, all of these or more, the questions reflect the determination of DAV members to reach out and help build better lives for America's disabled veterans and their families.

National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante asked those questions one afternoon in Washington, D.C., several years ago. They wound up changing the life of a former major in Shenandoah, Iowa, who served in the U.S. Army.

Violante is often involved with veterans' issues beyond his legislative duties in the DAV. That includes serving as a member of the Board of the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL). Shortly after being elected to the Board in 2001, he was speaking with NFWL President and CEO Robin Read, a strong supporter of veterans' issues. She told him her father was a World War II veteran.

As the conversation continued, Violante discovered Read's father had served in the cavalry.

"When Robin told me her dad was a World War II veteran who had served with the cavalry before they quit using horses, I was fascinated," Violante said. "She wasn't looking for assistance, she was just telling me about her dad. But when she said a horse had fallen on him once, I just naturally asked if he was receiving disability compensation for his injuries. When I learned he probably wasn't, I encouraged Robin to contact our National Service Officer (NSO) in Iowa to look into the matter."

Jerome W. Fitzsimons, Supervisory NSO at the National Service Office in Des Moines, Iowa, got the call, and was soon at work assisting an actual horse soldier, Robert A. Read, a World War II veteran who had witnessed, firsthand, the Army's transition from hay and oats generated horsepower to gasoline and oil generated horsepower.

Robert Read was a college student when he decided he needed to be a part of the war looming on the horizon. Having served on inactive duty since 1938, he entered active duty in the Army at Fort Riley, Kan., on Jan. 15, 1941, and was commissioned a second leuitenant.

Read had been riding nearly anything a saddle could be strapped to since he was a youngster, and farm work had taught him the value and care of work animals. So when he left to join the cavalry, he took his mare, Sally, with him. It wasn't a common thing to do, but it was allowed.

It didn't take Sally long to get used to Read firing a weapon while mounted, and she was good at running, jumping and maneuvering, but she never quite got used to the Army horses and gave them a nip or kick if they got too close.

On New Year's Day of the following year, Read married Maribelle Redfield, his wife of more than 64 years. Two months later on March 3, 1942, near tragedy struck when Sally tried to jump a corral fence with Read mounted.

Unable to stop the jump, and thinking the horse wouldn't make it, Read jumped off Sally landing face down in a small depression. The horse and equipment landed on top of him injuring his head and right shoulder, fracturing his right pelvis and other injuries.

Read had just received orders to deploy to Africa; instead, he was rushed to the hospital and spent the next three months recuperating. During that time his father came to Ft. Riley and took Sally back to Shenandoah. Read held no grievance toward the horse.

Read was promoted to captain while recuperating and became the commanding officer of G Troop. In 1943 the cavalry turned in their horses for vehicles, and Read headed to Louisiana to train with the new vehicles. It was the same year his daughter, Robin, was born.

By March 1945 Read was at the bridge at Remagen where he received orders to go to Japan. He was onboard ship headed for Japan when the war ended. Read returned to Camp Hood, Texas, and was separated from the Army on Feb. 27, 1946. He was then called back to attend the Command and General Staff College in Ft. Levenworth, Kan., during the Korean War. Both times he returned to Iowa with a service-connected disability rating of 10 percent; a bad experience with a VA medical center; and like so many World War II veterans, a reluctance to complain and a tenacity to build a better future.

Read tried his hand at a service station business before taking pilot training and starting his own regional flying service for nearly 20 years.

NSO Fitzsimons began assisting Read in reopening his claim in December 2002. The process moved back and forth, but always inched forward. Along the way, Read returned to the VA medical centers in Omaha, Neb., and St. Petersburg, Fla., for care and was pleased with the quality of care, concern and professionalism afforded him.

"When I first started, there wasn't a lot to go on, but Robin (Read), Joe (Violante) and I were committed to ensuring this World War II veteran was receiving the medical treatment, attention and reverence he deserved," NSO Fitzsimons said.

"The first thing we needed to do was get Mr. Read a new walker. He was having trouble getting around safely due to his service-connected disability. I enlisted the assistance of the VA prosthetics office, prosthetics personnel of Central Iowa Healthcare System, National Area Supervisor (NAS) Larry Bouska, former Shelby County Veterans Service Officer, DAV member Tom McMullen and others to get the job done. Robin also helped obtain necessary medical documentation from Mr. Read's private physician."

The walker was just the beginning for NSO Fitzsimons. With continued guidance from NAS Bouska and the cooperation of VA professionals and others throughout the process, NSO Fitzsimons assisted Read through each decision until the final hurdle was cleared on Sept. 6, 2005. On that date, service connection was granted for the loss of the use of his legs with an evaluation of 100 percent, effective June 21, 2005. The rating decision also provided entitlement to special monthly compensation, specially adapted housing, and automobile and adaptive equipment.

"I am always amazed when I assist veterans like Mr. Read," NSO Fitzsimons said. "He was hurt while serving in the military and they awarded him 10 percent service-connected disability compensation. He never asked for more compensation, he just went on and did what he had to do after the war. We owe these veterans everything, and they are reluctant to ask for anything. Fact is, they are usually the first ones to step forward to help when others need it. I was glad to be of service to this veteran, and I'm glad others were willing to help me do it."
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Title Annotation:Disabled American Veterans
Author:Hall, Jim
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:1225
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