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Heroes & Angels.

Walter Suchanoff served our country as part of the U.S. Army during WWII. He returned home as a paralyzed veteran from injuries he sustained in combat. He was one of the earliest students at the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking, established to help disabled veterans learn trades and skills to reenter the work force. He went on to become a successful businessman as a partner in RENWALT Jewelers--so successful he established a trust that helped fund the college educations of all his nieces and nephews and their children.

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Suchanoff bowled and played basketball. He helped his widowed mother raise his younger brothers. He was president of the Bronx (N.Y.) SCI Paraplegic Veterans Association in 1946.

A driving force in creating access for people with disabilities and removing the barriers, Suchanoff-worked endlessly to change things for the better. His goals were simple: job training, housing, building access, and anything else that allowed paralyzed vets to resume productive, self-sufficient roles in society. In 1946, in a country where disabled access was almost nonexistent, those were some very lofty goals.

I am Walter Suchanoff's niece, and I am a Soldiers' Angel. A 501(c) nonprofit organization, Soldiers' Angels was founded in 2003. Its very heart is the "adopt a soldier" program that sends thousands of letters and packages to deployed American servicemen and-women in Iraq and Afghanistan every month. I joined in 2005, right after my son headed to boot camp.

Meeting the Needs

Over the years, Soldiers' Angels has grown to a full-service organization for deployed military personnel and their families. With more than 200,000 members, it is now the largest organization of its kind in the country.

When a request for help comes in from a company commander in the field, a military family; or a VA social worker, Soldiers' Angels is proud of how often we can help. Each day we see new requests from those who are deployed and urgent concerns for the wounded.

We are grateful medical technology has advanced to the point where we can now save nine out of ten wounded military personnel. Unfortunately this new type of war has new weapons that cause injuries like we've never seen before. The damage can be devastating, often resulting in very long, complex, and painful recoveries.

Many soldiers, upon returning to the U.S., are sent to the best facility for their type of injury. These VA hospitals are not necessarily near their homes. Soldiers' Angels realizes the importance of family and mentally supporting recovery, and we have many ways to help: the Valour-IT program (Voice Activated Laptops for Our Injured Troops) helps keep them connected with family, friends, and the brothers in arms they left behind. The laptops can track their medical progress and even help them start taking college courses to start a new career.

Soldiers' Angels also provides flights to get family members to their loved one's side. We offer financial assistance and help cover relocation costs.We can help with transportation and adapting homes. We have teams of Angels assisting and volunteering in VA hospitals and facilities across the country.

We fill VA "wish lists" monthly and work closely with Volunteer Services, social workers, and OIF/OEF advocates. And we are there for all branches of service, all conflicts, and all military personnel and their families.

I was not born yet when my uncle came home from WWII. I was not there to see the struggles my family faced. By the time I came along, everything looked normal and ordinary to me. Didn't everyone have wheelchair ramps at grandma's house? Didn't everyone have a father whose boat had half the seats removed so the wheelchair would fit?

Uncle Walter was a successful businessman who went off to work, played basketball, and went bowling. It never occurred to me he was ever any other way.

As an adult, I now realize how many challenges my family faced in their effort to be "normal." As a VA volunteer for Soldiers' Angels, I see these struggles. We just want to be there with a helping hand and offer the support needed along the way. Keeping families together and eliminating financial concerns allows our heroes to concentrate on healing.

This year Soldiers' Angels launched a new program called Operation Price of Freedom. It is a targeted effort to raise $9.75 million so we can continue to say "Yes" to whatever our deployed, wounded veterans and military families need. They stood for us when it counted--and now we must be there for them.

An Honor and Pleasure It has been easy for me to expand my volunteer work with Soldiers' Angels. I am proud be a member of the development and donor services team and a part of making Operation Price of Freedom one of Soldiers' Angels' most successful endeavors. It's easy; because in the long run I've had the honor and the pleasure to meet and get to know the very finest people this country has to offer--heroes and angels alike.

My uncle was lost to us following a car accident on the way home from bowling when I was 17. He never saw life as sitting in a chair and watching from the sidelines. He was a pioneer in breaking the barriers that held him and others back. Now, a generation later, I help carry on the fight as a member of Soldiers' Angels.

Unfortunately I never had the chance to talk face to face about this with my uncle. His story comes to me in bits and pieces from my father, old newspaper clippings, and family photos. I believe there is far more to his story than I will ever know.

Uncle Walter opened the doors, and we help support the heroes as they find their way through them. In the end our goals are the same, and I like to think he would be proud of the work we do, just as I am proud of him.

I salute you, Uncle Walter. You are my hero.

The 501(c)(3) Soldiers' Angels operates internationally to provide letters, care packages, and comfort items to deployed military personnel and support for their families at home. It also gives assistance to the wounded, continuing support for veterans, remembrances and comfort for families of the fallen, and immediate response to unique difficulties. For more information, visit www.soldiersangels.org or call 615-676-0239;
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Title Annotation:a closer LOOK
Author:Walker, Sheryl
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:1069
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