Top-Left to Right: Founder Paul Kwasniewski & Jericho, David Shearer, M.D., Co-Founder Joan Bengtson, Project Director Laura Matesky.
Veterans in America is a non-profit organization founded by a disabled veteran for veterans.
Veterans in America was established to provide employment for veterans in schools, public facilities, public events, or wherever a presence of therapy and healing are needed. Veterans will be accompanied by a therapy-trained dog; together this team will be deployed in various capacities to spread healing, wellness and peace.
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Meet Sgt. Paul Kwasniewski, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Infantry Division
Paul Kwasniewski arrived in South Vietnam at age nineteen as an enlisted soldier in the 1st Medical Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division. The year was 1968, a year that saw not only the peak build-up of U.S. forces, but also the enemy’s largest offensive effort of the war, the Tet Uprising. He was deployed into Quon Loi, northwest of Saigon, in a region known as the Fishhook, where the Cambodian border bulged inward, putting the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon within striking distance of the enemy. This area was long thought to be the base of North Vietnamese operations in South Vietnam and one that would produce over 50% of all casualties of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Kwasniewski served in the farthest medical tent at the end of “Thunder Thirteen”, running missions aboard medevac choppers as part of operation “Dustoff”. “We were in the way of the North Vietnamese Army,” says Kwasniewski.” They had to go over the top of us to get to Saigon.” Here Paul received hundreds of dead and wounded, including one Chuck Hagel, now a U.S. Senator and nominee for Defense Secretary, who was severely burned when his armored personnel carrier (APC) was blown up by a land mine.
If troops were not seriously wounded, Paul would feed them and help patch them up; on one such occasion he fed General Keith Ware, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division. Later that year, while commanding his troops from his chopper near the Cambodian border, General Ware was shot down along with his crew, leaving no survivors. It was Dustoff who retrieved the bodies including General Ware from the extremely dangerous Cambodian border area near Loc Ninh. He would also retrieve the body of 1st Lieutenant John Bath of the 5th Special Forces, a childhood friend. “I received hundreds of wounded and dead soldiers,” recalls Kwasnieski. “Some died in my arms; some died in the medical tent; some died later. Yes, some lived.”
In the year Kwasniewski was deployed in Vietnam, he experienced a lifetime of the horrors of war; he retrieved the bodies of 38 soldiers from a Chinook helicopter to pronounce dead, was ambushed while evacuating dead and wounded, his own unit sustaining heavy casualties; he received soldiers from 101st Airborn, 1st Infantry, 5th Special ARVN Forces, 25th Infantry, 11th Armored Cavalry, 9th Infantry Marines and many others from all over Northwest South Vietnam. He received his Sergeant Stripes while serving in Quon Loi, where his battalion was shelled and shot at nightly. Kwasnieski was eventually wounded himself, injuring his leg by running into a tree while escaping a rocket barrage in the dark..
In September of this year, Kwasnieski will be honored in a memorial ceremony for General Ware, for his heroic efforts to assure that none were left behind. This is an edict he still lives by to this very day; as a disabled veteran suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, rarely a day goes by when Kwasnieski isn’t somehow connecting with and addressing the needs of his fellow veterans. He meets every Wednesday with veterans from the Norwich, CT VA, and is actively involved with VeteransInAmerica.com.