Lending a Hand, Vermonters Helping Vermonters

Bernie Buzz

Vermont sends a larger share of its people into combat than most states. Roughly 1,500 soldiers are now serving in Afghanistan, the largest deployment since World War II. While our soldiers are serving overseas, everyday Vermonters are doing their part to help the families that remain home.

Wilfred Desilets, 68, is one of those people.

Desilets, who was born in Burlington and insists on being called "Dizzy," worked for nearly three decades as a service technician in Sears' service department in South Burlington where he repaired appliances. Now retired, Dizzy works part time as contractor for Sears and Lowe's, helping with home appliance installations.

On occasion, Dizzy will get a cell phone call from Robert Colby Sr., the post commander at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 782. Dizzy served in the Vermont Air Guard in the 1960s and is an auxiliary member of the VFW Post in Burlington. The VFW Post gives families of Vermont's soldiers the occasional ride when they need one and offers a hand with home projects gone awry. 

Colby remembers getting a call from a Shelburne woman last month. Her husband was serving in Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard and she had desperate need for a bit of help. She was working with a light fixture and caused a short circuit. "She was worried she was going to burn her house down," Colby said. "So, I called up Diz."

"She called. She was the happiest gal when we showed up," said Dizzy, noting she was "definitely shaken up" about the electrical short. Dizzy said he fixed the wiring and helped install a new light fixture.

After the work was done, Dizzy recalled, "She said, what do I owe you?"

"I said you don't owe me anything. We owe you," Dizzy said, referring to her family's military service.

Desilets is quick to deflect praise for volunteering his time and handyman skills. Instead, he gives credit to the VFW Post for creating the informal network to make sure people get help when they need it.

 "It's veterans helping veterans. That's what we do," said Colby, 59, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 for the U.S. Army.  "We are not doing it to get a pat on the back or anything."

Desilets and Colby, along with two other members of the VFW Post, shared the ways the post is helping out Vermonters during a recent interview with the Bernie Buzz.

Aside from answering the occasional call to help the families of deployed Vermont soldiers and placing more than 1,000 flags on gravesites of Vermont's soldiers last Memorial Day, members of the VFW Post routinely visit aging Vermonters in local senior centers. The post also sends care packages to soldiers currently deployed. (Read about what Bernie is doing to plan for the return of Vermont's soldiers .)

"Everyone comes together. It's all about the people," Dizzy said. Desilets has been dubbed the jack-of-all trades at the VFW Post. But he is not the only one lending a hand.

Don Sawyer, 71, of Burlington, for example, said he flew missions for the U.S. Air Force in 1962 in Vietnam. Now he has delivers medicine and medical supplies to help Vermonters. Sawyer, according to Dizzy, is the "go-to-guy" at the VFW Post to help "the sick folks or the people in need."

As World War II and Korean War veterans are becoming harder to come by, Veterans from the Vietnam era are becoming some the older members at the VFW post, Colby said.

One of those who served in the military during the Korean War and remains active in volunteering for the VFW Post is Jean Rainville. The 79-year-old South Burlington woman was stationed in Japan during the Korean War.  In addition to helping commemorate the effort's Vermont's fallen soldiers, she lends a hand at the Vermont Veterans Militia Museum and Library at Camp Johnson in Colchester every Tuesday. Rainville says she likes to work at the museum because of the comradery. "I enjoy military life," she said.

As the interview wound down, Colby and Rainville were making plans to visit a local senior center.  "It's really interesting to talk with all these veterans. And they love to tell you stories," Rainville said.

Just going to visit veterans in senior centers plays an important role in keeping connected with the community, they said. "When you get into a place like that, people forget about you. We want them to know, we haven't forgotten," Colby said.

The VFW Post is also in the process of preparing for the return on the largest deployment of Vermonters since World War II. The post, for example, is hoping to create a computer area where the returning soldiers can relax. Colby said he remembers what it was like to return home after being deployed to Vietnam - and he wants to do everything he can to ease soldiers return the life back in Vermont.

Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie told Vermont Public Radio recently the first of the Vermont Guard members deployed to Afghanistan will return home later this month and most of the 1,500 soldiers deployed there should be back in Vermont for the holidays.

Colby said a lot of people wrongly think the VFW Post on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington, Vt. is "just a bar."  "We just want people to know that we are here for the community," Colby said.

"That's the whole objective: to let everyone know we are here to help," he said. "That's what it is. Veterans serving veterans."

>>>>>>> Need a hand? <<<<<<<<<

If you have a member of your family serving in the military and need help, contact Robert Colby Sr., the post commander at VFW Post 782 after 1 p.m.: 802-864-6532 or send an e-mail to colby194@aol.com.