Spotlight on Committees: Serving Those Who Have Served

Veterans Committees a Key Part in the Life of a Local

Donna Ball, left, and Dawn Tree wait in Roscoe, Illinois, for the Vets Roll bus of veterans to pass by on their way to Washington.

Military service is a sacrifice for soldiers and families. Long, lonely years are spent without a loved one at home or in a foreign land surrounded by danger. The lucky ones come home without serious injuries. But once they get home, their service and needs require acknowledgement and support. The UAW is no different in its long-standing support of our nation’s veterans. That’s why UAW locals with veterans’ committees are making a difference with military veterans whether they just returned from Iraq or whether they’ve been home from World War II for more than 70 years.

UAW locals provide a wide range of services to veterans in their locals and area communities. While the veterans are grateful for the help they get from their local Veterans Administration offices, it’s individualized help UAW veterans committees provide that make a difference for our veterans — services like providing meals to homebound veterans, offering fellowship to veterans at a nursing facility, installing mobility equipment in a vet’s house, or maybe just sitting and talking with a veteran who is lonely.

Local 1268 Veterans Committee Chairperson Dawn Tree is focused on UAW vets in her local. As the chair of a 30-member veterans committee, she maintains tight contact with Region 4’s veterans’ council so they can coordinate veterans’ services and activities at Local 1268 and in the region. Local 1268 has roughly 7,000 members from a variety of employers. One of the biggest in the amalgamated local is at the FCA US Belvidere (Illinois) Assembly Plant, where they assemble Jeep Cherokees.

“Working with Region 4 is like working with family,” said Tree. “We talk to each other constantly throughout the year, whether it’s on Facebook, phone calls or texting. When I go out on the road for veterans’ activities in the region I stay with Region 4 people, I don’t need a hotel. We help each other plan vets’ days, coordinate prizes and help organize events like our annual fall Region 4 conference in Ottawa, Illinois. We keep each other informed about what we’re working on and try to look for ways to help other locals in the region. I have people coming from Wisconsin and Illinois just to help with events here where I am, while at the same time for the Christmas With a Vet program in Milwaukee Dec. 9, Local 1268’s committee members will go there to help the local and Region 4,” said Tree.

Dawn Tree hands out a present at the 29th Annual Christmas with the Vets event in Milwaukee.

Serving Those Who Have Served

Veterans Committees a Key Part in the Life of a Local

Tree became committee chair this year after being a member for seven years and feels a personal responsibility to caring for veterans. Her father is a Korean War veteran, her son-in-law is a U.S. Army veteran and her son is in the Army National Guard. “It’s important for the UAW to support veterans. The UAW supports the community and vets are a big part of our community,” said Tree. She said many have needs that aren’t being met. Take her son-in-law, for example. “He spent 4 ½ years in South Korea, came home three years ago,” she said. “He needed help finding a job, finding somewhere to live, help with medical issues, all kinds of things. All veterans need a thank you, a welcome home that they might not have gotten, and need to know that people care about them and appreciate their service.” Tree says many veterans are too proud to ask for help or think they don’t deserve anything when they come home. Others are humble and quiet, and have stories to tell but don’t know who to tell them to. The quiet ones who need help dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or are too old to care for themselves are sometimes in assisted living centers, some especially for veterans. Tree and her committee, along with Region 4, visit them. The vets they work with range in age from their 30s to a 101-year-old World War II veteran.

“We need to honor our UAW veterans and all veterans who have sacrificed for their country,” said UAW Region 4 Director Ron McInroy. “Region 4 is committed to making sure, through the region and through each local in Region 4, that UAW members do all they can to give back to veterans who need our help.”

Region 4 Veterans Council Chair Horace Hubbard, Gold Star Mother Beth Carlson and Ron Sodko at the Middle East Conflict Wall in Marseilles, Illinois.

James English of Cherry Valley, Illinois, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War, lives near the Belvidere plant after retiring from there 30 years ago. The proud UAW retiree says the Veterans Administration is terrific. But it’s the UAW that he knows has his back in his local community. “I have a chair lift and can’t walk. My chair lift broke, and I couldn’t get to the basement to get things I needed out of the refrigerator. So, I called my Local 1268 Veterans Committee and they found a company to fix it and paid for the repair right away. This was a while ago and the chair still works fine. They said if I need any more help to call them, and I will. They’re a great bunch at Local 1268,” said English. “Veterans need a lot of help and the UAW knows that. The union got me a good job and they fought for me when I asked them to. You work at a nonunion shop and they can lay you off no matter what, but the union will fight for you and stand behind you,” said English.

UAW President Dennis Williams, a United States Marine Corps veteran, says it’s because of U.S. military veterans we have our freedoms today, including the right to form a union. “Brave men and women have fought to keep America free and democratic. We shouldn’t take that for granted and always remember to respect the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and support those who come home. That’s why local veterans’ committees are key components of the UAW’s committee system. Without veterans we wouldn’t have the rights and prosperity we have in our country today,” said Williams.

Marcella Stewart, left, Dawn Tree, Pat Razdik amd Louise Turzinski serve lunch at Minnesota Vets Day in Hastings, Minnesota.

One of the many programs Local 1268 and the region assist with is making sure vets can afford a trip to see the war memorials in Washington. They donate to the Vets Rollprogram that charters buses for veterans to go to the capital to see the war memorials for wars they fought in, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Tree and her committee are right there when they leave. “I wave with my flag at the freeway entrance as they leave. It costs $500 to send one vet. Every year we send two,” she said.

Region 4 Veterans Council Chairperson Horace Hubbard, also a Local 1268 member, has been chair for just over a year. The region is a big one and has many locals and veterans, so they’re busy working with locals and at veterans’ homes in Manteno, Illinois, Marshalltown, Iowa, Hastings, Minnesota, and Union Grove, Wisconsin. “We’re also working with one of many non-profits we partner with, in Region 8, to establish a combat veteran retreat at the Dark Horse Lodge in Paris, Tennessee. The region and Local 1268 sponsor numerous events to raise money for the homes, including an annual golf outing, a moonlight bowling fundraiser and a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. They also help with the Illinois Veterans Stand Down, a one-day event of services and support for homeless veterans in one place, like a barber, free clothing, food and other assistance like wheelchair repair and rucksacks with supplies from the VA. At a recent stand down over 200 vets were helped at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in Rockford, Illinois. Sometimes just paying attention to a vet is what makes a difference in their life. “One time at a stand down for homeless vets in Rockford,” said Tree, “I spent time just walking around with and talking to a World War II vet. I helped him with his lunch. It must have meant a lot to him because the next year he saw me and said, ‘There’s my girl!’ This year I couldn’t make it, and someone told me he asked for me. I wish I could have made it.”

Joan Silvi