Vietnam Veterans, Inc.

        The Vietnam War lasted over 19 years, from November 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975. According to, more than 3 million people, including 58,000 Americans, were killed in the Vietnam War. The carnage and wounds from this extensive conflict run deep. Yet, these military men and women who battled in this war fought for freedom, and they were willing to risk their lives, some were volunteers, and others were drafted. 

        Locally, an organization assists these brave heroes; it is called Vietnam Veterans, Inc. Their goal is, “To foster, encourage, and promote comradeship and ’Esprit de Corps’ among Vietnam Veterans.” In addition, their goal is to assist disabled and needy Vietnam Veterans and the dependents of Vietnam Veterans. And to promote the physical and cultural improvement and growth, development, self-respect, and self-confidence of Vietnam Veterans. 

        “Vietnam Veterans Inc. (VVI) was founded back in 1980. Currently, we have approximately 500-600 members. We not only help Vietnam veterans, but and all veterans and their families in need, said VVI president Butch Burke, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. “One of the groups that we work closely with is Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship and Veteran’s Home, which Reverend Mike Wurschmidt runs. It is located at 13 Pride Street. We recently provided 800 pairs of socks for homeless veterans. In addition, we help these folks during all of the holidays by providing food and care packages.”  

        “Before the pandemic, we would go to Aspinwall VA Hospital and have cookouts with the hospitalized veterans.  We still participate in an annual activity every third full weekend in September; we have a POW (prisoner of war)/MIA (missing in action) Vigil. This year was the 41st year we held this ceremony; we had it at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall. We also have weekly veteran’s breakfasts and monthly meetings,” said Burke. 

       Another VVI member and U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran Daniel Mc Poyle noted that VVI held a special Memorial Day service. “The memorial tribute is held in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Peters Township in the South Hills. This is the first Vietnam Veteran’s State Memorial. The tall, black, two-sided granite stones list ALL of Pennsylvania’s killed in the Vietnam War State Vietnam Veterans. In addition, the five flags are our military branches. Each yellow brick area lists bronze markers -Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine and Coast Guard and above the 5’ x 8’ 🇺🇸 American Flag.” 

     “We also annually participate in the National Wreathes Across campaign. That is held in December, when wreathes are placed on the graves of veterans. Locally, we conduct this project in the National Military Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Washington County, near Bridgeville,” said Mc Poyle. “VVI also holds various flag presentation ceremonies. Next year, we plan to go to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. We take this trip about every three years.” 

        For information on the Vietnam Veterans, Inc., visit their website at or call them at (412) 431-2096. Northern Connection magazine salutes all members of Vietnams Veterans, Inc. for their military service and dedication to our country. 

By Paula Green 

Veterans Honored by Local School Districts

Veterans Honored by Local School Districts  

By Paula Green 

         The origins of Veterans Day go back to the end of World War I. On November 11, 1918, the Allied Forces and Germany signed an armistice ending war hostilities. The fighting ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Armistice Day was first celebrated in 1919 under a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation.” As a result, the name of this November 11 national holiday was changed to Veterans Day. 

       In honor of this special day, several of our local school districts answered the call and supported our troops – 

       Mars Area Middle School Student Government collected 248 pounds of leftover Halloween candy as part of an annual drive, held Nov. 1-8 to benefit the Operation Gratitude Halloween Candy Give-Back Program. The students delivered the candy to the 377th Engineer Company SFRG (Butler), which will distribute the candy to troops deployed overseas, veterans, and first responders in the form of care packages.     

       Also, on November 11, Mars Area Middle School’s Spirit Club installed a Veterans Day Wall. In October, the club asked the seventh and eighth graders to provide information (name, military branch, dates of service) for any of their family members who have served in the armed forces, both at home and abroad. Club members incorporated the profile and photos into the Honor Wall display near the middle school’s main entrance.  

         The Hampton School District honored nine heroes on November 9 as part of their Hampton Heroes celebration. This is the 20th year for this annual commemoration. The district recognized these veterans at an event held at Fridley Field at Hampton Middle School. 

         On November 11, a special lighting of the luminaries’ ceremony was held amid a sea of flags honoring our nation’s veterans. The event was held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall as part of their “Fill the Hill” campaign. The event was held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall as part of their “Fill the Hill” campaign. In addition, the commemoration included a musical tribute dedicated to all who have served, titled If We Fall – We Gave it All written and performed by retired Shaler Area School District teacher Gene Ritz. 

       Seneca Valley students also held their special tribute to Veterans. On Friday, November 12, Evans City Middle School (ECMS) invited local veterans to participate in their “Veterans Day Drive-Thru Recognition” program. The celebration honored men and women of the Armed Forces with a drive-thru event. Veterans remained in their cars and received recognition as they drove through the Evans City Elementary/Middle School campus. The event concluded with featured performances by the ECMS chorus, band, and orchestra. 

        In the North Allegheny School District, Marshall Elementary students made cards for veterans.  In addition, NA’s High School Air Force ROTC and the Tiger Marching band participated in the Veterans Day parade in downtown Pittsburgh at the high school. 

        We salute and thank all veterans for their dedication and service to our country. 






Adventures in Training with a Purpose 

By Paula Green 

In 2015, former Pittsburgh Steeler and four-time Super Bowl champion Jon Kolb founded Adventures in Training with a Purpose (ATP). This nonprofit organization is focused on helping those most in need to improve their quality of life through an adventure of purposeful, physical training. 

One group that ATP works closely with is military veterans and first responders suffering both physically and mentally. They have a special division geared towards service members and first responders called Aurelius, which named after the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. According to ATP’s executive director, Caleb Kolb, “We offer a 12-week program for veterans and first responders. Part of the program concentrates on functional training and complex movement patterns. Another portion is ‘adventures’ where we venture outdoors. For the outdoor portion, we offer a variety of activities; some are on a small scale such a bonfire or hiking in North Park or McConnell’s Mill, to whitewater sports. Then we offer larger scale events like going to the Grand Canyon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Once the vets graduate from the 12-week program, they are welcome to come back to ATP anytime and utilize our facility.” 

“We are pleased to be in a partnership with Fortis Future. Fortis has certified professionals who assist clients with mental health, neuroscience and regenerative medicine. Fortis is located in the same office as ATP,” said Caleb. So together, ATP and Fortis integrate a physical functional wellness program to help restore quality of life and improve mental well-being. 

“The beauty of having ATP and Fortis together in one office is clients have the benefit of having a one-stop shop, and the movement builds the mind. When we start with clients and do an assessment, we have them set a goal, and no goal is too small” said Caleb’s wife Sarah Kolb, who serves as ATP’s director of development and operations. 

“We set up a schedule for each client that works best for their needs. We have specialized equipment that helps with physical recovery. One piece that is beneficial is our HydroWorx tank. The aquatic water helps the person with their mobility. Jon’s former teammate Tunch Ilkin enjoyed used the HydroWorks; it helped him with battle of ALS. Since we recently lost him, we now refer to the HydroWorks tank as the “Tunch tank,” said Sarah.         

In addition to helping disabled veterans, ATP works with chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease; boxing is a big part of their therapy. We also work with patients that have MS, ALS, strokes and paralyzed individuals. Adventures in Training with a Purpose is located at 7000 Stonewood Drive, Suite 115A, in Wexford, which serves as their headquarters. They also have two other locations at the First Assembly of God Church in Hermitage, and the YMCA of Youngtown in Youngstown, Ohio. For more information on their facility, visit their website at 

Richard “Eric” Burkett Jr. 

“Not only am I a survivor of a tragedy – I have thrived and prospered in the face of adversity.” – U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr., Retired 

Over nine years ago, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr. was faced with the biggest adversity of his life. Burkett was serving as a Marine Corps aviator when tragedy struck on April 11, 2012. The MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that he was flying crashed in Morocco during Exercise African Lion. He was one of two who survived the crash. 

 As a result of the crash, Burkett suffered life-threatening injuries. He sustained severe lower limb damage, lung and ocular nerve damage. Burkett was treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for four days and was then transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He remained at this facility for the next four years where he received extensive rehabilitation. 

 Burkett went through limb salvage treatments, but after 16 months, his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. A few months later, he developed an infection in his left leg, which had to be amputated as well. Burkett was devastated by the loss of both legs, but he also knows there was a reason for it, and he knows he is blessed. As he states, “My legs don’t define me.”  

In June 2018, Burkett and his wife, Melissa, and their six children – Keenan, Josily, Mastin, Lochlen, Roawlynn, and Nolynn—moved into a specially adapted “smart home.” The house is located in Neshannock Township in New Castle, and it was funded through the Gary Sinise Foundation RISE (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program. Burkett and his wife named their house Still Water after the inspiring passage in Psalm 23.  

While Burkett was recovering at Walter Reed, he had the pleasure of meeting Gary Sinise. “He approached me and asked me if we could talk, and we spent about 15 minutes together. Mr. Sinise is genuine, and he is in a class all by himself,” Burkett said. 

Another positive event that occurred for Burkett was when he was at the WRNMMC. “Two ladies that worked with the Wounded Warrior Regiment asked me if I was into sports. I remembered my true passion was rugby, but in lieu of my leg situation, I knew that was out. So I asked them if archery would be a possibility, and they told me it was, “Burkett said. 

Burkett is an expert archer. He has competed in the Valor Games, Endeavor Games, and Invictus Games and has taken home the gold on several occasions. In addition to competing, Burkett coaches archery as well. “For me, coaching is therapeutic,” Burkett remarked. 

Before he served in the Marine Corps, Burkett was a member of the Army Reserves. “I joined when I was 22 to pay for college,” Burkett noted. He trained for different specialties and obtained the rank of Sergeant. Burkett was commissioned into the Marines when he was 28, and he became an assault pilot. 

Northern Connection magazine salutes Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr. for his sacrifice and service in the United States Marine Corps and the U.S. Army Reserves. 




Focus on the Family 

Now that summer is nearing its end and the kids are back in school, it’s time to focus on the family. Service members greatly rely on the support that they receive from their loved ones. This month, we will take a look at a few resources available to military families. 

According to the Military Child Education Coalition, “Military children generally move six to nine times during their K-12 school years. Many make multiple moves during high school years alone, some even during their senior year.  

        MCEC tries to make tough transitions easier on these kids. This organization develops information to support the transitioning military student. They maintain an alliance of school districts for communication and networking. MCEC examines technologies (teleconferencing, internet, etc.) and develops procedures to support information sharing between militaryimpacted school districts. They also assess sources of funding to support the alliance. For information on Military Child Education Coalition, visit 

        Operation: Love Reunited is a veteran-focused organization that provides free professional photography sessions and photo gifts to military families dealing with a deployment. It was founded in August of 2006 by Colorado photographer Tonee Lawrence and was approved for its 501(c)3 status in February 2009. Its mission is to boost the morale of deployed service members through photography.  The good news is they have photographers located worldwide.   

        OpLove helps those long months go by a little faster by capturing the moments that you will remember and always treasure. It’s art. It’s love. It’s all made possible by artists wanting to give something back to those who make our country what it is and ask for nothing in return but for these brave men and women to come back home. Their profound motto is – “Giving back to those who want nothing more than to come home.”  In addition, they also offer the OpLove Scholarship Fund and the Sgt. Soto Memorial Fund (for those killed in action). For further details, visit 

        Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program’s mission is to assist, collaborate and partner with services and agencies at the lowest level possible to provide for service members. Veterans and their family members benefit from informational events and activities, referrals, and proactive outreach services throughout the phases of deployment or mobilization. The program provides quality joint deployment support and reintegration services to all service members and their families effectively, efficiently and as close to their homes as possible, ensuring they are informed and self-sufficient, thus enabling them to sustain the rigors associated with deployment or mobilization. For more information, visit 

By: Paula Green