celebrating a sense of place

Veterans’ Winter Clothing Drive

Inspired By Late Vietnam Veteran

Photos Courtesy of Stacia McDonough

John E. McDonough, the son of a World War II veteran, was born on the fourth of July, in Elmira, New York. Described as a “gentle, fun-loving athlete and accomplished musician,” John enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1969,  just a few months after his 18th birthday. After basic training, he was assigned to the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron (21st TASS). The 21st TASS was a forward air control unit whose primary mission was to provide visual reconnaissance in support of tactical offensive operations. Utilizing small prop planes that flew dangerously low and slow, the unit was an essential element in directing air strikes and detecting enemy forces. The 21st TASS played a vital role in numerous major engagements and small actions. During the course of the Vietnam War, the unit earned five Presidential Unit Citations, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device for valor, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm. John E. McDonough, a sergeant, served with the 21st TASS from 1971-73 and was deployed in three designated “hot zones:” Saigon, Nha Trang, and Anloc.

John returned home in 1973, and, like many returning Vietnam veterans, he was greeted by the slurs and insults of protestors and tormented by the memories of the things he had seen. On November 30, 2005, after more than three decades and thousands of miles from the battlefield, this highly decorated veteran was killed during his final battle of the Vietnam War when, at the age of 54, he died in his home in Bedminster, New Jersey, from complications caused by overexposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange.

On Veteran’s Day, 2008, John McDonough was inducted into The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial’s unique, “In Memory” program. This honor is reserved for a select group of New Jerseyeans who are not represented on the memorial of those killed or missing in action, but, who nonetheless, sacrificed their lives for their country, dying early in life after suffering debilitating physical and emotional illnesses as a direct result of their time spent “In Country.”

Inspired by her love for her late husband and the sacrifice of all US veterans, John McDonough’s wife, Stacia McDonough began the “They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm,” new winter clothing drive to benefit the formerly homeless and disabled veterans currently housed at the “Hope for Veterans” facility on the VA campus in Lyons, New Jersey.

The annual collection, officially dedicated in memory of John E. McDonough, is now in its 7th year and Mrs. McDonough was recently awarded with a certificate from The Vietnam Veterans of America on National POW/MIA Day, for her dedication and efforts on behalf of homeless veterans.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, “about 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans” and “about 1.4 million other veterans…are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.”

“America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.”

“As Americans, we must keep our brave veterans in the forefront. For their service, bravery, and unimaginable sacrifices these noble warriors should be revered, and never forgotten,” said Mrs. McDonough.

The drive will run from Veteran's Day through December 21. Mrs. McDonough, along with several dedicated volunteers will personally hand-deliver the gift-wrapped items to each veteran on December 22nd.

“I am looking forward to a banner year, hoping I can spread a little bit of Christmas cheer to our amazing heroes,” said Mrs. McDonough. “It is a tremendous privilege for me to be able to conduct this annual campaign, and an honor to spend quality time with our veterans. It’s beyond humbling just to be in their presence.”

Items being collected are BRAND NEW winter hats, scarves, socks, slippers, ear muffs, robes, pajamas, undershirts (All men’s sizes: M-3XL), thermal underwear, sweaters, belts, wallets, blankets, toiletries (shampoo, bar soap, baby wipes, razors, deodorant, sunblock, lip balm, etc.). The residents are mostly men, however, there are currently 10 ex-servicewomen (sizes M-14) residing at the facilities. There are a combined total of approximately 200 ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen residing at the 2 facilities. In addition, gift cards from Visa, Amazon, American Express, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Target are a much sought after item by the veterans.

Eleven drop off collection boxes are located at the following businesses:

1) Investors Bank, 315 Route #202/206, Pluckemin, NJ, 07978 (Contact: Antonella Celli, Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager). PH: 908.719.6750.

2) Bedminster Township Municipal Building, One Miller Lane, Bedminster, NJ, 07921 (Contact: Robin A. Ray) PH: 908.212.7014.

3) Peapack-Gladstone Bank, 26 Dumont Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931 PH: 908.781.2708.

4) Peapack-Gladstone Bank, 468 Route 202/206 North, Bedminster, NJ 07921 (Kings Shopping Center). PH: 908.658.4501.

5) Peapack-Gladstone Bank, 17 E. Main Street, Mendham, NJ 07945. (Contact: Mike Caruso, Manager). PH: 973.543.9730.

6) Grace Chapel of Bedminster, 375 Main Street, Bedminster, NJ 07921. (Contact: Tracy M. Otalora, Office Manager). PH: 908.719.1093.

7) Valley Pharmacy, 75 Washington Valley Road, Bedminster, NJ 07921 (Contact: Janet Cammarata) 908.658.4900. *Toiletries only.

8) Coldwell Banker Realty, 1 S. Finley Avenue, Basking Ridge, NJ, 07920 (Contact: Theresa Filippone). PH: 908.766.8354, or 908.766.0808.

9) Weichert Realtors, 22 Henry Street, Basking Ridge, NJ, 07920 (Contact: Carol Conway) PH: 908.334.1986.

10) Robbiani’s Clock and Doll Shop, 14 School Road West, Marlboro, NJ, 07746 (Contact: Michael and Kathleen Robbiani) PH: 732.462.3589.

11) The Waiting Room Restaurant 66 East Cherry Street, Rahway, NJ, 07065 (Contact: Donna Wenson) PH: 732.382.0900.

Any individuals, businesses, or organizations interested in participating with “They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm” drive, can contact Mrs. Stacia McDonough via e-mail at: staciamcdonough@hotmail.com, or Mrs. Jena Rae at jenakrae@gmail.com

Black River Roasters

Employees at Investors bank in Pluckemin, (left) one of the eleven local drop-off ponits for the “They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm” holiday drive, and Stacia McDonough (right) pictured with her late husband, Sgt. John E. McDonough.

Black River Roasters

Stacia McDough (left) and her late husband, Sergeant John E. McDonough, U.S. Air Force, pictured in Nha Trang, Vietnam