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No one gets left behind: VFW Post feeds vets in need

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Published:   |   Updated: November 27, 2013 at 10:21 AM

SPRING HILL - Mike Gonsalves stayed two days longer than he had to in Vietnam.

It was two days before Christmas in 1968.

"We got ambushed," Gonsalves, who was a head medic, said.

Gonsalves and the soldier in front of him went down under Vietcong fire, pinned and wounded. Whether that soldier survived or not Gonsalves does not know, he said.

"Two guys in front of him got killed," he said.

Their company short of medics, platoon medic Donald Ackerman rushed to Gonsalves aid, and treated him.

It was only moments before that they were moving in for a stand-down before R & R, with then-2nd Lt. Fred Raymond, preparing to leave the country.

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Nearly 45 years later at his home in Washington, Ill., Ackerman woke Nov. 17 to another kind of ambush.

"It just so happens he lives in the town where they had that tornado," Gonsalves said.

The platoon medic who once helped save Gonsalves' life knew where to go for help.

Gonsalves lives in Hernando County, and their lieutenant, Raymond, who later retired as a Maj. General, lives in Wesley Chapel.

"He's going to relocate here and move to High Point," Gonsalves said of Ackerman. "He was here looking for homes."

It was around Nov. 18, after the tornado ripped through the Midwest, that Ackerman reunited with Gonsalves and Raymond at VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill.

"He wants to be by the general, and a couple of guys in our area, but because of the tornado he's going to come back in January," Gonsalves said. "When he comes back we'll get together with the general, if he wants."

Not until last week, and since 1968, has Gonsalves seen both Ackerman and Raymond. They spent the day visiting the 9/11 memorial at the post.

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In the last month leading up to the three soldiers' reunion, members of the VFW Post 10209 have been dropping off nonperishable food items in a red shopping cart in front of the post.

Even with its own financial woes, the post has cooperated with the Brooksville Veterans Affairs Clinic and Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide the donated items, along with donated turkeys and hams to 29 veterans on Nov. 22.

All together, it's enough food to provide 80 Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings for the veterans and their families, according to Gonsalves' wife, Barbara.

"It's veterans helping veterans," she said. "I was helping pack up the boxes and what have you. It gave me a lot of satisfaction. I felt like a real life Santa Clause."

Not every veteran receives a pension from the government, said Mike Gonsalves.

"These were guys having a hard time with the economy, and needed help," he said. "We want to do more for veterans, and help the homeless and collect for the homeless when the cold weather comes."

It's the second year the post has done this, he said. Last year they served between 15 and 20 meals, he said.

They served three times as many meals this year, he said, with a little more help from some people.

"A lot of people who left the post have started to come back," Gonsalves said. "It's a beautiful post."

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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