By Fred Musante
Fred McCarthy said he became a veterans advocate to help ailing World War II veterans get the benefits the government promised them.
"We have a very high population here in Hamden of World War II veterans," McCarthy explained. But after he joined American Legion Post 88, he discovered that many of them didn’t even know they could get help with medical care and affordable prescriptions through the Veterans Administration.
Lately, he has become involved in fundraising to build a Fisher House hospitality house next to the VA hospital in West Haven. The facility will provide housing and meals for relatives of veterans under treatment at the hospital.
McCarthy served in the Army during the Vietnam War period, though not in Vietnam. In the early-1960s, before the Vietnam War escalated, he served as an infantryman in the 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a predecessor to the Air Mobile divisions that were organized during the war.
"We were on alert status all the time," he said. "We were constantly on a training cycle."
However, except for brief deployments in Europe to test readiness, he said he spent most of his time stationed at Fort Benning.
After the Army, McCarthy, 67, worked as a crane operator, an operating engineer and an independent truck driver, and he has lived in Hamden for 30 years.
He joined Post 88 and served as senior vice commander of the Post in 2004 under Russ Smith. He was also appointed to the town’s Veterans Commission, and friends who know him call him one of the unsung heroes for veterans in the town.
"I became a veterans’ advocate in the town of Hamden," he said.
McCarthy said that started when he began speaking out for more state and local benefits for veterans, many of whom are living on pensions and Social Security and have little money.
Typical of those veterans were the ones who served in World War Two. He believes he has taken up to 100 aging military veterans to the VA office to sign up for benefits, and all but one of them qualified.
McCarthy joined other Post 88 members to raise money to send veterans from Hamden along with others from across the state to Washington DC on a chartered jet to visit the World War II Memorial completed in 2004 on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The Fisher House Foundation has pledged $3 million for the West Haven facility. "And we have to raise $3 million," McCarthy said.
So far, they have about $250,000 toward that goal, and $52,000 of that was raised in Hamden, he said.
"The small town of Hamden is leading the way financially," McCarthy said.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski