ICONS OF A DIFFERENT KIND (My Personal Super-heroes) / Day 2 -- John Fales



I know that fall is here by the sight of falling leaves, and deepening shadows at about 6 or 630.  Some mornings are brisk and require a T-shirt worn under my favorite Gap plaid work-shirt, and the line at the nearby 7/11 for coffee and hot-tea is much longer than a few weeks ago.  Sadly, the relentless whine of leaf-blowers continues throughout the entire day as well-meaning landscapers remove every evidence of nature's seasonal cycle, and in driving down Rt 50 one has to be ever mindful of 18 wheelers (groaning under the weight of towering stacked pallets of bagged mulch) trekking into garden centers and nurseries.  I'm a staunch advocate of on-site composting and remain critical of this new sub-category of the landscaping industry where the garden is stripped of natural additives/nutrients (in the form of leaves), and then blanketed under a too liberal application of mulches mined from slowly depleting sources and transported from distant parts.  A glance around neighborhood gardens reveals oversized bouquets of mums that dot the landscape like alien heads from the planet Bogo-Bago Intergalactic 172, or bales of dry straw and corn-stalks slumped over picket fences like dejected county suitors.  There is no denying that the end is in sight.  The end of the year, that is, as well as the end for millions of turkeys who by now should have realized that the gig is almost up.  Oh well, there is some comfort in the familiarity and regularity of it all...

On a brighter note, my friend John Fales Jr (aka Sgt Shaft) is today's ICON (of a different kind) and one of my personal superheroes.  David Hagel profiled John Fales in Leatherneck Magazine (April 2010), and writes:   In 1991 Sgt Shaft started a weekly column in The Washington Times, addressing veterans' issues such as health care, opportunities to attend colleges and advanced degrees through educational programs, pension and survivor benefits, military records, and the eligibility for awards.  Every inquiry sent to the column (both snail-mail or electronically) is answered by John.  Earlier, in 1985 with two blind Navy veterans (Don Garner and Dennis Wyant), John Fales founded the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF).  The organization’s main goal is to improve services to disabled veterans through research, rehabilitation, and re-employment.  Since its founding, BAVF has distributed audio versions of the ' Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents ' handbook to thousands of blind veterans, provided financial grants to VA Medical Clinics and Blind Rehabilitation Centers, and given awards to congressional and community leaders for their advocacy of legislation and financial support to efforts aimed at improving the lives of disabled veterans.  

One of the major projects funded by the BAVF was the development of the American, a telescoping sensory aide that has given greater mobility to thousands of blind veterans.  As BAVF's long-time president, Fales is a familiar face on Capitol Hill where he regularly testifies in congressional committee hearings.  Fales is proud of BAVF accomplishments on behalf of blinded veterans since the organization's founding 25 years ago, and the fact that BAVF has no paid staff and its directors receive no compensation. ' 

For the curious among us, Hagel notes that, ' One might wonder how someone who is blind carries on business in this era of the Internet where rapid communications often is a necessity.  Fales uses state-of-the-art electronic devices provided by the VA.  One such device automatically translates e-mail messages to audio messages.  Using this device, Fales listens to messages on headset and responds using the computer keyboard almost simultaneously.  He has another piece of equipment that allows him to download audio books from the Internet onto a memory card that he can then play back on a device much like a small tape recorder.  As for reading letters and documents, he has a handheld document reader about the size of a cell phone that allows him to scan any written document, such as restaurant menu, and hear the document's content as an audio message.  Still another device gives him audio updates on important messages and upcoming appointments.  According to Fales, all of these devices are available to qualifying blinded veterans from the Veterans Adminstration (VA). '

Truly a remarkable American, a service-member of distinction, and a man of courage, compassion, and dedication who is committed to improving the lives of the all veterans.  Please visit their website (www.bavf.org) to learn more about the organization, as well as ways in which you too can play a part.


PS:  David Hagel's article on John Fales Jr can be viewed in its entirety by visiting the archives at www.mca-marines.org/leatherneck.  


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