Why a suburban veteran volunteers every month at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C.
Once a month since 2006, Vietnam War veteran Paul Baffico has traveled from his Lake Bluff home to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to volunteer as a docent.
He talks to visitors about the design elements of the name-covered, granite wall. He helps them understand the history of the war. And -- most importantly to Baffico -- he assists other Vietnam veterans deal with what he called the "emotional shock of recall."
"It is a sacred place of healing for me," said Baffico, 73, a former executive with Sears and the Western Auto Supply Co.
Baffico served in Vietnam as a communication platoon leader with the Army's 101st Airborne Division from 1970 to 1971. A first lieutenant who was decorated for his service, Baffico was haunted by the war and the memories of five men who died in combat under his command.
Baffico makes the trips to the memorial -- 149 so far -- to honor them.
"It is the most important element of my healing," he said. "After spending 35 years being told to forget it or to get over it, the wall helps me realize I was changed forever when they were killed."
Baffico helps fellow veterans in the suburbs, too, through a nonprofit group he founded called the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation. Based in Grayslake, the group connects veterans with each other and provides confidential assistance to them and their families.
The organization addresses issues including post-traumatic stress, domestic violence, legal problems, substance abuse, grief and homelessness.
Baffico said he created the group to give back to the veteran community and share what he's learned.
"There is much to pass on," Baffico said. "Volunteer work and serving the veteran population is a way for me to live with my memories in a positive way."
To volunteer with the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation, call Mike Maguire at (847) 986-4622.
To volunteer at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, visit the National Park Service website at nps.gov/nama/getinvolved/volunteer.htm.
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