American GIs tend to have a soft spot in their hearts for children everywhere they go.
That’s what members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division can tell you. It’s also why the group recently decided to donate toys and $1,000 to the Child Life Program and Pediatrics at National Jewish Health.
Pictured from left to right, bottom row, are Steve Lopez and Tony Lopez; top row: Thomas Lopez, Sharon Dominguez-Lopez, Yolanda Gode, Jose Aguayo and Magdalena Lopez, who represented the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division. The group recently donated $1,000 and toys and games to benefit the Child Life Program and Pediatrics at National Jewish Health.
The effort was spearheaded by Tony Lopez, a World War II veteran who lives in Denver.
Tony served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945. During that time he was stationed in New Guinea, Australia and the Philippines. He had two combat jumps: on Noemfoor and Corregidor – The Rock. His other missions were beach landings.
Tony also served in the U.S. Army Reserves for several years after WWII. He was stationed in Alaska for part of the time and tested equipment for the military. After the war, Tony went to school with the help of the GI Bill and became a mechanic. He had his own garage before he retired.
“I got the idea to give to children after speaking to some of our veterans who served in Iraq,” Tony explained. The first project he organized several years ago benefited Iraqi children and provided them with everything from toys and soccer balls, to clothes and shoes, to hygiene supplies such as tooth brushes and tooth paste.
“We sent over whatever we could,” Tony added.
The drive went well — so well that Tony decided to try it again. This time he wanted to help National Jewish Health, because his great-granddaughter, Ariah Lopez, was treated here for severe asthma, and because he knew of the hospital’s reputation for helping people, especially those who can’t afford to pay.
The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division includes about 300 members who are veterans, said Jose Aguayo, who serves as chairman for the group. Unlike other groups, they don’t limit their membership to only those who served in the 82nd Airborne. They also include those who served airborne missions from other units. (Tony, for example, had been a member of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.)
The 82nd Airborne Division is an active airborne division of the U.S. Army based in Fort Bragg, N.C. The division specializes in parachute landing operations.
On the day Tony came to National Jewish Health to bring the group’s donations, his son Tom, a veteran who served in Vietnam and a member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, joined him. Several members of Tony’s family were present, and so were Jose Aguayo and his wife, Magdalena Aguayo. Jose, also a member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, served in the 82nd Airborne between the Korean and Vietnam wars. Jose knows the history of many of the group’s vets such as Tony. Magdalena worked as a physician’s assistant at a pediatric practice, and she knew about the hospital, having sent patients here on occasion.
The group toured the pediatric floor and got to speak to Richard Meehan, MD. Dr. Meehan gave them a presentation about his time in the Navy stationed in Iraq and serving in the Gulf wars. As he showed a slide show of Iraq’s harsh, dusty desert conditions and the tasks he had to do while there, Tony, Tom and Jose remarked about what they endured while they were in the service and asked several questions of Dr. Meehan.
Dr. Meehan also talked about the institution’s research and care of veterans experiencing deployment-related lung disease and breathing problems.
“It was impressive to see all the work that’s being done here,” said Steve Lopez, one of Tony’s sons who was also present.
Tony and Jose said several veterans from the Rocky Mountain Chapter contributed to the donations they brought to the hospital. The efforts, which started a few months ago, included a toy drive and a picnic fundraiser where they asked for money or toys to help.
“I liked being able to see where it’s going and how it will help the kids and the work that’s done here,” Tony said. “It means a lot to be able to help them.”
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