Let's Give Jack McCloskey the Medal of Freedom

Jack McCloskey (l.) with Ron Perez
Nationally known Vietnam War medal winner and pioneer activist for veterans' rights and services Jack McCloskey has been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian medal. The medal is given out each year around the Fourth of July at the President's discretion. Below is a copy of Jack's obituary which serves as a very good biography of his life. I have been informed that it does help to have testimonials sent to the president from citizens in favor of Jack McCloskey receiving the medal. An example follows.

Joe Borneo

The President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington DC, 20500
The Vice President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington DC, 20500

Dear President Clinton/Vice President Gore:
I am writing to give testimonial as to the worthiness of Jack McCloskey for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I am sending a copy of his obituary because it states very well the reasons why he deserves the medal.

Thank you, ________________________

Or send a message by e-mail.
Good-Bye Jack McCloskey
Veterans' activist dies at 53

Larry D. Hatfield of the Examiner staff
Sun, Feb. 18, 1996

Jack McCloskey, a wounded and much-decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who quietly spent the rest of his life trying to ease the pain from that war, has died. He was 53.

"Jack was one of the few people in the world that you run across that you know has made this world a better place," said Michael McCain, a former fellow activist in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and now a Chicago television producer. "His work saved thousands of lives here (in the United States) after the war ended."

"Jack was our beacon of what was needed to help disaffected and disadvantaged Vietnam veterans," said Ron Bitzer, a Southern California health care fund-raiser who helped Mr. McCloskey create Swords to Plowshares, one of the nation's premier veterans groups.

In poor health since the war

Mr. McCloskey died of heart failure at his San Francisco home Thursday night. He had been in poor health since the war, suffering from various side effects of two sets of wounds, Agent Orange exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The product of a Philadelphia orphanage, Mr. McCloskey served in the Navy from 1962 to 1966, then was recalled in 1967 and sent to Vietnam as a corpsman with a Marine division.

While there, he was wounded twice, once in the Tet offensive at Hue, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.

When he returned to the United States, Mr. McCloskey found a nation tired of war and unwilling to accept its veterans back as it had those of previous wars. Like many of his colleagues, he had picked up a drug habit during the war and found little help for himself or other veterans coming home.

"We were invisible to most people," he told an Examiner reporter in 1973. "Those who did acknowledge us hated us because they knew the war was wrong and they had to blame somebody for it, so they blamed us."

He became an activist, both against the war he considered unjust and for the rights of veterans of the war. He also kicked a morphine habit, although neither his health nor habits ever fully recovered from his war experience.

Mr. McCloskey became active in the anti-war movement, particularly VVAW, but he also was a catalyst in the infant, early 1970s movement that dealt with such issues as the then-unrecognized post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, suicide, joblessness and other problems Vietnam veterans were facing.

He formed an organization called Twice Born Men, the forerunner of Swords, Flower of the Dragon and other veterans self-help groups.

Author Jerry Nicosia, who is writing a book on the Vietnam veterans movement, said Mr. McCloskey and a few others were responsible for forcing the medical establishment and the Veterans Administration to recognize post-traumatic stress and agent orange-caused diseases as service-related disorders.

"Jack was highly respected for a lot of reasons, but most of all, people talked about his purity," Nicosia said.

"The cause of veterans' rights was his purpose. He never gained fame or made money from it, as some did. He lived a totally poor, destitute life, essentially hand to mouth. His whole life was dedicated to correcting the wrongs against veterans.

"He was never famous in a national way, but he was famous among his friends. He was always there, always there for Vietnam vets."

Country Joe McDonald, an icon of the anti-war movement, said he became involved in veterans' rights issues because of Mr. McCloskey. "Jack was solely instrumental in making me realize I was personally a veteran," McDonald said. "It really blew my mind and destroyed my cover as a rock star. He was part of a small handful of Vietnam vets who were activists in treating the problems of veterans that had not been acknowledged. Jack shouldn't have died."

Country Joe dedicates concert

McDonald planned to dedicate his Saturday night concert to Mr. McCloskey. It was a dinner for homeless people at a veterans center prepared by the chefs from the USS Constellation.

Mr. McCloskey was a pioneer in the system of storefront veterans counseling centers now operating throughout the nation, said Swords Executive Director Michael Blecker.

"He helped get the Veterans Administration out of its institutional walls and into the streets where the problems were," Blecker said, adding that Mr. McCloskey also pioneered self-help programs for minority and women veterans. "He was in the forefront of the whole idea of peer counseling, the idea of Vietnam veterans healing themselves."

Mr. McCloskey attended Antioch College and City College of San Francisco. He is survived by his former wife, Lydia, of Oakland, two daughters, Molly and Susan, and a brother, Vincent, of Philadelphia.

A memorial will be held Monday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Reilly Funeral Home, 1598 Dolores St., San Francisco. Rather than flowers, the family would appreciate contributions to Swords to Plowshares, 995 Market, San Francisco, CA 94103.

© Sun, Feb. 18, 1996 San Francisco Examiner, All Rights Reserved