THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 21
Senator Bob Dole Inspires The Freedom Angel
In 2008, I heard Bob Dole announce on television that our troops are being short changed! That made me mad… and then…. it made me curious! Why are our Vets being shortchanged? There are foundations all over the country, which exist to serve our Vets. So what’s the problem? I decided to find out. I called several of the big foundations and sure enough… Every one of them stated that their biggest problem was that they did not have enough money! The little voice inside my head started telling me that: “This is your own damn fault and that you are doing something wrong and I am gonna find out what it is.”
Why don’t they have enough money? You would think that we would have had enough practice by now, getting this problem solved. I mean after: World War I: World War II: The Korean War: Viet Nam: Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, you would think by now, that there would be one huge, national organization to take care of all our Vets needs, but it seems there is not. Something must be wrong. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was determined to find out why there is a shortage of dollars and a shortage of appropriate care. Every day I see ads on TV asking for support …Presumably they are spending millions of dollars in order to raise millions of dollars. Clearly it is not working very well, or at least not as well as it should be, because the ads are still running. They never have enough money. The problem is growing and the ads continue.
From my point of view, the military is the most important organization in America. Our safety and strength lies in their hands. It is our military that makes the life we know and enjoy, possible. The care of our Vets should be our most cherished undertaking, and a national priority. It seems that it is not. Why? Why is it not? We have magnificent, hardworking charitable organizations out there doing wonderful work and still they do not have enough support? Why? What could it be? There must be a reason. Whatever could it be?
Research began. One of the first things I discovered is that most of the people who donate to our Veteran's organizations are at least, tangentially related to the military. So what's wrong with the rest of the country? Clearly they are not being reached! WHY?
I started thinking that there must be a less expensive, more efficient way of raising dollars. This project needs to be moved to a front burner. There must be a way of getting each and every one of us, to know, that we the people, are a vital and important part of the American team and that it is our personal responsibility and individual support which is essential to keeping our country strong and free. Every one, and I do mean the whole country, should be chipping in.
It was then that I noticed that there is no unifying emblem or insignia for America’s Heroes and that the insignias for the various branches of the military which do exist, are widely recognized but are not very marketable. By this I mean, now, think about this for yourself…How many Red Crosses do you have in your home? How many Wounded Warrior emblems? Do you give a Wounded Warrior emblem for a gift or wedding present? I don’t think so. Do you collect USO stickers, Eagles, Anchors or American Flags? These things are marketable to some degree but they are not highly marketable or widely collected.
“What we need to do is create a way which is convenient and affordable for the rest of the country to chip in.”
Now… I am thinking out loud: “USO stickers, Eagles, Anchors, Flags! Perhaps you have one on a key chain or a sticker on your car, but there is a limit to Eagles, Anchors and Flags. However… There are no limits on Angels. WOW! There are no limits on Angels! Angels are perhaps the most collectible critter ever collected! People all over the world have personal relationships with Angels in one form or another. Angels can go anywhere and be slapped on anything from a motorcycle to a bar of soap! WOWZER!” Then I began to think of all the places an Angel could go. I mean, Angels are dumb that they can go anywhere.
“Toys, sheets and towels, jewelry, dishes and coffee mugs, cereal boxes and cans of soup. License Plates, the back side of M&Ms, postage stamps or perhaps a Freedom Angel costume for Halloween. (Just think of it...Little Freedom Angels running all over the place!) Virtually anything that is for sale: Detergents, brooms and clothing- tags, check books, even buckets of paint or motor oil. Any surface that can hold a printed logo… The product lines are virtually unlimited! WOWZER twice! Angels can go anywhere!”
If we follow this line of thinking, we can actually "EARN" our donations by increasing the sales of those products which bare the Freedom Angel's name or image. Yeah... That’s it…that is the solution…Good old fashioned capitalism instead of charity can get the job done.
So how did I get from this brilliant flash of enlightenment to the Freedom Angel? Well… In 1988 I had quietly created, a little bronze angel named “Joy” for the Memorial Garden in Lockerbie, Scotland, after Islamic terrorists blew up Pan American’s Flight # 103 over this tiny town. My neighbor, Bob Pagnucco was killed in that incident. “Joy” was created to celebrate life and to let the people of Lockerbie know that we cared for their losses as much as we did for our own.
Years passed by and then, because of the miracle of the internet revolution, this same little angel was commissioned by the Sterett Association and sponsored by the Navy League of the United States to serve on board the U.S.S. Sterett (a DDG-104 Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer) as a guardian Angel for all those who sail the seas. “Joy” was permanently installed on board for the Sterett’s Commissioning in Baltimore, on August 9, 2008.
“What would happen if I enlarged this little angel and called her The Freedom Angel? Could she become a unifying national emblem for America’s Heroes? Could an Angel, bring our country together to get the job done?” The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. “Angels are adorable, collectible, and highly marketable. Maybe an Angel could become our national insignia for all our Veterans. Well maybe. I mean, could An Angel for Our Soldiers pull off, what has yet to be done on behalf of America’s Vets?”
I could see her in my mind’s eye: The Freedom Angel: a new national monument: a new global power brand; thirty feet high which would be dedicated to America and to the Men and Women who protect her. It sounded like a really good idea to me but I had no clue as to how I was going to make it happen. Clearly, I could not do it alone, as I am strictly a clay-pusher and not a businessman. My first naive thought was to give the new Freedom Angel Monument as a gift to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C., so that they could rebuild the entire hospital complex without raising taxes.
At that very moment, I thought that this was a swell idea…It was not. Undaunted, and untutored, I looked up Walter Reed’s telephone number on my computer. My initial call was politely but firmly rejected. I went back to the website and scrolled down a bit further, until I came to the category of “Chaplain.” “I mean those guys are paid to listen to you. Maybe this route will work. Right?” I reasoned. “Right!” Bingo! I was lucky enough to connect up with Col. Charles Howell, who was kind enough to listen to my ideas. “I would like to meet with the head of Walter Reed please. Can you arrange this for me?” “Sure I can. Come on down to Washington. Colonel Steven Jones will be waiting for you. Major General Erick Schoomaker is out of the country just now, but Colonel Steven Jones holds the second position down here. I will make the arrangements with him for you.” And he did!
I packed up my pick-up truck and headed for D.C. and drove right up to the front of the main building where sure enough, a large parking place was reserved just for me and my truck. Suddenly I was feeling very small and rather sheepish. The main building at Walter Reed was big and incredibly, impressive. This military geography was a big change from my country home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
I was ushered into Colonel Jones’ office by secretary, Samantha Benson. Colonel Jones, tall and extremely good looking, stood up from behind his desk, extended his hand and said, “Welcome. This is exactly what we have been hoping and praying for. Sit down and tell me all about it.” He listened intently and then said, “Yes, this is exactly what we need but I am afraid that there are some regulations which will block this plan. You see, there is a division between the civilian world and that of the military. The only thing the military can do is to spend the money that has been allocated to them by congress through the raising of taxes. We are very good at that. However, we cannot raise money for the new Hospital nor can we sell anything to raise the money. We cannot market or endorse anything either. That is the law. So even though this is a great idea, I am not sure that we can use it. But first, let’s see if there is a route around these regulations. If possible, I want to use this idea.”
Colonel Jones called in three JAG (Judge Advocate General) Lawyers to the conference. This group was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Katherine Park, Deputy Commander of JAG. Their first pronouncement regarding the angel was this. “You will be pleased to know that she is not a conflict between church and state. She is simply a pop-culture item, nothing more. The second is that we want her, and too, that this would be illegal because of regulations.” The four of them went round and round but decided that there was no back door for this fundraising project that I had cooked up.
“Let’s send her down to meet with Chief of Staff: Steven Redman at the Pentagon. Maybe he has a way for us to take on this project.” So it was off to the Pentagon to meet with Steven Redman. He too wanted to make use of the Angel and similarly, he too called in three JAG lawyers. The three lawyers also confirmed that the Freedom Angel is not a conflict between church and state and is merely a pop-culture item. This re-confirmed information was good to hear and would give to me the bit of courage I would need to continue on with this quest. “We will let you know our decision in about a month. This is something we would like to do but we are not sure how or if, we can implement it. It is possible, that you will have to start a non-profit organization yourself, in order to accomplish your goals.” A month later I was notified by Steven Redman that “ The project was simply not possible because of Army regulations but not to give up and to start up a 501(C ) ( 3 ) non-profit organization on your own. Your country needs this one!”
“OK,” said I to me…... “What’s a 501(c) (3)? I mean, how hard can that be?” I was about to find out.
Home again, I went to visit my neighbors, David and Jacque Lincicome to tell them about my idea and my recent adventures in Washington. David is a lawyer who knows a whole lot about everything. My first question to him was: “What’s a 501(c)( 3) ?” “Good grief Sterett” said David. “Do you have any idea at all of what you are getting into?” Well, no! Of course I didn’t! I mean for example, did you know that non-profits are corporations? Well I didn’t. “Clueless” over here actually thought I could make something like this work!
“Actually, we think this is a good idea and we are ready to help you, but first, we have to do some homework…. …What is our mission? We must clearly state our mission and develop a website which tells all about us, our mission and our goals. We need to do some solid research and find out exactly which needs are not being met and how best to service those unmet needs and insure that the appropriate care actually reaches the individuals who need our help. We need a business plan to execute our mission and we need a Board of Directors and a Board of Advisors. The most important thing we need to do is to make sure that accountability is our corner stone. If we do this Sterett…. we are going to do it right!”
And so began, the beginning of the Freedom Angel Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, hoping to better serve our country. This is how we began. The Freedom Angel started with a small group of friends and neighbors. Wonderful people, who volunteered to come aboard, to guide and direct our efforts.
Hooray! It’s Official! On July 16, 2010, the Freedom Angel Foundation was granted a 501(c)(3) Status! The game is afoot and the adventure begins! www.FreedomAngelFoundation.org