Search
Close this search box.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Search

Veteran’s Work Helping Other Veterans Highlighted in New Film

NJ PBS
Johnnie Walker, left, is featured in a new PBS documentary for his work with veterans.

By Karen Knight

Johnnie Walker believes it takes a village to work together to help others, and it’s this idea that permeates his work helping veterans in need.

A Vietnam War-era veteran, Walker started the Citizens and Veterans Advisory Committee 11 years ago to help Cape May County veterans who find themselves homeless, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or needing help for anything from rides to medical appointments to building a ramp, to food, cleaning or information.

He also serves as chief operating officer and adjutant of the state’s Disabled American Veterans Department and publishes a quarterly magazine that helps veterans have the information they need.

It’s his work with veterans that earned him a spot in a new documentary series produced by NJ PBS’ Spotlight News team called “The 21 Film Series,” focusing on New Jerseyans who are making an impact in their counties.

The short films, generally six to 10 minutes long, stream on MyNJPBS.org/21 and are intended to stimulate discussion about the quality of life in New Jersey and explore whether where you live affects how you live and, in many cases, how individuals can power change within their communities.

“The 21 Film Series: Cape May” will screen on Saturday, March 23, at noon at the Cranford Theater, Cranford, as part of the Garden State Film Festival, which will show 200 films from more than 14 countries over four days at eight venues.

“I was shocked when I was selected for this series,” Walker said. “The filmmakers followed me over two days to show what I do on an average day helping vets. We are able to do what we do because there are so many generous people in Cape May County who are so open to provide support. It’s not one person, but all of us working together. It takes a village.

“Veterans are unique because they are heroes at one time because they answer the call to help defend our nation wherever they have to. But many of them come back with PTSD, and many people don’t realize the problems that come with it. What might be a little problem for us becomes a major problem for a person with PTSD.”

It was when a friend called him asking for help with an employee who was a veteran and about to be homeless in two weeks that Walker got to thinking about how he could help.

“I have 15 grandchildren and, thank God, they taught me about Facebook and computers,” he said. “When I got that call, I turned to social media asking for help. We were able to put him up in a local motel for three weeks while another person with the Department of Housing and Urban Development found a place for him to live. This man, who was 68 years old at the time, still lives there.

“I thought if we could do this unorganized, think what we could do if we organized. So I started CVAC (the Citizens and Veterans Advisory Council), and we are now 85 strong, with everyone from professional people to business owners to housewives and other organizations as part of our network. Vets should be able to have the same standard of life they had before they served, as afterwards.”

Johnnie Walker, of Lower Township, at the Forgotten Warriors Vietnam Museum in Lower Township during the filming of a new PBS documentary series highlighting the impact individuals in the state’s 21 counties have made. Photo Credit: NJ PBS

Walker said veterans in Cape May County suffer from many of the same issues as those across the country, “but not as bad as some cities. Some of the cities make it more convenient for veterans with giveaways and grants that are available. For the longest time, our politicians did not want to accept that we have a homeless population because we are a tourist area.

“I’ve taken many of the local politicians to some of the homeless areas to show them the sad situation. We don’t have any shelters nearby, for example, because people don’t want it in their neighborhood. There were two fires recently in Atlantic City due to some homeless living under the boardwalk and using a fire to stay warm.

“I know there are vets living under the Wildwood boardwalk, and we bring them socks and backpacks full of items they might need. We try to bring them in to get them help as well.”

Veterans and other concerned community members are involved in the Citizens and Veterans Advisory Committee, who help Cape May County veterans in need. Photo Credit: NJ PBS

Walker said the advisory committee now has four homeless veterans, three of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan, in a local motel, who will be connected with Catholic Social Services to get other assistance with jobs, schooling and mental health needs. Last summer, an 82-year-old female Navy veteran needed housing, as she was living in her car in Rio Grande.

Over the years, advisory committee volunteers built a walk-in shower for a 92-year-old Korean War veteran; put new windows in the home of a 77-year-old Vietnam veteran suffering from Agent Orange-related health issues and his wife, who has breast cancer; built ramps to make homes handicapped-accessible, and helped others with addiction, housing and mental health issues.

The quarterly magazine Walker edits and publishes makes it easy, he said, for veterans to have the information they need from sources like the Veterans Administration. “The VA is a great institution, but it doesn’t always make it easy to find the information,” he said. “Our World War II veterans are 100 years old, our Korean War vets are in their 90s, our Vietnam vets are in their 70s; many of them don’t use computers. So I try to make it easy for them to get the information they need.”

Walker grew up in southwest Philadelphia, where he graduated from high school in June 1964, and was drafted in October 1965. He was trained for Vietnam, but served 17 months in Korea instead. He spent most of his life in sales, including 35 years in the garbage industry. After retiring from that, he and his wife of 56 years, Kate, owned a neighborhood bar before retiring again and moving to Cape May County in 2000, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

“My goal in participating in this film is to publicize nonprofits like CVAC and the need to help veterans,” he said. “There are a lot of veterans out there who need immediate help and often get frustrated by the bureaucracy of the VA, so they end up not getting the help they need.

“I want to show that it takes all of us pulling together as a village to help each other, especially our vets. We help veterans from all the wars, it doesn’t make a difference what era they served in. We need to honor our vets, who deserve to be helped by our country, because if we don’t, we know it leads to more serious issues or even suicide.”

In 2013, when Walker started the advisory committee, he said 21 veterans a day died by suicide. Now, it’s 17 a day. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “Even one death by suicide is too many.”

He plans to retire again, this time in June from the Disabled American Veterans Department, but will continue with his magazine and the advisory committee.

“I know I’m in the last chapter of my life,” Walker, who turns 78 in August, said, “and I want to find time for myself, and go fishing while I still am healthy.”

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

Spout Off

Sea Isle City – So the turtles will be crossing the roads before we know it. Maybe some of those turtle signs that are at the Welcome Center be put out on Sea Isle Blvd?? I don't think a lot of drivers are…

Read More

Avalon – I find it amazing that if you go over 1 percent of your allowable lot coverage you get a nasty gram from the zoning officer that you must remove it or get a fine and even a court date, but the place…

Read More

Cape May – So you want me to pay for your student loans? Ok what are you going to give me in return? If you become a doctor or a nurse are you going to volunteer with Doctors W ithout Borders for a year? If you…

Read More

Most Read

Print Edition

Recommended Articles

Skip to content