WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs lists 46 federally chartered veterans’ organizations — none of which represent the men and women who fought, and continue to be in harm’s way, in Korea.
Korean War veteran Robert Banker wants to change that.
The 72-year-old Fallston resident said he has been to Capitol Hill 11 times this year alone, trying to win a federal charter for the Korean War Veterans Association, a fight that has been going on now for 15 years.
But leaders of the 16,000-member association, which was founded in 1985, keep running into a moratorium on federal charters for all nonprofits.
The moratorium was instituted by the House Judiciary Committee in 1989, the same year that another Korean vet, Blair Cross of Bel Air, first filed for a federal charter.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was one of the prime movers behind the ban. Committee members thought that “charters were a waste of time, they had no legal meaning whatsoever,” said Frank, who left the committee in 2002.
Not so, said Banker. He took over the association’s campaign for a federal charter from Cross, who died in February.
Banker said the lack of a federal charter means his organization and others are excluded from federal and state policy making on veterans affairs, as well as some benefits.
For example, he said, in 1996 one of the association’s Maryland chapters was unable to purchase ceremonial rifles for its honor guard because it was not federally chartered.
Banker said Congress’ refusal to recognize his group is all the more frustrating because it has repeatedly overruled its own moratorium.
Since 1989, it has granted charters to at least seven nonprofits, including five veterans’ organizations.
The list includes the Retired Enlisted Association and the Military Order of the World Wars, both chartered in 1992; the Fleet Reserve Association, in 1996; and the American G.I. Forum of the United States, in 1998. The most recent, the Armed Forces Services Corp., was founded and chartered in 2000.
Banker, now retired from the insurance industry, spent 15 months in Korea in an Army artillery unit from 1952 to 1953. His memories of the war are “low-key.” As a 20-year-old draftee, he said he spent most of his time behind the front lines, where his unit occasionally took enemy fire.
When “shells come in, they are dramatic,” he said. “Every once in while on July Fourth, I have to remind myself it is July Fourth.”
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, have joined with the Korean vets, trying repeatedly since 1999 to get bills through Congress to grant the association a charter. The most recent attempt made it to a House-Senate conference committee this year as part of the defense spending bill, but was cut from the final version.
Banker remains optimistic, noting that, in addition to Sarbanes and Hoyer, the association has the support of more than 150 Congress members.
He will be observing Veterans Day with other members of his group at the Korean War Memorial at Canton Waterfront Park in Baltimore, honoring the 525 soldiers from Maryland who were killed in the war.
And, he notes, there are still 37,000 American troops in Korea. “They signed an armistice” in 1953, he said. “There’s never been a treaty.”
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