Vietnam veterans rally to help brethren wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan

Art Foster and most of his battle buddies returned home in 1969 from their tour in Vietnam without serious injuries.

Now he wants to help those who haven't been so lucky.

Foster will be among a legion of Vietnam veterans selling T-shirts and camouflage wristbands tonight during the Free Movie in the Park to raise money for a new generation of American veterans. The event, which features the film "Forrest Gump," begins at 8 p.m. in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

The veterans will sell the $20 shirts and $5 wristbands to help cover travel and lodging expenses for 50 veterans severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and their caretakers to attend the 16th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival in October.

This year's festival is being headlined by actor Gary Sinise and his 13-piece Lt. Dan Band, an ensemble named after the Vietnam vet and double amputee Sinise portrayed in the film. The festival will mark the first time Sinise has been in Beaufort since filming "Gump" in 1993, according to event organizers.

Foster said selling T-shirts is the least he can do to helpfellow veterans, who will come to Beaufort from all over the country.

"I feel like we need to give back to them," he said. "There's only so much the government can do for these veterans, and the rest is up to us."

Mike Schwartz, a retired Marine and member of AMVETS Post 70 in Port Royal, said he and other post members jumped at the chance to help "a new generation of wounded warriors."

"That's what we're about, veterans helping veterans," Schwartz said.

The visit is being organized by the Independence Fund, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 by Steve Danyluk of Beaufort to provide veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan with robotic wheelchairs, therapy and other care.

Danyluk said the veterans' four-day stay in Beaufort will cost about $65,000. The charity has raised more than $40,000 so far, he said.

"For a lot of these guys, getting out into the community like this is formative," Danyluk said. "A high percentage of these wounded veterans are National Guard or reservists, so they don't go back to Camp Lejeune or Fort Bragg, where they have military support. They go back to Tupelo, Miss.

"I think a lot of these Vietnam vets feel like there's a parallel between these new wounded veterans and how they were welcomed when they returned from Vietnam."