Monday, July 26, 2010

“Hall of Honor” Distinctive Feature of Ohio VA Clinic

When Veterans visit the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio, they look forward to taking a stroll down the “Hall of Honor” and locating a medal they received while in uniform.

Hundreds of military medals and badges in framed shadow boxes line the main hall, one of the most unique displays of military memorabilia among VA clinics in the country.

Veterans relive their personal memories when viewing the 17 large frames filled with hundreds of medals and badges, ranging from the Civil War to the present.

The impressive display of American military awards is the handiwork of Robert Brienik, volunteer liaison at the Youngstown clinic.

When staff refer to them as “Bob’s Medals,” he is quick to point out they are not his.

“They are a tribute to the Veterans who served and earned those medals and badges”

—Veteran Robert Brienik

“They are a tribute to the Veterans who served and earned those medals and badges,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every second of putting the display together.”

Brienik started the unique project in 2002 when some patients suggested there should be more military pictures in the clinic, instead of farms and fruit. That triggered an idea Bob had about starting a collection of medals and framing them for display at the clinic.

Brienik contacted friends who were involved in collecting medals and wrote the Army Awards Headquarters for guidance.

When people and organizations began donating various medals and badges, Brienik “worked a deal” with William Montague, then director of the VA for Northeast Ohio.

“I said I’d collect and donate the medals if the VA would finance the framing,” he said.

Brienik wrote to the various branches of the U.S. military asking for medal donations. The Coast Guard sent a complete set of its medals and badges, and the Merchant Marine and Department of Defense each sent a number of their medals, he said.

Maribeth Eckenrode, an employee at the Youngstown clinic, and her husband, Troy, donated a large number of Air Force badges. Bob also gives special recognition and thanks to Lee Graves, Dr. Charles McDowell and Lonny Borts for their contributions to the large collection.

“I often see Veterans with their children or grandchildren pointing out the medals that they have. I always point out the display to visitors from other VA facilities when I conduct tours,” Maribeth adds.

“It has been a labor of love. To see people looking and pointing at the medals is very satisfying,” Brienik added.

Brienik has logged 29,748 volunteer hours since he began with the VA in 1992 after a 37-year career with General Motors.

“Volunteering at the VA lets me serve my brother veterans,” said Brienik, who served in the Army Medical Corps from 1956 to 1958.

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