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By Michael P. Mauer

VFW District 29 PAO

Two Mon Valley veterans were recognized June 17 for supporting hospitalized service members during the 102nd Department of Pennsylvania VFW and Auxiliary convention in Pittsburgh. Bill Roland, VFW PA State Surgeon, earned the ‘National Surgeon Award’, while VFW Post 914 West Mifflin Surgeon, Bernie Zurawski, won Department of PA VFW ‘Surgeon of the Year’.


Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Pennsylvania Surgeon of the Year Bernie Zurawski, right, receives his award from VFW PA Commander, Ronald Peters.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the VFW has maintained outreach activities to those who served in the United States military. Roland and Zurawski earned their awards for helping to keep these vital programs going during the most adverse of circumstances.

Such challenges are nothing new for Roland. While on active duty as a medical officer with the Army, the North Versailles resident helped transport a child from war-torn Kosovo to the United States to receive heart surgery. At the start of the pandemic last year, Roland answered a call put through the VFW for retired military medical personnel to help in the coronavirus response.

As a volunteer, Roland assisted with the implementation of COVID-19 vaccination programs for veterans, and met with Veterans Administration hospital managers to help make certain quality of care continued at a high standard during the pandemic.

“In the VFW, the promise to honor those who’ve died by helping the living is sacred to our core beliefs,” said Roland. “As a former commissioned officer and life member of the VFW, volunteering to help those in need is expected – as well as rewarding.”

For Zurawski, who served as a Marine in Operation Desert Storm, keeping his post’s hospital visitation programs at Southwestern Veterans Center going over the last nine years was at times difficult, but worthwhile.

“It started when I was on active duty,” Zurawski said. “While on leave, I would visit my father-in-law at Southwestern Veterans Center, and we would do bedside bingos and other things to help keep up morale. It was something that I enjoyed doing, and once I retired and became part of the VFW, I became more active helping my fellow veterans.”

Each year, the VFW nationally contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteer hours towards comforting hospitalized veterans. The hospital visitation program is the oldest established function of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary. Caring for warriors is also enshrined in the credo of the Military Order of the Cootie - the VFW’s honor degree. Their service program proudly touts its main directive as ‘keep ‘em smiling in beds of white.”

“I would say that this is the most important thing that we do as members of the VFW,” said Roland, a retired Army major with 26 years of active and reserve military service. “We help make certain that our comrades are cared for in the best way. Not by just seeing that they receive care in hospitals, but by making sure we can be part of the care wherever and whenever possible.”

Roland, a Kosovo Campaign and Global War On Terrorism veteran, also said that lobbying efforts made by the VFW more than a hundred years ago were instrumental in establishing the hospital system run by the Veterans Administration, as well as other medical benefits for former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“This is a task that we are committed to doing,” said Roland.

(Michael P. Mauer is the Public Affairs Officer for VFW District 29. He served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war.)


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