Gulf war veterans fund is fighting for survival

February 23, 1992|By Michael Doyle | Michael Doyle,McClatchy News Service

WASHINGTON -- A year after the Persian Gulf war's conclusion, some Maryland entrepreneurs are discovering that turning their good intentions into a working charity can be a tougher challenge than bringing democracy to Kuwait.

Begun in the flag-waving days following Operation Desert Storm, the National Memorial Fund Foundation still is struggling to become a viable concern that aids needy veterans and their families.

The financially strapped foundation, one of the few Desert Storm-related charities that's still visible, now is asking cable television companies nationwide to air its fund-raising plea.

The foundation's 15-second spot, already airing in the Washington area, offers contributors a chance to help veterans by purchasing a poem inspired by the gulf conflict.

For $25, contributors receive 14 lines entitled "(An American Behind) A Line Carved in the Sand," and a tape of music inspired by the war.

The money raised is supposed to help members of the National Guard and Reserve who returned victorious from the desert, only to find themselves laid off from their regular jobs, short of cash and assaulted by creditors. About 228,000 Guard and Reserve members were called to active duty.

But for all its good intentions, the National Memorial Fund Foundation still is shooting blanks. Though it has held non-profit status through the Internal Revenue Service since March, the foundation is essentially broke.

"It doesn't work out as easily as you thought," foundation co-founder and Vice President Wilbert Guice acknowledged. "There is an air of frustration."

Chief Warrant Officer Patricia Putman, a Maryland National Guard official who works with needy families, said she hasn't yet referred anyone to the foundation because she hasn't been confident they had the resources to help. But she added that foundation officials seemed legitimate and sincere in what they were trying to accomplish.

Whatever the frustrations, the National Memorial Fund Foundation is one of the few charities that's still seeking funds on behalf of Desert Storm-related activities.

Officials with the National Charities Information Bureau say the Desert Storm charity potential seemed to evaporate as Kuwait's wealth enabled the emirate to take care of its own recovery, Iraq's Saddam Hussein remained in power and the U.S. public turned to domestic concerns.

The foundation, started by Jaycees who wanted to help soldiers called to active duty, ran into trouble with its first event: an inaugural banquet at Andrews Air Force Base that could accommodate 1,000 people at $50 per person. Only about 100 people showed up.

But the inauspicious beginning did not deter the foundation's founders.

The local congressman, Maryland Democrat Steny H. Hoyer, had written a two-paragraph note in June offering "congratulations" on the foundation's intentions, while Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., offered a three-paragraph letter terming the foundation's goal of providing aid "a model of patriotism for all of us."

The letters from Mr. Hoyer, Ms. Mikulski and others now are part of a slick package sent out by the foundation to an estimated 200 cable companies nationwide.

The foundation wants the spot advertising the poem to be aired as a public-service announcement.

But under its contract with ICC Marketing, the campaign will pay the foundation as little as 23 cents of every dollar raised. A separate telemarketing campaign that was to earn the foundation 30 cents from every dollar collapsed after a few days.

The foundation's difficulty in raising money caught attention of the Maryland secretary of state's office, which cautioned in a September letter that it would be "deceptive and misleading to represent that your organization will provide 'immediate financial assistance' or any other assistance if you are unable to do so."

Foundation officials responded in writing that "there has never been any attempt at any time to deceive or mislead your office or anyone else, knowingly, in this matter."

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