I come from a family of men who have proudly served in the military, and I have nephews who are currently serving our country. The branches represented are the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. I witnessed my brother’s suffering and despair after his return from various assignments - the last one being Desert Storm. I saw his inability to interact with his family and friends. He became quiet and reclusive due to PTSD, and retired after 23 years of service in the Air Force. Excessive use of alcohol and medication became his way of dealing with his nightmares. He passed in 2003.
I joined Dennis Passaggio and Ted Post in founding VNEW to honor my brother and other veterans for their service. Creating VNEW was a way to say thank you and promote my brother’s belief that “the best way to calm anxiety and evaporate the horrible memories from the soul” was to find shelter in one of the noblest human expressions - music. All he needed was to start playing his guitar and imagine that, one day, the world would be a world beyond war.
Co-Founding VNEW was my way of fulfilling my mother Virginia Passaggio’s wish to help veterans. It was her wish for as long as I can remember. My grandfather, John Dolan, and my father, Charles Passaggio, both served in the military. My mother grew up in dysfunctional family due to PTSD. They called it back then “shell shock”, and veterans just lived with it. Her request for me to help veterans came from a deep belief that these men and women do not get enough credit and support for the service they give us. She passed in 2016, and Ted Post, Kandi Reyes and I put the wheels in motion to fulfill this promise.
While looking through boxes upon my mother’s passing, I found my grandfather’s compass. He used that compass in World War I to get back to his camp from the trenches. I also found my grandfather’s harmonica. His harmonica was very important to him because he used music to calm his anxiety and demons. Many veterans use music as a form of healing and expression. It became crystal clear that the organization we would found would include music, arts, dance, theater, film, painting, writing as sources of healing and hope for veterans and their families. And that is how VNEW was founded.
Ted Post (1918 - 2013) shared the same vision as Dennis Passaggio and Kandi Reyes and played a crucial role in the founding of VNEW. Mr. Post was a prolific film and television director who collaborated with Clint Eastwood on two hit features “Hang ‘Em High” and Magnum Force”. He directed hundreds of television series episodes including “Gunsmoke,” “Peyton Place” and “Rawhide”, and his other features included “Beneath The Planet of The Apes”, “The Harrod Experiment” and the highly regarded Viet Nam war film “Go Tell The Spartans”.
Much of Mr. Post’s early experience came during World War II where he served in the Army directing theater and musical productions for troops stationed in Europe. He witnessed firsthand how music, drama and performance helped veterans tell their stories and cope with their pains and concerns. He believed strongly that more needed to be done to honor our returning soldiers and that music and the arts would be a powerful tool for that support.