By Steve Ranson
Special to the Sentinel
For many veterans, Carson City’s Richard “Dick” Whiston is known as a quiet man much like the Nevada Military Support Alliance, which has raised millions of dollars without fanfare.
Over the years, though, Whiston has donated his money and time to help veterans’ causes in Northern Nevada, and for his generosity, he was named December’s Veteran of the Month at a ceremony Wednesday morning at the capitol. The Veteran Supporter of the Month recognized the Nevada Military Support Alliance (NMSA) that is also known for supporting veterans through their many fundraising event and activities.
NDVS director Kat Miller didn’t know of Whiston’s work until she received his nomination packet.
“Not only has he contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for our veterans to make sure they see their memorials, he makes sure they can get to medical appointments,” Miller said. “He personally rolls up his sleeves and gets involved.”
Miller said she was honored to learn of the amazing things Whiston has done to support his fellow veterans.
Tom Spencer, president of the Carson City Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America 388, said Whiston has sponsored more than 200 veterans — most of those from the Vietnam era — to travel to Washington, D.C. as part of the Honor Flight Nevada program. It costs $1,000 to sponsor each veteran on a flight. Honor Flight flies veterans aboard Southwest Airlines to the nation’s capital where they see many of the memorials built in honor of the millions of men and women who have fought in the nation’s wars. Furthermore, Spencer said Whiston has bought seven new vans valued at more than $250,000 for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Veteran Transit Program.
“He’s been a driver to shuttle veterans to VA (Veterans Affairs) and similar medical appointments,” Spencer said.
Spencer said he first met Whiston several years ago when both traveled on the same Honor Flight. He nominated Whiston for Veteran of the Month along with Jon Yuspa, executive director of Honor Flight Nevada. When Miller received the nomination, she said, “Who’s Dick Whiston?” After reading his nomination and discovering his contributions toward veterans’ causes, she was in awe.
“I am honored to get to know you and the things you do,” she said.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was presiding over his final Veterans of the Month ceremony before leaving office in January, noted the ceremony attracted its largest crowd of more than 150 people since the program began in 2011. The two-term governor said the monthly program is important because of the many heroes who have done so much for their fellow veterans, many of whom left their careers and their families to serve their country.
Sandoval applauded Whiston.
“Without the vans, without your volunteer time to take them where they need to go, they often would not get the medical care they needed,” Sandoval said. “You gave them the opportunity to do so. I am so humbled, honored and privileged to be part of this event and what you have done for so many people.”
Whiston, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army for a command south of the demilitarized zone in Korea during the 1960s, said he had never seen a large crowd like Wednesday’s that gathered for a Veterans of the Month ceremony.
“I care intensely about veterans being one myself,” Whiston said.
Whiston said his best friend was his commanding officer, whom he would visit once or twice a year in Mississippi. Whiston said his friend recently died.
“He knew I hated being in the Army, but he was very good to me, and I like to think I was pretty good to him because I was his operations officer,” Whiston explained.
Whiston said he’s honored to receive the Veterans of the Month award, but he said awards don’t motivate him … veterans do. He said a Vietnam vet once asked him if he had served in Southeast Asia, but Whiston replied Korea.
“It doesn’t matter where you served,” said the man. “You served. You were there.”
Whiston said he has learned to appreciate all veterans no matter what they did during their service. Honor Flight Nevada also presented Whiston with a shadow box honoring him for his support of the program.
Miller said the NMSA has provided recognition and support for many military and veteran-related programs. She said the NMSA first organized to help post-911 veterans when they came home but then expanded to include all Nevada veterans and their families.
Since its inception, the NMSA has raised more than $3 million to build Nevada’s first Fisher House in Southern Nevada and $1 million for the Veterans Guest House in Reno to assist with major renovation and expansion; builds houses for veterans who have special requirements; provides scholarships for families who have lost loved ones during war time; gives assistance to veterans with legal needs through the Nevada Attorney General’s Office of Military Legal Assistance; and provides the primary funding for the NMSA Veterans Resource Centers at the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College.
“You don’t hear much about them because it’s not about them showcasing themselves but helping veterans,” Miller said.
Sandoval said the NMSA never says no and has answered the call every time. He said they bought Nevada flags to fly over the capitol for many veteran families and also those veterans who were asking for certified flags; replaced damaged marble at the new Battle Born Memorial in Carson City; helped fund the Book of Fallen Heroes and its stand inside the capitol near the main entrance; and funded a specially adapted home in 2013 for Sgt. Tim Hall, a Hawthorne soldier who was severely wounded in Afghanistan.
“They have had such an effect on so many people,” Sandoval said.
Dan Morgan, one of the directors with the NMSA, thanked Sandoval for his support of veterans during his tenure as governor. Morgan said the governor, who presided over a ribbon cutting on Monday for the new state veterans home in Sparks, had a passion to see the home funded and built and also supports Gold Star families who lost a loved one during war.
“In recognition of the Gold Star families who are here today, the Nevada Military Support Alliance would like to present to you and Sharon Oren and David Sousa as members of the Gold Star Memorial Foundation … a check for $25,000 for the Gold Star Memorial in Sparks in support of all Nevada Gold Star families,” Morgan said. “We can’t thank you enough for your sacrifice and service.”
Marsha Strand, who started the Comstock Lode Quilters for the Quilts of Valor Foundation in December 2014, and members of her quilting group presented the governor with a specially made quilt as a token of their appreciation.
“We present this very special quilt to Gov. Brian Sandoval who has done so much for the state,” she said. “This is awarded as a gesture of gratitude from a grateful state.”
Sandoval said he was overwhelmed with Wednesday’s event.
“I have such a profound, heartfelt appreciation and respect and thanks for the men and women of our military,” he said to a standing ovation.