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Veterans groups pitch in to help a terminally ill 'brother' and his family

Staff Sgt. Robert Toland and his family were given a surprise Disney vacation. From left: Lilia, 5; Skyler, 2 1/2; wife Melanie; Robert; Morgan, 1 1/2; Robert’s brother Anthony Siracuse; and Ron and Carol Haynes.

American Legion Post 273

Staff Sgt. Robert Toland and his family were given a surprise Disney vacation. From left: Lilia, 5; Skyler, 2 1/2; wife Melanie; Robert; Morgan, 1 1/2; Robert’s brother Anthony Siracuse; and Ron and Carol Haynes.

Across more than 1,000 miles, they extended a hand to help someone they had never met and yet considered one of their own.

Two Tampa Bay veterans organizations, American Legion Post 273 of Madeira Beach and Largo VFW Post 10094, each chipped in $1,000 recently so that a terminally ill veteran could spend one last worry-free vacation with his young family.

"It's evidence there are no geographical boundaries between veterans,'' said Dan Koker, commander of Madeira Beach group.

The beneficiary was Army Staff Sgt. Robert Toland, who spent the week of Nov. 3 at Disney World with his wife and three young daughters.

The local heroics started Oct. 27 when Kevin Haynes, a member of American Legion Post 1460 in Machias, N.Y., and the son of a Madeira Beach post member, contacted Koker.

He told how Post 1460 and the Christian Youth Corps of Machias were planning a surprise home renovation for the soldier and was sending him and his family on vacation while the construction was being done.

"But we were concerned about them running up their credit card bills at this time,'' Haynes said by phone from Machias. Koker "immediately assured me that the vets in Florida would take care of him.''

Koker asked for help from the Largo post because he also serves as a trustee for that organization.

"I told them that whatever the VFW would donate, the American Legion would match,'' he said.

Four days after the initial call, the two groups had raised $2,000.

Ron and Carol Haynes, Kevin's parents, were asked to deliver the money because of their family's connection with the veterans groups in both New York and Florida. They met the Tolands in Orlando on Nov. 3.

"They were shocked,'' Ron Haynes said.

The Haynes also were moved. "It was overwhelming,'' Ron Haynes said.

When the Tolands arrived home, CNN cameras and hundreds of community members were on hand as they got the first look at their surprise renovations, coordinated by Christian Youth Corps. The upgrades included a new bathroom, master bedroom and two-car garage with wheelchair access.

On camera, through tears, the soldier expressed his thanks: "God forbid, if things go bad for me, and I pass away, my children will have this forever, to see how good people really are.''

Veterans groups pitch in to help a terminally ill 'brother' and his family 11/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 8:43pm]
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