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January 29, 2003 / South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Lighthouse Point Vietnam veteran sets up fund to help kids of parents in military service

By Daniella Aird, Staff Writer

He kissed his two kids goodbye, told them to be brave and left for Vietnam not knowing when he'd return.

Memories of that moment in 1968 came flooding back to John Ghee last week as thousands more children parted with parents who were recently called to serve in a possible war with Iraq.

This time Ghee, 58, an Army veteran from Lighthouse Point, will serve his country by helping children of active service members.

He created Operation Brave Kids, a fund to support families of Florida National Guard's infantry battalion. Hundreds of soldiers from across South Florida were deployed two weeks ago as part of the company's largest mobilization since World War II.

"I want to show these troops that we're doing what we can for their children back home," said Ghee, who spent a year separated from his own children, Johnny and Jill, then 4 and 2, while he was overseas. "It's really hard to face the unknown when you have a family."

Ghee set up a fund at Wachovia Bank last week and is asking the community to make donations. The money will be used to purchase $25 gift certificates each month for children under age 18 who have parents in the military. The certificates can be used at Publix, Toys "R" Us, McDonald's or any other location the family chooses. Ghee said he had set up the account within a few days of coming up with the idea.

"Isn't it wonderful? He did all the right things really fast," said Fonnie Castino, vice president of select banking at Wachovia who helped Ghee establish the account. "We're very pleased to be a part of this."

Every Wachovia branch in Broward County will accept contributions for Operation Brave Kids. Families can also register children to receive gift certificates by filling out forms available at each bank or on the fund's web site: www.operationbravekids.org.

Ghee's goal is to support every child of military members in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. He said he has 20 volunteers ready to mail monthly gift certificates.

So far, Ghee said he raised $3,000 in donations from fellow members of the Pompano Beach Exchange Club, a business organization.

"We have several guys in our club who are very patriotic," said president Phil Linville. "We stand for our country, our flag and our kids. It's a brilliant idea. John's imagination is very, very vivid."

Ghee also summoned the help of his friend Brian Schmitt, who owns Coldwell Banker Schmitt Real Estate in Marathon, to support children of service members in Monroe County.

Schmitt said his company will donate an annual $300 to every one of them through its charitable foundation.

"When John called me last week and told me about this, I told him right away we'd be participating," Schmitt said from his office in the Keys. "It's a nice token of our appreciation for all of the service members that are serving our country."

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