"I was like most guys returning home from war. I just wanted to get back and never really talked about it much," said Jeff "Doc" Dentice, who served as a medic in the Army.
He returned in 1968 from a two-year tour, serving in the 25th Division in Cu Chi, Vietnam, and served in the reserves until 1970. He didn't share his experiences with many people, but he decided to attend a military "welcome home" parade in Chicago.
"From then on I went nuts," he said. "I was 1000 percent veterans."
Seeing the need to recognize veterans issues on many fronts, the Muskego man became involved with the residents and patients at the Zablocki VA Medical Center, and helped by the staff, organized a "little Christmas show: for them in 1988.
"It started off as a small nickel-and-dime thing, but it just took off from there," he explained.
In addition to developing the afternoon program, which includes food, drink, gifts and entertainment, into a holiday extravaganza, Dentice also involved himself in POW-MIA causes. He sits on various boards for veterans causes, and is the founder of the Wisconsin POW-MIA National Balloon Launch in Rochester. He also manages several websites, including the Christmas with the Vets site.
While he credits "thousands of great people in this state" it's apparent his passion for his fellow military brethren is all-consuming, and he's happy to take the lead.
"It literally caused a divorce in my life, but when I remarried, I think my wife knew what she was getting into, because we're still together."
Dentice's focus now is on the 24th annual "Christmas with the Vets" program held at the VA on Saturday Dec. 15, but needs a ton of help in the form of donations of items for "ditty bags," like socks, pen/paper sets, gloves, disposable razors and more. In addition, food donations of all sorts are being sought (see pdf of program flyer), as well as the to-go containers, cups and utensils needed for the dinner.
Pick up and Drop Off information, and a Call for Help
While Dentice is always happy to arrange for a pickup of your donations, or would receive them at his home (S108 W19843 Red Oak Court), a dropoff site at Paratech Ambulance on 94th Street and Brown Deer Road has been established.
Locally, Muskego Patch is hoping to connect with a business that could serve as a drop off site as well. Food donations, as they are generally perishable items, would not be needed until the week of the event. When we hear from one, we will pass along that information.
In addition, donations may be dropped off at the VA (5000 W. National Ave.) on the day of the event only. Dropped off items should indicate your name and address and be put to Dentice's attention, and be brought to the east entrance on 44th Street.
It's a huge task that Dentice said seems to get harder every year, however he admits, "this is my whole life. There would be no existence for me without it. It's truly been a healing process; every day of my life it's fresh, but it's helped me."
View Dentice's recent appearance on the Morning Blend.