FORT McCOY, Fla. – A local community teamed up on Wednesday to get results for the Veteran's Village in Fort McCoy after their VFW vehicle was vandalized.
Al Lugo, the director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Veterans Village, said two of his four vehicles, a Honda CRV and a 15-passenger bus, were both vandalized. He believes the deep scratches are the results of someone intentionally using a key to damage the vehicles. Even the VFW symbol on the hood of his bus was sliced.
"That's what we call the cross of Malta that we wear across our hearts," said Lugo. "This is, for lack of a better word, sacred ground for the veterans."
Lugo contacted News 6 on Wednesday and said that after News 6's story on Tuesday, Jenkins Auto Group will get both vehicles repainted free of charge and that A&G signs will be replacing the letters and decals "Cross of Malta" for free.
"I thank you for allowing the viewers to turn a negative into a positive and to show the vandals that Veterans are appreciated and honored in this Country!" Lugo said in an email to News 6.
The vehicles are important to Lugo, as he doubles as director and as part-time taxi driver. He helps shuttle veterans to and from doctor's offices, appointments, the barber, Walmart, and even the Dollar Store.
"We don't want them to miss an appointment, because the VA takes so long to get an appointment," said Lugo. "People leave here sometimes 5:30 in the morning for an 8:30 appointment."
Lugo is a veteran himself. He served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
The Veterans Village is home to some 50 veterans and their spouses. Lugo said it receives no federal or state funding, just donations and rent from residents.
He estimated the damage to both vehicles at $5,000.
"There's a lot of people here that can't walk, period," said Shirley Bell, a Korean War veteran. "To have that car vandalized, for that much money, it's ridiculous. They ought to be ashamed of themselves."
The Veterans Village is in rural Marion County. The veterans rely on the vehicles to transport them because they cannot transport themselves.
"Being I'm 95, and my brother's 96, neither one of us have driving privileges!" said WWII Veteran William Rich. "I've got a pickup truck but I can't drive anymore. I lost the this eye in a military plane crash."
Lugo immediately took all four vehicles out of service, concerned that the vandals had done more damage that wasn't immediately visible and might have made the vehicles unsafe.
That caused inconvenience for the veterans.
"I had to get a guy to take me to get clothes to go to a memorial for my daughter," said Rich. "It was hell last Sunday. We didn't have this at our disposal like we usually do."
Eventually, a mechanic inspected the vehicles and deemed them safe. But the scratches still remain.
Residents suspect young people or a disgruntled former employee caused the scratches. There are no surveillance cameras at the front of the facility.
"Those people are the 1 percent of America that takes care of the 99 percent of America that don't put on the uniform and fight for their country," said Lugo. "They could have picked on 99 percent of Americans to do damage, but they picked on the 1 percent that gives us the freedoms we have today. That's the thing that bothers me."
Besides repairing the vehicles, Lugo would like to purchase surveillance cameras and install a gate at the front entrance, but said the facility cannot afford it.
If you would like to contact the VFW Veterans' Village, the link is here.