Lee helps other veterans

Published 7:44 pm Saturday, February 4, 2012

Editor’s Note: Each Sunday during Black History Month, the Suffolk News-Herald will feature an influential black person in the Suffolk community.

Clarence Lee was just looking for something to do after he retired from the U.S. Air Force after 28 years.

That’s when he got involved in the Disabled American Veterans. Little did he know that less than three years later, he would be chapter commander and spending hours each day working to help improve the lives of disabled veterans and others in the Suffolk community.



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“We have a single mission — service to disabled veterans,” he said. “You really have to have your heart in it.”

Lee grew up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia. He started attending Bluefield State College, but when he saw all the mining jobs drying up, he left college and joined the military.

“I liked the traveling,” he said. The Air Force took him to Alaska and “all over the Far East,” he said — Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam.

He started as security, then moved to an aircraft machinist position and finally to administration.

In 1981, he married a woman from Suffolk and later would spend 13 years at Langley Air Force Base before his retirement to Suffolk — and more service to his country through the Disabled American Veterans.

“What I like about the organization is we don’t have all the red tape,” he said. “We address the need. If you’re homeless, you will not leave there homeless. A lot of organizations, you have to fill out paperwork and come back next week, and you’re still in that condition.”

Lee is the commander of chapter 5, meaning that he oversees the work getting done. The organization has meals twice a month and a food pantry distribution three times a week that are open to everyone, not just disabled veterans or even veterans.

“You see the expression on their face,” he said of being able to feed people. “They see that someone really cares.”

For veterans, the organization has trained volunteers who can help them file for benefits to which they’re entitled. Much of their work is done with veterans from the older generations.

“They got out and never filed claims,” Lee said. “We’re trying to get the word out to them. We get a lot of business because we are really successful. People get their benefits, and they go tell other people.”

In addition to working with the Disabled American Veterans, Lee also is chair of the deacon board at Healing Chapel Baptist Church and is a commissioner on the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority board.

His term as DAV commander ends in April, but he’ll still be around — and he hopes others are, as well.

“We need more volunteers,” he said.