'Call for Action' finds a veteran's missing discharge papers

The Veterans Day weekend is the best time to highlight a vet and the hard work that our "Call for Action" unit put in to make sure he got what he deserved.

Johnny Ferguson served during the Vietnam War era.  Even with dementia now, he remembers some things. He remembers the ship that got him there. He remembers arriving in Vietnam. He remembers also serving in Korea. But the US military didn't remember. None of it.  And so for decades this American veteran wasn't able to access his benefits. Well that is until "Call for Action" got involved.

"He's a Speedy Gonzalez sometimes," his wife told us as she helped him with his walker.

The 73-year-old veteran's wife, Birdie Peoples Ferguson, is a hand holder and a helper, but lately that's not enough. They need his veteran's benefits.

His notes show he was in the Army in 1965. Basic training was at Ft. Knox.  He remembered a lot of things about what he did, but the military didn't.

Birdies said that in 2010 after failing health, they decided to tap into this Vietnam-era VA benefits.

"You go to the VA in St. Louis and request his DD 214. So, that's what we did. They got back to us and said they couldn't find anything on him."

The DD Form 214 is a big deal. It represents a vet's complete and verified service record. Without it, well, you didn't serve, even when you did.  

They found out that Johnny Ferguson's military personnel file was gone along with as many as 18 million others.  

A devastating fire in 1973, a few years after he was honorably discharged, swept through the National Personal Records Center in St. Louis, so they tried to piece together a history.

Birdie recalled the questions they were asked. "Did he purchase a house? Did he utilize any of his benefits? Well, no."

He had nothing but a photograph in uniform to prove that he once was a soldier. And he had memories, but with dementia they were fading. Years passed.

"What really put the fire under me was one day I was watching TV.  And, Susan, "Call for Action" came on."

Susan Bowie, the director of Fox 5 Atlanta's "Call for Action" unit, and her volunteer team tackle problems our viewers are having trouble resolving. She remembers the phone call.

"She had inspired me. She had done so much background work," Susan told me.

Birdie handed the baton to Susan who made a road trip with this photograph of an American veteran.

"I took it to St. Louis, the VA there, and talked to them."

Still. Nothing. They kept at it. Three years "Call for Action" worked on Johnny Ferguson's case.

"She kept me motivated. She kept saying, 'It's there. We're going to find it. And that kept me going,' said Birdie.

With each passing year, they were armed with more information. Finally, this super duo took their puzzle pieces to Congressman David Scott.

"It bet it wasn't seven days, the DD 214, the honorable discharge, came in the mail," remembered Birdie.  

This veteran now has his history back. Birdie may retire to be with her husband. And all three of them have a friendship going forward.

Case closed?

No, not yet.  Mr. Ferguson, they told us, did not receive his last military paycheck. They're going to track that down. We'll keep ya posted.