Today is Veterans Day. A day we honor those who served our country and sacrificed so much for our precious freedom. The story on today’s podcast is an incredible family legacy of service. Justin Gracieux uncovered old documents that showed his grandfather’s 14-year military service during World War II and beyond. However, the official military records of thousands of veterans were destroyed in a 1973 fire. The fire destroyed the major portion of records of Army military personnel for the period 1912 through 1959. Join us to learn the incredible adventure one grandson has gone on to right a wrong and in the process honor those who have served our country.
Justin has founded the nonprofit organization Oath to Country Foundation to provide support for our Veterans. This inspirational conversation about family, love, and service brought me to tears more than once. Justin’s story, commitment, and determination to serve those who have so bravely served us is an inspiration for us all. Take a listen.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Oath To Country Foundation does?
Justin Gracieux: Our mission is to foster a community of connectivity and collaboration with partnerships and volunteers to educate on advocate for and strengthen veterans, military, and first responders’ mental health. We also provide street-side resources for our Veterans that end up homeless in Southern California. Oath to Country Foundation is also sponsoring combat veteran psychotherapy treatment sessions provided by a Board Certified Clinical site Colleges.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Oath to Country Foundation?
Justin Gracieux: The story begins during Covid. in September of 2019, I was at my parent’s house and my mom called me into her room. She said, “Here’s a folder.” It was an old vanilla envelope kind of thing. My mom said, ” Open it up and see what you want to do with this?”. So I opened it up. That’s where I found this letter written by my mom when she was 17.
To whom it may concern:
I hope that you can be of help, and refer me to anyone that will read this letter. My father, Joe B. Montoya, was born on June 23, 1927. He was a veteran with more than several honorable discharge certificates that I can remember. My father was a very hard worker and a good father to me. And that is why I’m here today, I vowed that I would have him a burial that he thought he was given. My father has been deceased since October of 1983. I’ll try and make a long story short, there was a fire and I know my father’s discharge paperwork was burned. When I lost my dad, it was a promise to him to get a copy of his papers and have him a burial service with full honors along with being buried with the veterans of the United States. He now lives in a cemetery, with no one knowing his battle to serve our country. There was no flag or knowledge of him in the service, with approximately 14 years of his life dedicated to this country. I need someone to help me find his past. My family tried, as long as we could to postpone his burial. And to find his service records. Photos of him are enclosed.
My mom said, “I called Washington DC, and nobody could hear me cry for help.” So I took this folder, opened it up. I noticed that there was a lot of information that I could use to my advantage to step back into that arena that my mom did at such a young age, to fight for his veteran recognition, and 14 years of service.
So right around this time, I started interviewing friends and family members who served our country through multiple wars. I started conducting these interviews, to put together these stories. Because the story of my grandfather wasn’t accurately passed down through the generations, I felt as though it was my duty to pay it forward. I needed to tell and archive the stories of these Veterans.
I remember meeting a gentleman who served in the Navy. Our conversation really opened my eyes to what motivated them to serve. The experiences they had, the fun experiences, and the traumatic experiences. I learned a lot about war and what it has done and what it does to our American soldiers. The PT, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, isolation, and ultimately suicide. This really opened up my heart and my mind, to what it really means to serve. This was the foundation for The Oath to Country Foundation. Shortly thereafter, I filed the paperwork with the State of California in March to start our nonprofit and go full speed ahead.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Justin Gracieux: I remember one night, and this is before it was officially filed. I remember praying, I was in bed. All I could think about was the nonprofit how it’s gonna work. I had a lot of self-doubt stepping, into this role. I remember saying, “You know, God, I’m coming to you because I’m scared. I’m nervous. I don’t I know I have a heart for this. I want to do it. But I don’t know how I’m going to do it. Because I never served.” And I said,” If this is what you want me to do, and to do Your will. I said, just open the doors for me and I will go through them and I will never look back. I said.” Just help me. Help me. Help me see that this is the mission that you want me to serve.”
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Justin Gracieux: We perceive challenges as opportunities, with our nonprofit. We are looking at the glass half full because we have so many opportunities to rewrite the course of history for our heroes. We can do right in the world, serve others, and pay it forward and save lives. That is our fuel to our cause because we’re here for the right reasons and we’re here at the right time. We want to have an everlasting impact on the mental health of all of those around us.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and What has your impact been?
Justin Gracieux: Our impact is bringing our community together for various types of programs. Recently, we hosted our second beach yoga for mental health. We bring together the community, our military, veterans, first responders for a day on the beach. We’re conducting our 22-mile challenge. So, we either run or walk 22 miles along the California coast. 22 miles for 22 veterans. I run it with 22 pounds, signifying the lives taken by way of suicide every day. What we’re also doing is we’re sponsoring psychotherapy treatment sessions for our combat veterans. We are sponsoring gym memberships for our first responders, Veterans Military, across various gyms here in Southern California.
Right now we’re running multiple programs. I think one of the more specialized programs that we’re actively involved with daily is, is providing street-side resources for our homeless veterans here in Los Angeles County. Just a couple of weeks ago, we put together approximately $4,000 worth of resources, with items such as hygiene products, clothing, tents, insect repellent supplies, and more. Living there on the streets has its challenges. So we’re helping our Veterans who sleep on the sidewalks outside the VA with the rodent issue that they’re faced with daily.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Justin Gracieux: To end the war on suicide. We’re doing everything we can every day to prevent the next suicide from occurring. I mean, we’re in it for a long fight. We won’t give in we won’t back down. And we have the right people involved in this organization to help accomplish that. We’re just taking it one day at a time right now because this battle that we’re faced with isn’t easy.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Justin Gracieux: I’ve learned that it’s our responsibility to honor the legacies that those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for our freedom. It’s our responsibility to continue to honor the names of those that are no longer with us. We have to continue to rely on each other to really continue to amplify the message within our own communities and even in our own households, and really look after one another.
The after-effects of someone taking their lives and those that have to live with it have been affected by it tremendously. I know some individuals that are still impacted by those who have taken their lives, and it breaks my heart to know that they still miss their loved ones. And they always will. It never goes away. So heartbreaking.
Charity Matters: Do you have any last message for us on veterans Day?
Justin Gracieux: Let me tell you a little short story. The other day I left work, and I’m literally sitting in the driver’s seat of my truck. To my left, I see this gentleman sort of kind of rocking in his truck. And I was like, that’s a little weird. So I finally looked and this gentleman was looking at the sticker on my truck. All-around every window of my truck. I have Oath to Country Foundation stickers. This gentleman’s looking at a sticker. So I finally wrote on my window, this is a foundation to save our veterans from taking their lives.
And it was just like that because we’re both at a stoplight, he’s about to leave, I’m about to leave. Sure enough, he sits back down. And he turns his face, one eye was missing. He raised his arm to salute me and his hand was missing. When you ask about what motivates our mission? What propels us to keep going? When we think we’re not moving anywhere, it’s experiences like that, that remind us that God is sending these messengers to us, to keep going and to never back down from this fight.
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