James Minor doesn’t need perfect vision to know when he’s in the company of friends.
“It’s a lot of people just like you,” the 82-year-old Korean War veteran said of what makes Blinded Veterans Association conventions so special to him.
Minor, of Las Vegas, who lost much of his eyesight from combat wounds nearly 65 years ago, attends the annual events every year with his wife and caregiver Delores at his side.
This year, they are in Tulsa for the weeklong convention.
The first time in its history it has been in Tulsa, the 74th annual BVA national convention began Monday and will continue through Friday at Mariott Southern Hills.
BVA offers support to veterans with impaired vision as well as their caregivers, keeping them up to date on new advances and helping them access services.
Like many of the attendees, Minor, who is legally blind, lost his vision while fighting in a war.
Minor was serving as an infantry gunner in Korea, he said, when he was hit in the face by the backblast from a howitzer.
“I was burned pretty bad,” he said.
In his time with BVA, he’s heard many similar stories.
In addition to the camaraderie, the conventions help him keep up with the latest advances.
Minor said one session he’s especially interested in this year is about stem-cell research in treating vision impairments.
Delores Minor said she likes to connect with other caregivers.
“I learn a lot about how to help him,” she said. “And I like to learn about all the new stuff, too.”
One of the features this week will be a family caregiving panel hosted by national caregiving expert Gary Edward Barg.
It’s the example and mentorship of veterans like Minor that has been Joe Bogart’s favorite part of the organization he now helps lead.
“A lot of these guys were blinded at a very young age, but they didn’t let that stop them,” said the BVA executive director, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Bogart has been legally blind since 2006, when he was wounded in Iraq.
A platoon leader, he was helping clear roadside bombs, he said, when one exploded, the force of the blast hitting him the face.
After healing from shrapnel and burns, Bogart was able to stay in the Army. He retired in 2018 as a major.
He said he enjoys his role now as a voice and advocate for blind veterans.
“That’s one thing we want to do this week is raise awareness here in Tulsa of the blinded veterans community,” he said.
Organizers said about 200 attendees registered for the event from all over the country.
Timothy McCoy of the Winged Warrior Project brought his traveling museum of vintage military uniforms.
Visually impaired veterans can touch the uniforms and read descriptions of each provided in Braille.
“We travel all over the country, but this is our first Blinded Veterans event,” McCoy said. “We hope to keep doing them.”
BVA was formed after World War II by a group of servicemen who’d lost vision from being wounded in action.
A native of Dallas, Minor was raised by his brothers and sisters after their parents died. He joined the Army after high school as a way to get away, he said.
In Korea, “I saw a little bit of everything and did a little bit of everything,” Minor said.
But it’s not something he likes to think or talk about, he added.
“It wasn’t anything nice,” he said.
After his wounding, Minor was eventually able to return to light duty. He went on to serve 26 years in the Army, retiring with the rank of sergeant.
Minor said he plans to keep attending conventions as long as he’s able.
“It’s something to look forward to,” he said.
For more information on BVA, visit the association’s website, bva.org.
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