Proudly wearing his red-and-white AMVETS jacket, an AMVETS medallion tie and belt buckle, “EJ” Knapik is a man constantly in motion — doing something for veterans.
The 83-year-old Glenville resident last year received the Silver Helmet Award — known as the “Veterans Oscar” — from AMVETS, a national veterans organization that was started by act of Congress and accepts honorably discharged veterans from World War II through the present.
Knapik said he was completely surprised by the honor, which was kept a secret until the organization’s national convention in Orlando.
He has worn a variety of hats. He is a past state commander of AMVETS — also known as American Veterans. He has also been the organization’s legislative chairman for the last 30 years, meeting with Albany lawmakers on a regular basis “making sure that we don’t lose any benefits that we have.”
“I think veterans will always need somebody to speak on their behalf,” he said. “Let’s honor our own people. They served us.”
Knapik is also the AMVETS representative at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. He spearheaded a $50,000 fund-raising campaign to renovate rooms at the hospital. The rooms were outfitted with new furniture, wallpaper and window treatments.
He also goes to the VA on a regular basis to deliver craft kits, personal care packages and to just spend time with them. “When we visit the patients, you can see their reaction. They’re glad somebody stopped,” he said.
He said the veterans may find out they know the same people or make some type of connection.
Knapik also helped lobby the VA to create Fisher House, a facility where family members of veterans at the center can stay overnight.
Before moving to Glenville, he lived in Amsterdam and is still a member of that city’s Post 21 chapter of AMVETS. He has been his post’s delegate to the state convention for more than a half-century. Knapik is known there as “EJ” 21 because of the practice of giving their name followed by post number before making a comment.
He believes all veterans should join a veterans post, even if they are not active members. He says Congress looks at the strength of the membership and it influences their decisions to pass certain bills affecting veterans.
He also served for 11 years as a trustee for the Saratoga National VA Cemetery Support Group, which helped build the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, and on committees for the New York State Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial and World War II Memorial.
Knapik served in World War II as a petty officer aboard the USS Miami stationed in the Pacific. After his Navy service, he worked for General Electric for 33 years as a steam turbine designer.
Not all the efforts have been successful. An effort to create a state Hall of Fame for veterans has languished. “If I wasn’t so busy, I’d try to get involved,” he said.
VA Hospital spokesman Peter Potter called Knapik a “tireless trouper.”
“EJ’s always available, attending every event, whether to honor veterans or to serve them — and always willing to take part,” he said. “Whether be it his role with AMVETS, securing funds for renovations of Hospice Rooms, coordinating craft kits for our rehab medicine therapy program, or his dedication to collect various items included in comfort kits we provided veterans who find themselves at the medical center unexpectedly or are in need of basic necessities, EJ is always there to lend a helping hand.”
Karen Covey, volunteer specialist for the VA, said the center relies so much on volunteers like Knapik. Volunteers worked more than 100,000 hours last year. They help out with running bingo nights and driving shuttle vans.
“Volunteer services take care of patients’ wants and the hospital takes care of needs.”
For more information on how to volunteer with the VA, contact Stephanie Bonenfant at 626-5508.
Reach Gazette reporter Michael Goot at 395-3105 or [email protected].