It’s absolutely awe-inspiring how someone who has lost so much can give so much to others.
When she was 13 years old, American Legion Auxiliary member Vicky Tomasello’s father, U.S. Navy veteran Robert G. Wankowski Sr., and her 4-year-old brother, Gregory, died in a house fire. Through the years, Vicky lost other loved ones, including her sister, Valerie, who died in 2002. Their mother, Dolores Anna Wankowski, died in 2011 from Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer.
And her husband of 32 years, Navy Vietnam War veteran Allen Tomasello, died in 2018 from angiosarcoma, cancer of the blood vessels, from Agent Orange exposure from when he was in Vietnam.
Tomasello’s life as a military wife had some challenges; Allen experienced PTSD and had his leg amputated 4 inches above the knee. But their love was stronger than any difficulties they encountered on their life’s journey together, Tomasello said.
She is a veteran’s widow, but that doesn’t stop her from supporting and honoring other veterans, servicemembers, and military families as an ALA member. Tomasello proudly serves the Auxiliary’s mission of service through her ALA Unit 137 membership in Jacksonville, Fla.
“As part of the Auxiliary, I help with the dinners and things. I’m in the kitchen cooking, serving, whatever is needed at the time. We take care of the veterans. We feel it is our duty to provide each of them a decent meal at a decent cost,” she explained, adding that she also belongs to American Legion Riders Chapter 137.
Tomasello is a lifelong member of the ALA. Her eligibility is based on the military service of her father, who belonged to Post 469 in Cleveland, Ohio. He served in the Korean War.
Please share a bit about your life as a military spouse.
I wasn’t in the Vietnam War. I didn’t serve. My war was at home. I had to be there for my veteran husband when he fought to get better in efforts to keep his leg after the cancer diagnosis. I was the one changing his bandages after he underwent skin grafts. I was the one there with him for the treatments. His anxieties. His nightmares. When he fell out of bed and wasn’t able to get up, I helped him up. When it was time to get his VA benefits and he was too tired and pained to engage in the years’ long pursuit and follow-up, I was his voice. I would never cry in front of Allen. I cried in the shower. Still, I don’t regret a moment of caring for him. It was my honor to care for him.
How does staying active in the ALA and your local Legion Family honor your husband?
I was at the post five nights a week cooking and doing what I could to serve our veterans because my husband couldn’t. I did what he asked me to do — which was to do what he couldn’t.
What wisdom can you share about surviving and thriving when faced with major adversities in life?
What got me through is knowing that no matter what I experienced, there’s always someone who has it worse. So deal with what’s in front of you. Try not to hate or stay angry. Try to find the positives and go from there.
What is the best advice you’ve received, and from whom?
We are to love one another and do for each other. I got that from my mom. I learned from the best: my mom, backed by my dad.
Who inspires you? Do you know someone with an interesting background or spectacular life story? Contact us at ALAMagazine@ALAforVeterans.org or (317) 569-4500.