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Compassion Common Trait Among New Members Of Arizona Veterans Hall Of Fame

For Veterans Day, we introduce you to some of the newest members of the Arizona’s Veterans Hall of Fame and find out how they all share a common bond: a compassion to help others, particularly fellow vets.

Robert E. Conte, Army Veteran, Sun City West

“When we first came out here, I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, and I couldn’t even pronounce Huachuca, you know,” Conte said. 

Conte came from upstate New York to what was a new world in Arizona back in the 1970s.

It was right after his whole world changed while serving in the Army.

“I fell 60-foot-plus off a utility pole, and I was in pretty bad shape. It was interesting because they had to teach me how to walk all over again and everything else," he said. 

His father, a World War II vet, knew what he had to do.

“I spent three months in the hospital. They sent me home. My father said ‘get in the car, son.’ I said ‘where we going?’ He said, ‘don’t worry, we’re gonna go someplace that’s going to make you happy," Conte said. 

That place was the local chapter of Disabled Veterans of America. And Bob Conte has been a member ever since, as a service officer at the DAV assisting fellow vets who’ve gone through similar tough times.

“It’s veterans helping veterans, and that’s what it’s all about. And as service officer, we take care of everybody," he said. 

In fact, that seems to be a common bond among the 25 new members of Arizona’s Veterans Hall of Fame 

Larry Leighton, Army veteran, Sun City West

“The terrain is different, but the combat situation is the same. A lot of the guys don’t understand that and don’t know how to talk about it," Leighton said. 

Leighton was an Army colonel who served for 28 years.

He now devotes his time raising money for veterans charities while doing outreach in the community.

“It’s better if they do go out and find their peers and talk to not only their counterparts, but us older guys, too, because we’re all part of the service and we can all relate," he said. 

Leighton is a firm believer in service after service.

“I’m always trying to recruit veterans to get out and do something for their city, their communities and pass on the knowledge that they learned in the service," Leighton said. 

Bruce E. Hamilton, Army veteran, Sonoita

Hamilton found his calling on the streets of Tucson addressing a persistent crisis among those who served.

“We probably have about 220 or so veterans probably on the streets down there every night now. And it’s an ongoing problem. We are making strides in it every year, but it’s not getting any less — the problem is still there,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton, who served in the Navy and then the Arizona National Guard, said his post-service career helping homeless vets get back on their feet has meant even more.

“I would say that this is the most fulfilling experience of my life. The giving back that I’m doing right now is really from the heart. It really means a lot to all of us to help these guys get off the streets and back into society," he said. 

John Travis Burns, Army veteran, Phoenix

“I work in the areas of moral injury and veterans suicide," Burns said. 

Burns, who’s spent most of his life in Arizona, is a combat veteran having served as an Army infantryman in the Gulf War. A few years ago, he began volunteering with the group Be Connected, a statewide initiative to help vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I’ve had my own experiences with suicidal thoughts, suicidal ideation, and what have you — so I’m familiar with the entire spectrum of what it’s like to be in that space. So, I’d like to be able to help other veterans find their way out of that," Burns said. 

Burns also has worked with the Phoenix VA Hospital’s Mental Health advocacy council.

He said he’s just there to listen. But does the listening help him, too?

“It does, because it helps me to check myself to say that the experiences I’ve had — the way that I feel — that I’m not crazy as well. It’s not so much what I do for veterans — It’s what they do for me,” Burns said. 

A list of all the new inductees and members of the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame can be found at  avhof.org.

Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.