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Veterans come to the aid of young military family struggling with tragedy

ELLENTON — The military has a culture of taking care of its own.

When Gary Fiochetta, past commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9226 in Ellenton, heard that a military couple living in Wimauma had lost their 22-month-old son in a drowning accident April 14, he felt he had to help.

Finances for the family were tough. The father, Spc. Vincente Clark, was serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, and the mother, Giovanna Clark, who previously served in Iraq, was a student. The couple had to put their son David’s funeral on a credit card.

Fiochetta heard about the tragedy from Laurie O’Brien, of Palmetto, who works with David’s grandmother, Angelica Martinez, as a server at Popi’s Place Too in Palmetto.

The Clarks were devastated by their son’s death, and Vincente Clark had to be escorted home from Iraq, Fiochetta said.

He has since been reassigned to Fort Drum, N.Y.

Fiochetta has spearheaded a benefit set for 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday behind VFW Post 9226 and American Legion Post 325, 3511 12th St. E., Ellenton.

The two posts are working together to raise money to help the family pay for the funeral expenses.

“This is a good, hard-working family and they need to be back together,” Fiochetta said.

“We’re hoping that Vincente gets to come down,” Fiochetta said.

Giovanna Clark and her mother, Angelica Martinez, met at O’Brien’s home Wednesday as final preparations were being made for the benefit.

Giovanna Clark is overwhelmed by the generous spirit of strangers.

“I think it’s wonderful. I didn’t ask them to help,” she said, breaking down in mid-sentence.

Bob Green, of Manasota Operation Troop, said his organization is aware of the benefit and is trying to do what it can to assist, even though Wimauma is outside the area MOTS supports. “The veterans community is working to help this family through a tragedy,” Green said.

Fiochetta, a 58-year-old Vietnam War vet, said the benefit will feature headline band The Arch performing on a flatbed truck. Food sales, raffles and auctions, and a $5 per person admission fee will be used to raise money for the family.

Laurie O’Brien said a collection jar at Popi’s Too already contains $1,000 for the family.

Martinez said the family has wonderful friends who have stuck with them throughout their ordeal.

“I want to say thank you to Gary and Laurie,” she said. “We are all together. Everyone is supportive.”

For more information, call (941) 981-3819.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.