John Fales, a proud marine at birth, began life in New York, in 1940. He was always a bit of a hell raiser. Having been kicked out of catholic high school prior to his graduation John decided to officially join the U.S. Marine Corps. During basic training in Paris Island, he graduated with his G.E.D. before his class mates finished high school in New York.
Fales served in the corps in Beirut and Vietnam until his retirement on disability in 1966. His decorations include Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, New York State Conspicuous Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, and South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
Following his retirement, John earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint John’s University, New York and Master of Science Degree in Education from Hofstra University, New York.
Among the numerous awards John has received are: the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service from The Freedom’s Foundation; Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee; Blinded Veterans Association’s “Irving Diener Award”; United States President’s Community Service Commendation; Chairman’s Commendation from The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped; honored by the Vietnam Veterans Civics Counsels as one (1) of Washington D.C.’s Outstanding Vietnam Veterans.
John has been honored by the Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and the Gold Star Wives, Inc.; the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program’s (VVLP) President’s Award; The Military Order of The Purple Heart; The American Legion National Commander’s Public Relation Award; The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation’s Bronze Medallion of The Legion of Honor.
The U.S. Marine Corps also honored one of their own: John was guest of honor at a sunset parade at the Iwo Jima memorial in June 2005.
John and two fellow blinded veterans started the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF) in 1985. John has been the President since its inception. Although Fales and the cofounders achieved success in their careers despite blindness, they realized that many veterans with sensory disabilities did not have, or did not take, the opportunities afforded to them. This led to the creation of the foundation and its three main goals: research, rehabilitation and reemployment. From its inception, the founders determined that the BAVF would not be a substitute for any veterans membership organization. Instead, the BAVF became a focal point and a clearinghouse for research, information dissemination, and educational efforts.
“Sgt. Shaft,” John’s pen name, was created in 1982 when he authored his nationally read column, “Sgt. Shaft.” This moniker combines the name of its creator (a former marine), with his old military title (Scout Sergeant) and the military expression when wronged, “Shafted”. The column closely mirrors Sarge’s wry sense of humor, empathy for the underdog, and his strong love of family, love of country and fellow veterans. The weekly column commenced in the “Stars & Stripes” from 1982 – 1985. It lay dormant until it was reborn in “The Washington Times” in 1991. It is now also featured on this web site, on the archives of military.com and is available on a millions of computer screens.
John Fales is a lifetime member of AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the American Legion. He is also a member of the Veterans of Foreign wars (VFW) Marine Corps League, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the National Press Club.
John has had the honor of addressing a congressional subcommittee regarding technology, specifically as it relates to the sensory disabled. Here is the full text of his statement.
John joined the ranks of federal retirees in 2006.