COMPASSION IS THIS WOMAN’S VOCATION
By Bruce Andriatch
Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY
WASHINGTON - You know George Bailey, right? Tall guy. Lives in Bedford Falls. Runs the Building & Loan. Had a really weird Christmas back in the Forties, and they keep showing a movie about it on TV called It's A Wonderful Life.
Forget everything you've seen. George Bailey incarnate lives in Washington, D.C., and he is a she. Her name is Carmella LaSpada and she doesn't run a Building & Loan. Her business dispenses compassion under the name No Greater Love.
Like the movie character on whom her life seems eerily based, Carmella LaSpada had a wonderful life all lined up when fate stepped in with other plans for her. She would not be a successful television feature reporter/producer as she had planned. She would start an organization that provided support for the families of victims of war and terrorism. Every time a tragedy happened, she would be there for the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters. She would coordinate remembrances of tragedies on their anniversaries, forcing Americans to remember things most would just as soon forget; Challenger, Pan Am Flight 103, Beirut, Gander, Hostages. (Excerpt from article written in 1991)
It began with a promise to remember... Carmella's rendezvous with destiny.
Carmella LaSpada had planned a television career until fate, in the form of a black scarf, stepped in with other plans. In 1967, while on a USO tour in Southeast Asia as a White House Special Projects Aide, she met a young, dying medic who would change her life and set her on a mission that has continued ever since. During a battle in Vietnam, this medic desperately tried to save 35 of his wounded comrades, but tragically saw each of them die in his arms before he, himself, was brought down.
As Carmella sat by him offering companionship, he pleaded with her, "Promise you will do something so that the men who died, and their families, will never be forgotten." With tears in his eyes, he handed Carmella a black scarf - a symbol of his unit - to seal this promise. To keep her promise, Carmella founded No Greater Love, a humanitarian, non-profit organization.
With the support of the AFL-CIO, National Building and Construction Trades Department, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers, International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, No Greater Love, a patriotic organization for over forty (40) years, has honored our fallen, our troops, our veterans and their families.
It is the first group in the country solely dedicated to families, particularly children, of those who gave their lives in service to their country in wars, conflicts, incidents, or by acts of terrorism since the founding of our Nation.
To her, each act of remembrance is more than giving back. It's a nation coming together in strength and unity; to live up to what America is all about.
Her enduring mission is touching the memory, conscience, and heart of America. There is no greater force than this woman with an idea that benefits someone else.
Ask Carmella and she will say - her life is based on a really true story!.......
Carmella La Spada
Carmella, born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, is the oldest of three children, the daughter of Elizabeth, a homemaker, and Joseph LaSpada, a barber. "The guiding rule among my father, mother, brother, Tony, and sister, Cathy, and me, was love-love of family, love of friends, love of country, and love of God.
Carmella's career in philanthropy began at age 10, when she organized a successful project to raise $100.00 to send her hometown's Little League team to the league's World Series playoffs. In high school, as Student Council President, she initiated and led a campaign that raised $10,000 for a fellow high school student football player who was paralyzed by a football injury during a school game.
Karl Agan, her high school principal wrote of her, "In my 41 years of education, I know that I can say without any reservation that I have never met a student - boy or girl - who has been completely unselfish as has Carmella. She has a finer concept of brotherhood and human understanding than many of us who call ourselves adults."
When Carmella was a junior at Penn State and a fellow student broke his back and became paralyzed on a trampoline, she initiated and organized a week-long fundraiser of various activities, the first effort of its kind to take place in the history of the university, that culminated in a concert by the Kingston Trio, which raised $10,000.
In her senior year at Penn State, Carmella established the first "United Nations Week" at Penn State. During this special week, she created events in which American and foreign students at the university worked together. For better understanding, she planned educational forums; exhibits, religious observances, and international music and food festivals. These highly successful events led to special UN recognition of Penn State as a contributor to peace, freedom and understanding among college students.
In 1960, before embarking on a career, Carmella organized a Children's Olympic Day Celebration for the City of Philadelphia to support our U.S. Olympic Team with the help of John B. Kelly, brother of Princess Grace of Monaco. Thousands of youngsters participated in 125 events that she organized, and $5,000 was raised for the U.S. Team. All because she didn't have anything to do that summer!
Carmella headed for the Nation's capital where her dream was to work for President John F. Kennedy and that's exactly what she did.
Hired as a Special Projects Aide, she coordinated the first White House Seminar
, a summer intern program for college students and one of the most successful youth projects to come out of the Kennedy Administration.
During that time, she was also selected as Miss Pennsylvania in the National Cherry Blossom Festival. She was the first person to work at the White House and be selected as a Cherry Blossom Princess in the Festival.
As a White House Special Projects Aide, she took to heart President Kennedy's words that "It's a privilege to be an American, and along with that privilege comes an obligation."
Carmella's concern has not been confined to the young. In 1964, at Georgetown University, she organized a Thanksgiving Day Salute Dinner for Older Americans
who live alone or have no family nearby. This successful event hosted 500 elderly persons each year and took 300 dinners to shut-ins. More than 18,000 senior citizens participated in these dinners over the next 35 years.
Carmella was highly regarded as a visionary, innovator and a patriot with boundless energy, passion, and a sense of humor, whose unique mission continues to expand and make a difference. She served in three presidential administrations over a period of nine years.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, because Carmella realized the young, wounded troops in military hospitals and the VA were very lonely she lined up celebrities and athletes to visit them.
In 1973, with the return of POWs from Vietnam, she initiated the "National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans"
which was officially adopted by the Veterans Administration in 1979. It is still an ongoing tribute to this day.
No Greater Love
In 1971, with the help of such superstars as Ted Williams, Johnny Unitas, Jack Nicklaus, and Jesse Owens, she organized America's Athletes for POWs-MIAs
, and created programs to help lift the spirits of the children of POWs and MIAs and those killed in Southeast Asia.
In 1973, with no assets other than a fierce conviction, she knew that something had to be done for the children of the fallen. Carmella created No Greater Love
. The concept was to bring families together so they could meet other families who shared the same grief and somehow come to find hope and meaning in their personal loss.
No Greater Love became the only organization in the country dedicated to providing annual remembrances for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in wars, incidents, conflicts, or acts of terrorism.
Millions know of No Greater Love's work, but few know its name. The fact that this organization remembers, long after others have forgotten, is a mark of its uniqueness.
With the steadfast support of the Vietnam Veterans of the Iron Workers International Union, No Greater Love conducts over 34 annual tributes at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery
to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in American conflicts, wars, and incidents throughout history from the Revolutionary War to the present, as well as victims of terrorism. No Greater Love is the only group in history to do this.
Since 1973, Carmella has initiated and organized hundreds of annual tributes bringing together families of those who have died in wars, conflicts, or by an act of terrorism, such as the Beirut bombings and the attack on the USS Stark.
In 1974, during the Iran hostage crisis, Penne Laingen, the wife of U.S. Ambassador Bruce Laingen, tied a yellow ribbon to a tree outside her home. Carmella wanted to help make this a national symbol and had 10,000 lapel pins with yellow ribbons made which she sent to the families of the 53 hostages and over 900 TV weather forecasters. AFL-CIO Unions, Ironworkers, Firefighters, Sheet Metal Workers, and Painters, paid for the pins. Her innovation may have begun the tradition of wearing a ribbon
for many causes in this country.
No Greater Love was also a support group to the families of the hostages in Lebanon
. During the hostage crisis in Lebanon (1988-1991), Carmella held 33 events for the families to ensure that they would not be forgotten. She organized the homecoming upon their return to America.
In 2004, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, she initiated and produced, with the help of internationally known sand sculptors from each of our allied nations, the first ever historic sand sculpture on Omaha Beach in Normandy
, France, honoring the fallen of the Invasion. It was a 30 foot by 30 foot, life-sized sculpture, composed of 50 tons of sand from the five beaches, depicting the landing of the troops to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.
In 2006, she initiated the "Time of Remembrance,"
a ceremony held at the Washington Monument grounds on the National Mall, uniting over 3,000 family members from throughout the country who lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Carmella worked in initiating, with the French Embassy, the recognition of African-American troops
who were part of the Normandy Invasion during World War II to receive the Legion of Honor Award from France on the 65th Anniversary of the Invasion.
The list of well-known people who have participated in her many efforts through the years reads like a National "Who's Who." To name a few - Hank Aaron, Dear Abby, Arthur Ashe, Kevin Bacon, Tony Bennett, General Omar Bradley, Frank Capra, Billy Crystal, Walter Cronkite, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Joe Frazier, Dustin Hoffman, Gregory Peck, Ross Perot, Cal Ripken, Jr., Charlton Heston, Joe Namath, General Colin Powell, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Unitas, Ted Williams, along with Members of Congress, Cabinet Secretaries, Medal of Honor recipients, military officials, ambassadors, union leaders, journalists, cartoonists, and stars of the entertainment and sports world.
The Pledge of Peace
In 1985, in her effort to promote peace, she launched the No Greater Love Pledge of Peace
program. More than half a million children in one hundred countries signed the Pledge committing themselves to fostering peace during their lifetimes. The space shuttle Challenger carried the Pledge of Peace laser videodisc, which contained the children's signatures and as one of the few items recovered from the Challenger explosion, now resides in the Smithsonian.
Carmella as Founder of No Greater Love initiated the first international tribute and dedicated a memorial to those who gave their lives during the Korean War
She is responsible for the memorial in Arlington Cemetery honoring journalists who lost their lives covering wars or conflicts
Since 1983, No Greater Love has initiated and dedicated 11 memorials at Arlington National Cemetery
. No Greater Love is the only organization in the history of Arlington that has more than one memorial.
National Moment of Remembrance
In 1996, a few days before Memorial Day, Carmella met with a group of schoolchildren touring Washington D.C. and asked them, on a whim, what Memorial Day meant to them. When they responded, "It's the day the pools open," she became determined to reinforce the meaning of Memorial Day and ensure that those who died for our country would not be forgotten. She initiated the National Moment of Remembrance
and worked to have it officially established by Congress through Public Law 106-579 in 2000.
White House Commission on Remembrance
As Director of the White House Commission on Remembrance
(2001-2010) established by Congress, she initiated the Gold Medal of Remembrance. The medal was given to recognize and honor children who lost a parent in service to our country in Iraq or Afghanistan. This medal reminds everyone that casualties are found on the home front as well as the battlefield.
Carmella has been described by those who know her as "a compassionate crusader," "a one-woman whirlwind who sees a need...then rushes forward to fulfill it," "a guardian of remembrance," "She has made her life's work to ensure that America's fallen will not be forgotten."
Former Marine Corps Commandant Charles C. Krulak called her "a combination of Mother Teresa and a Marine Drill Sergeant. It takes the qualities of both personalities to accomplish what she has accomplished."
Some of Her Honors and Awards
- U. S. Special Operations Command Medal (only woman to be awarded this honor)
Ellis Island Medal of Honor
- U.S. Marine Corps League Dickey Chapelle Award
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce of Enterprise Award
- VFW Women's Auxiliary
- "Service Above Self" Award by the Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame
- Washingtonian of the Year
- Rotary Club Humanitarian Award - The first non-Rotarian in its 70-year history to receive the Rotary Clubs Paul Harris Fellow Award
- NIAF Award - National Italian American Foundation Humanitarian Award
- Pioneer Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners Capitol Area Chapter
- Veterans Ensemble Theater Company Special Achievement Award (Vetty Award 1989)
- WETA Women of Achievement Award
- Showcase Award from the American Legion Auxiliary
- Penn State College of Education Alumni Society Leadership Service Award (1991)
- Penn State College of Liberal Arts Service to Society Award (1995)
- Korean War Veterans Association Award
- World War II Orphans Network Appreciation Award
- The American Association of Minority Veterans Program Administrators, Inc. Woman of the Year Award
- Cardinal Newman Service Award