By RONALD ‘YANA’ SELF
Elmer G. “Geronimo” Pratt, an early leader of San Quentin’s Vietnam veterans group and a decorated paratrooper, died at his home in Tanzania, according to his sister. He was 63 years old.
Pratt was a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans Group San Quentin (V.V.G.S.Q.), established in 1986. He volunteered to join the Army and served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam, where he was awarded a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for bravery in combat, and two Purple Hearts for combat wounds.
V.V.G.S.Q. started as a forum for incarcerated veterans to discuss issues related to being in prison and their experiences as Vietnam veterans.
It evolved to include many programs that enrich the lives of veterans at San Quentin and in California’s 31 other prisons.
Programs include Operation MOM, which makes packages for troops currently deployed, Toys for Tots, providing toys for the children in the community who are undergoing cancer treatment, and assists with the “Ronald McDonald House” while the children undergo treatment.
There is also a scholarship program that assists students with tuition, and Stamps for Soldiers. The used stamps that are sent to Walter Reid Hospital where physical therapist use them in eye-hand coordination exercises for wounded vets.
Another program to help veterans directly is Veterans Issues Group (V.I.G.), geared directly at the veterans themselves. The Veterans Administration supports V.I.G. The Veterans Information Project (V.I.P.) assists incarcerated veterans with housing, job training, upgrading benefits — pretty much anything a veteran has coming that can help him re-establish himself or herself back into the community in a productive manner.
Pratt spent 27 years in prison. An Orange County Superior Court judge overturned his case in 1997. He ruled that prosecutors at Pratt’s murder trial concealed evidence that could have lead to his acquittal. A federal judge later approved a $4.5 million settlement in Pratt’s false-imprisonment and civil rights lawsuit.
Pratt was also an early member of the Black Panther movement, where he was given the nickname “Geronimo” by Alprentice “Bunch” Carter, another member of the movement.