VETERANS GROUPS: HELPING THOSE WHO SERVED

November 09, 2001 11:00 pm
Members of the VFW. ().
Members of the VFW. ().

Veterans Day is a time to celebrate veterans and their contributions to America, but there are two groups in Brookings who celebrate those contributions all year.

The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have been active in the community for more than 40 years.

The American Legion was formed in 1919 far from American shores in Paris. The American Expeditionary Force met in France to discuss improving the morale and conditions of World War I troops who were not able to get home at that time.

Brookings American Legion Post 195 has a shorter history than the national post. It was started in 1945 and disbanded before starting again in 1960.

The post currently has 168 members with representatives from each war fought since World War I. The oldest member is World War I veteran Al Cook, who is 103.

Men and women who served in the armed forces during times of conflict are eligible to join, said Brookings Commander Bob Gilmore.

Because of the conflicts occurring with the Middle East, all members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible to join at this time, according to the American Legion Web site.

The purpose of the Legion is to ?support veterans, work at community functions, help needy veterans and function as a lobbying agency,? Gilmore said.

The Brookings post meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the VFW Hall. Its activities include working with needy veterans, giving out food baskets, providing scholarships, placing crosses on veterans? graves on Memorial Day, and working to send students to the Boys and Girls State Program.

The program is a way for students to learn about government functions. Boys go to University of Oregon in Eugene and girls go to Williamette University in Salem for one week.

The post hopes to send four to six girls and boys this year.

?It?s a learning process for them,? Gilmore said. ?We need the backing of the community. The more (businesses) we can get to sponsor (the program), the more kids can go.?

In addition to the American Legion, many veterans are members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which meets the first Wednesday of every month at the VFW Hall.

The main purpose of the group is to have a strong veterans? lobby. The group also supports veterans and their families in a variety of ways, said Richard Sloniker, commander of the Brookings VFW Post 966.

Anyone who served in action overseas is eligible to join the VFW, Sloniker said.

The VFW has about 130 members, many of whom are also American Legion members including Cook.

Activities of the Brookings post include working with the community at such events as the community picnic, raising and lowering the flag at Kalmiopsis Elementary School and performing funeral and memorial services for veterans.

The post is also the sponsor of the Voice of Democracy essay contest and a patriotic art contest.

Sloniker said the post also tries to educate young people.

?We?ve got a generation who grew up without understanding that freedom comes at a high price,? he said.

Sloniker said the post needs new members to assist with many of its activities.

?We?re honored to provide burials for veterans, but we need people to join so we can field a ceremonial team (for the burials),? he said.

For those who have already joined the American Legion, VFW or both, it is the camaraderie of the groups that draws them in.

Chuck Fuller has been a member of the American Legion and VFW for nearly 55 years. He?s served in several offices since joining the organizations including post commander for the American Legion and state commander of the VFW.

Fuller served in World War II from 1942 to 1946 as a gunner?s mate in the Coast Guard.

?I (was involved in) every invasion from North Africa to France,? he said.

The most interesting thing he saw was a ?beautiful display of fireworks,? when the Germans bombed an ammunition storage area.

Later, he experienced the difficulty of death when two shipmates were lost. They were sent to search for mines at a harbor in Marseille where the Germans had sunk several ships.

When he pulled into the harbor ?It was a sea of masts sticking up out of the water,? Fuller said.

He joined the American Legion for ?The camaraderie more than anything and the chance to help the families of the people who didn?t come back,? he said.

?A lot of people think veterans go to the hall, drink and tell war stories and that couldn?t be farther from the truth.

?We have many projects,? he said.

Those projects include transporting people to the VA hospitals and giving meals to needy vets. The VFW recently sent phone cards to veterans as well.

Among his reasons for joining both groups, Charles Lingard counts the camaraderie highest as well.

?The camaraderie mostly. There is some war story telling,? he said.

James Balogh was a Navy veteran who joined the military in 1935 and retired 20 years later after serving in World War II. His son, a Vietnam veteran, urged him to join the VFW.

Both posts have auxiliaries for family members of veterans.

Both the American Legion, the VFW and their auxiliaries urge eligible veterans and members to join. For information on the American Legion, call Bob Gilmore at (541) 469-0299. The VFW can be contacted through Richard Sloniker at (541) 469-9362.