Helping, outreach, camaraderie, pride, community service, and bond are just some of the words veterans use to describe their membership to Newtown’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 308. And as Post Adjutant Walter Dolan said, “It feels good” to be a part of the organization, “Absolutely.”
Sunday, March 2, is a special day for Newtown’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 308. One of the state’s oldest VFWs, Post 308 — established in 1939 — will be celebrating 75 years with a Diamond Jubilee. The public, post members, and prospective new members can enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and cake, starting at 1 pm at the post, located on Freedom Defenders Way (formerly 18 Tinkerfield Road), off Mile Hill Road. Past Connecticut State Commander Ed Zamm (1960-61) will present a citation from the National VFW Commander-in-Chief during the afternoon event.
“I send my sincere thanks and appreciation to the members of VFW Post 308 for the outstanding record of service to the community, veterans, and to the nation over the past 75 years,” William A. Thien, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said in a recent press release.
Founded in March 1939, the Newtown Post is the eighth oldest in Connecticut. Since its inception, members have extended support to veterans and their families, and participate in community, municipal, and school outreach programs. The post now has roughly 170 members.
An article from The Newtown Bee issue of February 10, 1939, documents the post’s formation.
“A Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars, was formed in Newtown on Monday evening when about 35 veterans gathered at the fire house to start the organization,” the newspaper reported. Robert D. Fairchild “was elected commander of the post, the name of which was chosen as the Charles Howard Peck Sr and Jr Post in Tribute to Newtown’s distinguished war surgeon and his son, Charles Howard Peck Jr, who died in France.”
According to the article, other founding members included Herbert Beers, Hubert Carey, James Crick, Martin Dodge, James Diamond, Benjamin Ferris, Jerome Jackson, John McCarthy, Charles Neilson, Leslie Olmstead, James Peck, Arthur Smith, and William Weiss. At that time, the post had invited “all veterans who have not joined yet” to attend upcoming meetings, the article stated.
The post was formally chartered the following month.
Since that time, the post, members, and supporters have grown into an organization that is involved in multiple community outreach programs. Members have also assisted fellow veterans in finding the help they need through the local Veterans Affairs hospital.
Newtown VFW and its men’s and ladies’ auxiliaries collaborate with schools for Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations.
The post sponsors writing contests including Patriot Pen for students in grades 6-8 and Voice of Democracy for high school students. Participants compete for post championships and prizes, and then post winners compete for state and national prizes.
VFW and auxiliary members visit regularly with veterans at Masonicare of Newtown and support the state veterans home in Rocky Hill. Members annually place new flags on the graves of all deceased military before Memorial Day. Old, unusable American flags are retired with the help of the Boy Scouts on Flag Day each year.
Newtown VFW has also responded to help others during times of need, including within the past 14 months support for local first responders after 12/14; outreach to tornado victims in Moore, Okla.; and outreach to Sparks, Nev., after a school shooting.
Members shared their impressions about what the VFW has meant to them:
Commander James Rebman served in the US Navy from 1983 to 1988, submarine duty; and with the USAF Reserve from 1995 to 2012, returning as a master sergeant.
He joined the VFW in 2002 after returning from his first deployment in Operation Ensuing Freedom.
For Mr Rebman, the VFW is a “place/organization/social club for our veterans.” He said, “Those of us that served have a bond that only we understand, whether we served in World War II or recently.” He also used the word “brotherhood,” to describe the VFW.
He said the post priority “is to serve the veterans, represent the military at remembrance ceremonies and holidays celebrated in the community such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and parades.
As post commander, he said, “I take a lot of satisfaction and pride in all that we [veterans] still do for the community.” A veteran serves this country and through the VFW, “We still [serve] by being a positive influence in the Newtown community.”
His experience as commander has been both challenging and rewarding, he said.
“My officers and myself put a lot of hours into volunteering, but it is worth it when we are helping the community,” said Mr Rebman.
His leadership experience from the military has assisted him in running the post, which he compares to “running a business that’s open to the public seven days a week.” His personal motto for the VFW is “Serving those that served.”
During his time in the post, members have provided annual scholarships, sponsored baseball teams, and raised money for the veterans mural at Newtown Municipal Center, which includes veterans names in a large artwork by painter David Merrill. The mural was hung last year, and formally dedicated in November.
Donna A. Monteleone Randle served as a US Army captain, and joined the post two years ago. She is active with student-related topics such as Valentines For Troops — one of several efforts to send supplies overseas. She is also involved with student scholarship programs such as the Patriot Pen writing contest, and Voice of Democracy, a national scholarship contest. She also works to provide scholarships to members’ children and grandchildren.
The student contests are “near and dear to my heart,” she said. She enjoys “helping young people to understand what makes their country great and why it is great.”
She feels the VFW “gives people an opportunity to participate in the community and doing things that interest them.”
She also said, “Getting to know VFW members is perhaps an opportunity to connect them with people in Newtown.” Outreach is a part of what she and other members do, including visits to Masonicare of Newtown to work with residents. Ms Randle is also involved with continued support for the town’s first responders after 12/14.
She sees benefits of “the community helping veterans and veterans helping the community,” she said. “It’s all about helping each other, and I think that’s what the VFW tries to bring.”
VFW Service Officer Jay Gill was in the Navy from 1968 to 1972, serving in Vietnam and spending time on patrol boat along the country’s rivers. A member of the VFW, he said, “I got back into it about six years ago.” His reasons? “There are a lot of benefits available to us, and the VFW helps make us aware of that.”
He also enjoys his work with the community and helping hands extended to younger veterans. “We are trying to do as much as we can for the community and for the kids coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.
Unlike military members returning from Vietnam who were greeted by an often hostile public that opposed the war, Mr Gill likes to welcome returning service members. Of the soldiers returning, he said, “You have to let them come to you, then we can help them out and get them into the [Veterans Affairs] programs.” Mr Gill said that the VA offers medical benefits especially for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example.
For him, the VFW is also a means of camaraderie.
“You can go to the VFW hall and be with people who know what you have been through and they understand,” he said.
Post Vice Commander Brendan Dlouhy joined the Army National Guard in 1982, and was in the infantry through college. He was later on active duty as an Army captain, and served as a scout helicopter pilot in operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990–91. Mr Dlouhy joined the VFW while in Germany in 1991 upon return from Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
What prompted him to become involved with the post?
“Just being very proud of my service and seeing fellow veterans who were members, and how there was camaraderie, a brotherhood,” he said. “Anyone who has served in combat, you form a brotherhood and the VFW is an extension of that. It’s guys who have been there and done that before you, who are doing it now, and will do it in the future. It’s a passing of the torch”
He said the VFW “tries to make things as good as possible” for those who serve in the future.
Through the VFW, he has been involved in fundraising, “a favorite,” he said. Golf tournaments, for instance raise funds for VFW.
Regarding visits to Masonicare at Newtown, he said, “That’s really important… we visit with them the third Thursday of the month, we play bingo, cards, we keep it different.”
Post Adjutant Walter Dolan served in the Army Reserve from 1988 until 1994 and was deployed for Operation Desert Storm. An IT person, he maintains the Newtown VFW website, and also the state’s VFW website.
“I was always looking for community service, so for me that was a natural path,” Mr Dolan said of what drew his interest to the VFW. He enjoys his part in helping with the student programs of Patriot Pen and Voices of Democracy. Mr Dolan also hopes he can promote the VFW.
Memberships are dwindling, he said.
“It’s changed, and we need to market differently now for this generation,” he said, adding a Facebook page and new websites “could appeal to younger veterans.”
Other opportunities to participate became clear once he joined.
“You actually build skills for yourself for fundraising and websites; everyone has their niche, and that helps,” said Mr Dolan.
He likes working with Boy Scouts, and being involved in the community, and seeing students attend Veterans Day services at the post.
“It’s nice seeing people being involved,” he said.
Past Post Commander Ernest “Junie” Ingram served as commander of VFW Post 308 a total of 14 years, 1995 to 1998 and 2000 to 2011. He now lives in Florida. He was in the Navy from 1959 until 1962, which included service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “right on the front line,” he said.
His experience with the VFW enriched life “in a lot of ways,” he said. Mr Ingram “met a lot of veterans, and learned a lot about other veterans’ organizations, how they help people. And they do help a lot of people.”
Regarding the Newtown post activities, he said, “I used to like the kids’ Christmas parties that we had.” He also liked “just helping people out.” While he was involved with the post, he and other members worked to improve the VFW location.
“When I took over, [the post] was downstairs with just two cellar windows, that was it.” Today the downstairs is occasionally used, but the post and bar are located upstairs with a large covered deck outdoors where many ceremonies take place. Memorial and Veterans Day services are also held outside on the post grounds.
“So I made the place better overall, which gave me quite a bit of satisfaction,” Mr Ingram said.
He formed friendships “that will last forever,” through the organization, “and not just with our VFW, but in the state.”
Glad to see the post preparing for its 75th anniversary celebration, Mr Ingram said, “Every year it’s doing more and more for the community. Now that we got the post where we want it, we can put more into the community.”
From his home in Florida he joked that he would not be attending the upcoming celebration.
“It’s going to be 85 and sunny” at his home, he said. Mr Ingram plans to attend an outdoor seafood festival instead.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is a nonprofit veterans’ service organization composed of combat veterans and eligible military service members from the active, Guard and Reserve forces. Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is the nation’s largest organization of war veterans and its oldest major veterans’ organization, with nearly two million VFW and auxiliary members located in more than 7,000 posts worldwide.
The VFW and its auxiliaries are dedicated to veterans’ service, legislative advocacy, and military and community service programs worldwide.
New members are always welcome. The website states: “Consider joining us and put your skills to good use. Continue the good work you started as a service member and join us in helping your fellow comrades and community.
For information about the post and its activities, information on eligibility requirements and more, visit www.vfwpost308.com.
Newtown Post 308 is also on Facebook (VFW Post 308 Newtown CT).
All are welcome to Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration at Newtown Post 308, but reservations are being requested. Send e-mail to email@example.com.