In recent months, many people have asked themselves and friends, “Where would we be without our dedicated military men and women?” The question is especially asked when Veterans Day on November 11 approaches.
Craig County has been blessed to have some of the “best of the best” in military personnel. Not only did they serve our country, but they continue to serve our community with “heart and concern.”
Many are individuals who have stepped up when something has needed to be done while others have joined groups and helped as a unit, like the VFW Post #4491 Veterans in Craig.
Last month, the Craig Valley Post #4491 received the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Diamond Jubilee Award for 75 years of service, mastered October 8, 1945.
It states: “In special commemoration and grateful recognition of its 75 years of exceptional service to the nation and its veterans throughout its 7 ½ decades of dedicated support for the programs and purposes of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.”
“As the nation’s oldest major Veteran’s Organization, the Veterans of Foreign War, VFW, has an impeccable and longstanding record of service and stewardship,” states the VFW website. “More than four million patriot Americans, both members and non-members, entrust the VFW with financial contributions and millions of volunteer hours.”
The Veterans of Foreign War holds a sacred place in many service persons hearts within the USA and it holds the same heartfelt commitment with the Veterans in Craig County.
“It connects you with comrades that are closer than some family,” said Post Commander Billy Lee. “When you go through war together, it connects you in a way that others have a difficult time understanding sometimes.”
VFW member Kenneth “Sparky” Stull shared that he was happy that the Veterans are treated differently today than they were during Vietnam.
“I’d say it was like that except for one little pocket of the country and that was the Craig County,” Lee shared. “They have always been patriotic and when you went into the service you were still a hero to them.”
Stull was drafted in 1967. “I had signed up for the Navy and was on the waiting list, but in the meantime, I got drafted into the Air Force to Fort Bragg in 1968,” he said. “We were the support unit for Vietnam, bringing in the Army Supply Truck.”
Navy Veteran Ken Looney started boot camp at Great Lakes Illinois in 1966. Through thankful tears, he shared one of his stories. “I’ll give you an example,” he said before adding, “I came home for a weekend in the early 80s to get a county sticker, as I was stationed in Maryland.”
At that time BB McPherson was the sheriff and he saw Looney downtown, he told him he was happy to see him and that he was glad he was home. He also asked Looney why he was in town. “I come to get a county sticker,” Looney explained.
McPherson asked him why and Looney responded, “Because it ran out.” Sheriff McPherson proceeded to take the sticker from Looney’s hand, give him the money it cost him from his pocket and said, “You don’t need one as long as you are serving.”
“Many of us didn’t ask to go to in the war, as we were drafted,” Stull said but quickly added, ” but I’d do it all again though.”
Craig County’s local VFW Post #4491 was chartered on October 8, 1945. They first started meeting in the home of a community Veteran, Keith Ring. Later, the VFW obtained a home on the backside of Scratch Ankle until 1976 when they were able to purchase 4.8 acres of wooded land behind Camp Mitchell and build the first part of their post in 1977-1978. They finished the rest of the building three years later.
During those years, they raised most of their monies at the Fairgrounds during the festive annual fairs.
Later the highway department was working on the main road and needed more dirt, so they cleared out the back lot behind of the VFW building. Before that, the backlot was only about three feet from the roofline.
Members shared that the buildings were built completely by the members themselves, except for the new part where they hired a mason to lay the block.
The current VFW officers are: Post Commander Billy Lee, Senior Vice Commander Bruce Warf, Vice Commander Denise White – Jr., Quarter Mater Bill Burleson, Chaplain Ken Looney, Officer of the Day Drew Watson, Advocate Bodie Huffman and Post Surgeon Danny Kendall who visits Veterans in the hospital.
Lee shared that because of the tenacity of the VFW, the Veterans have benefits they would have never received otherwise.
“They were one of the first groups to fight for the pensions and the establishment of the V.A. Hospital,” he said. “We, as the local VFW consider our biggest mission to assist any Veteran or families of Veterans in helping them with any needs and guiding them through the process to get assistance from the VA.”
The VFW website states that they have 7,188 VFW posts worldwide with almost two million members of the VFW’s, including auxiliary members, over 12 million volunteer hours have been contributed by VFW members annually as well as almost $50 million donated annually to local community service projects by VFW members.
There are many projects and services the Craig Valley VFW Post 4491 have been or are still active in:
- Youth Essay contests, Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy
- Memorial Day and Veterans Day services, Prepper’s Festival, Fall Festival and Christmas Parade (One year for Veterans Day, the VFW joined the school and paid for all of the Veterans entrance fees to the football game)
- Presented the Colors for the baseball and softball games and for several of the football games
- Purchased new State flags for the schools
- Present the Teacher of the Year award for all three schools
- Host the Shooting Stars at their facility
- Host the Annual Veterans and Active Military HONOR Dinners
- Sell the Buddy Poppies
- Collect food for the food bank (and built them new shelves)
- Participate in the monthly Feeding America and weekly Fishes and Loaves feeding ministry
- On standby for Oakey’s Funeral Home and others to give a military funeral to their comrades
- Present the Policeman of the Year, Fireman of the Year and EMT worker of the Year awards
- Members are on the Rescue Squad Board and the Clinic Board
- Support lobby’s in Washington for Veterans benefits
Veteran Paul Moore who has since passed once shared, “Whether you are eligible to the VFW or not, getting out and doing what you can for other Veterans and their families is what it is all about. Serving on active duty is pride in your country but serving after you get out in helping other Veterans and their families is something even more special.”
Lee, the current Postmaster, who joined the Marines in June of 1968, said, “I was sent to Paris Island, Vietnam, in August of 1968. I was in the Infantry, assigned 2nd battalion – 3rd Marines and was assigned to patrol DMZ and up and down Laos. We never came in, we just patrolled.”
Lee has been a VFW member since 1992. “Our mission is to continue to be more involved in our community and continue to support our local Veterans in whatever capacity we can,” he said.
“Any Veterans that are not VFW members can call us if they need help too,” Stull noted. Looney added that the home office also can give assistance and offers a place where a Veteran can go for assistance.
“Sometimes combat Veterans have an issue of trust with civilians or don’t speak well or understand,” Lee explained. “I can tell you that one time over there in Nam, we got ambushed and the river started running red.”
He shared that when you speak words like that to civilians that they are unable to respond to such extreme and horrific situations.
The local VFW is set up to support all Veterans. “You feel closer to combat Veterans,” Stull said. “You can come and talk and be understood,” Looney added. “It’s just something you have together,” Stull agreed.
“You think your high school friends will be your best buddies forever, but after you spend a year with someone in those wartime situations, they become just like family,” Lee shared. “There is a tie between combat Veterans that is different.”
The VFW Hall is available for rent to the public for special occasions, meetings and family get-togethers for $25 for one hour, $40 for two hours and $75 for all-day (additional $25 if VFW takes trash away). There are lower rates for Veteran members.
The VFW members work diligently to take care of their post and they have been greatly appreciative of all who have helped them the last few years in getting heat and air conditioning and a system that made their water usable.
A couple things on their “wish list” is attention to their long driveway and they hope to eventually have a lighted sign.
Veterans of all ages are welcome to join the local VFW. “We are trying to encourage the younger ones and women to join the VFW so they can help us to set up things their families would have need of,” Lee explained. Though words do not have to be said, their strong motto of ‘being there for one another’ speaks ever so loudly.
For information on how to join the local VFW, Craig County Veterans may talk with any of its members or contact Billy Lee at (540) 864-6169 or visit www.vfw.org.
Support your local Veteran by showing your care this November 11, as many have proclaimed, “What stronger shoulders than those of a Veteran?”