Legion, VFW making a difference in the communityAs the United States prepares to observe its 232nd birthday Friday, our nation’s military deserves credit for helping achieve this celebration.
By: Jason Schulte, Pierce County Herald
As the United States prepares to observe its 232nd birthday Friday, our nation’s military deserves credit for helping achieve this celebration.
And even though their military service may be done, those who have served still give back to their community and country by being a member of the American Legion or Veterans for Foreign Wars (VFW).
Eligibility for the two groups is simple, yet complex. For the American Legion, it’s open to anyone who has served in a military branch (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force) under wartime period and who has also been honorably discharged. For the VFW, it’s for veterans who have served in a foreign war. In addition, they must either currently be on active duty or on reserves, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces. Therefore, it is possible servicemen can belong to both groups.
In Pierce County, there are eight legion posts, in Bay City, Spring Valley, Maiden Rock, Ellsworth, River Falls, Plum City, Elmwood and Prescott. The VFW post for the county is located in Prescott.
The American Legion was founded in 1919 by veterans returning from Europe after serving in World War I. It was designated as a patriotic, war-time organization devoted to mutual helpfulness. Presently, there are three million members in nearly 15,000 American Legion posts worldwide.
One of the most involved legion posts in the area is Post 204 in Ellsworth. And to illustrate that, Post 204 was recently named as the top post in Wisconsin for posts having between 300-400 members.
Explained Post Commander Glenn Wakefield, “It’s an honor based off of what we’ve done for our community and we’re proud of it.”
He said they get an average of 60 members for their monthly meeting, held every third Tuesday.
“We’re always looking for members,” he added.
Wakefield said the Legion spends a fair share of their time contributing to youth in the Ellsworth area.
Some of those being assisting with the construction of a new Boy Scouts building at the Pierce County Fairgrounds, sponsoring two baseball teams, featuring Ellsworth High School students, during the summer months and sponsoring an Ellsworth High School boy to Badger State (this year’s selection was Jose Zepeda). Post 204 also contributes to an oracle contest, available to high school students, in which they are supposed to give a 10-minute speech on a certain subject in the U.S. Constitution.
While most of those actions are considered behind the scenes, the Legion, along with the VFW, makes public appearances on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, honoring their fellow soldiers who lost their lives in war. They can also be seen displaying the color guard at military funerals. Post 204 did 14 of them in 2007.
“That’s very important for the family because it shows that veterans’ organizations are supporting,” said David Till, Pierce County Veterans Service Officer.
Wakefield added another example of contributing to the community is organizations can hold their meetings at their building, located on Oak Street, free of charge.
“Honor the dead by helping the living” is the motto of the VFW, which is made up of approximately 2.3 million members.
According to the VFW website, its history can be traced back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. When they arrived home, many were wounded or sick and left to care for themselves, as they had no pension or medical care.
The VFW has also been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th Century, a development of the national cemetery system and compensating veterans who have been diagnosed with Agent Orange from Vietnam and Gulf War Syndrome from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
In Pierce County, the VFW branch, Post 9060, is part of the 9th District, with Hudson being the next closest affiliate.
Due to its qualifications, selection is more stringent, as there are about 165 members throughout the county. Some of their functions include helping process claims, visiting and assisting veterans in nursing care, giving out scholarships to high school graduates in Ellsworth, River Falls and Prescott, and supporting youth baseball teams in the area.
A noteworthy highlight came from their recent banquet in which seventh grader Elissa Koele finished third in the district’s patriots pen competition. Koele’s entry was one of 416 submitted throughout the district’s area.
As of July 1, Bill Bowen takes over as commander from Walt Matzek. Matzek’s association with VFW leadership doesn’t end, as he was appointed to a national committee with the goal of improving relations within the VFW.