VFW: A valuable community member

Photo courtesy of Keith Michael
Photo courtesy of Keith Michael

VFW: A valuable community member

by: David Hurwitz | .
Stripes Korea | .
published: June 06, 2012

Claiming 1.3 million members worldwide and hundreds of thousands more in its auxiliaries, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is a powerful lobbying force for veterans as well as active duty military. But it is what members do individually and as a post that make the VFW more than a group out to protect its own interests.

Taking the wife of a military retiree to and from medical appointments or donating money to the Boy Scouts for a camping expedition may not be the images that come to mind when people think of the VFW. However, they are as representative of the activities of the organization as the usual scenes of VFW members standing behind candidates at political rallies or being involved in patriotic celebrations.

Local posts pass on the positions of the national organization to their members to keep them informed, but also strive to live up to the VFW motto of “Honor the dead by helping the living” through veterans’ and community services.

First and foremost, they help veterans, with each post having a Veterans Service Officer to help them file claims for Veterans Administration benefits, including those concerning education, medical, disability or other issues. In Korea, this includes assisting the Korean widows of members who retired in the country, who may have difficulty dealing in English with the Department of Veterans Affairs or other U.S. government agencies.

But they also help out on a more personal level. One topic always brought up at post meetings is “comrades in distress,” in which members cite problems that fellow VFW members or other retirees are having and they discuss how the post can help. Sometimes this means offering assistance like driving them to the doctor and sometimes financial assistance is given to help families get through tough times.  Members also visit the sick in hospitals and offer simple neighborly help and comfort to those in need.

“Our community is big enough but small enough, so if we don’t see someone for a while, we check to see how they’re doing,” said Patrick Higgins, VFW district commander for Korea and a member of Post 10216, near Osan Air Base. “We also liaise with local hospitals and help decipher medical language for members who are patients.”

Local posts are also actively involved in educational activities on nearby bases. Members visit schools to teach the principles upon which the U.S. was founded. They have programs teaching respect for the flag and give out awards to elementary school students for learning the Pledge of Allegiance. They also support the Boy Scouts and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) units.

Members supervise the local contests of national scholarship competitions: the Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen, which offer cash prizes for winning essays on patriotic themes.

“These contests help keep our spirit alive in our youth, and enable us to gauge what they think. They can voice their feelings and give us feedback. (The contests) also give us a chance to get our name out there and let young people know that we are here for them and support our community,” Higgins said.

“Last year, one of our Voice of Democracy entrees was one of the 52 chosen to go to the States. The student won money and a trip to the U.S.,” he added.

The money to support these programs is generated through membership dues as well as local fundraising activities like operating food stalls at festivals and raffles, said Higgins. Annual dues are $35, and lifetime membership is up to $425, depending on age (installment payments allowed).

Members must have received a campaign medal for overseas service, served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea, or received hostile fire or imminent danger pay. Membership is also open to active duty military.

As one VFW post website says: “It’s not the dues you pay to be a member that matters, it’s the price you paid to be eligible.” If you have paid that price, the local VFW is waiting for you.

The Korean Difference

The Korean War ended with the signing of an armistice, or an agreement to stop fighting, not a peace treaty. This is why service members need only serve 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days in Korea to be eligible for VFW membership, regardless of whether they engaged in combat. In fact, more service people died in Korea in 1991 from various causes than in the First Gulf War. (Patrick Higgins, VFW district commander for Korea)

While many VFW posts around the world are named after heroic veterans, certain ones in Korea continue to have a special resonance because of the ongoing threat to peace on the peninsula posed by North Korea.

Hill 180 Memorial Post 10216 – Located outside the main gate of Osan Air Base, the post is named after the Korean War Battle of Bayonet Hill, where forces led by U.S. Army Capt. Lewis Millett, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the battle, made a bayonet charge up Hill 180.

VFW Bonifas-Barrett Memorial Post 8180 – Located in Seoul, the post is named after Maj. Arthur G. Bonifas and 1st Lt. Mark T. Barrett, who were murdered by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers while trying to trim a tree in the demilitarized zone.
Source: New York Times

Military Order of the Cootie
A subordinate order of the VFW established in 1921 for the primary purpose of creating a “fun degree” within the parent body, it is also dedicated to sponsoring a continuous program of hospital work and visitations. Its slogan is “Keep’em smiling in beds of white.”
Source: Pup Tent 57 at mortpa.tripod.com/ 

Main VFW events for the year:

  • VFW Armed Forces Day Parade, celebrated on Armed Forces Day to honor active duty military.  It is one of the major events for Osan Air Base each year and includes all base military units and civilian organizations.  The parade in 2011 included over 25 organizations and 700 participants; the 2012 Parade was scheduled for 19 May.
  • Hill 180 Memorial Ceremony:  Commemorates the “Battle of Hill 180” which occurred on Osan Air Base (prior to base) on Feb. 7, 1951.  Capt Lewis Millett led the 27th Wolfhound Regiment in a bayonet charge against entrenched Chinese troops.  For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The VFW and U.S. 8th Army Battlefield Coordination Detachment jointly host this ceremony each year.
  • The VFW and the 51st Fighter Wing annually celebrate the National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which includes a 24-hour run and a formal wreath laying ceremony.
  • The VFW participates in Osan City’s annual Task Force Smith Memorial on July 5 each year, to celebrate the first battle involving U.S. ground forces in the Korean War.
  • The VFW sponsors the annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Yongsan Army Garrison each year, with major participants of the Commander-in-Chief United States Forces Korea and U.S. Ambassador.  President Obama attended this ceremony in 2010.

VFW Educational programs
• Voice of Democracy:
Essay/speech competition on patriotic themes for students in grades 9 to 12. $2.2 million in scholarships offered. The theme for 2012-2013 is: “Is our constitution still relevant?”
• Patriot’s Pen:
Essay competition on patriotic themes for students in grades 6 to 8. $1.2 million in savings bonds offered. The theme for 2012-2013 is: “What I would tell America’s founding fathers.”
• Scout of the Year:
Recognition of registered, active members of a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship who have demonstrated citizenship in school, scouting and the community. Scholarships of $1,000, $3,000 and $5,000 awarded to top 3 finishers.
• Teacher of the Year:
Recognition of three exceptional teachers for their outstanding commitment to teaching Americanism and patriotism to their students at the K to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12 grade levels. $1,000 awarded to each teacher and their school.

For more information, email your nearest VFW post in Korea
Post 9985 - Camp Casey – Tongducheon – cdr9985@vfwdeptpacific.org  
Post 10215 - Camp Red Cloud – Uijeongbu - cdr10215@vfwdeptpacific.org  
Post 8180 - Yongsan Garrison – Seoul - cdr8180@vfwdeptpacific.org
Post 10216 - Osan Air Base – Songtan - cdr10216@vfwdeptpacific.org
Post 10223 - Camp Humphreys - Anjung-ri - cdr10223@vfwdeptpacific.org
Post 12109 - Camp Carroll – Waegwan - cdr12109@vfwdeptpacific.org
Post 10033 - Camp Walker - Daegu - cdr10033@vfwdeptpacific.org

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