It’s the height, the epitome of what I’ve been striving for, said Fort Oglethorpe VFW Post 3679 Commander Clifford Payne as about 300 vets, family members, and friends filled American Legion Post 214 for a free feast of barbecue, hot dogs, and hamburgers with all the trimmings.
Because of the turnout and enthusiasm, the United Veterans Labor Day Celebration will be an annual event, said Ringgold American Legion Post 40 Commander Ronnie Lea.
We were three horse wagons pulling in different directions, now we’re three horses pulling one chariot, said American Legion Post 214, Commander Larry Hester, in describing the new unity between the groups.
Chuck Gilbert, grilling hot dogs and burgers out back, said, it’s the best thing that has happened to all three posts that I know of.
A former commander of American Legion Post 214 and current quartermaster of VFW Post 3679, Gilbert said that as a member of all three posts at one time or another, it was clear to him that this is better for the community and better for the veterans.
Ann Jones, in charge of barbecuing 14 Boston butts and overseeing the kitchen with the help of various members of the Ladies Auxiliary from all three posts, said it was very exciting to see everyone coming together.
We didn’t expect to see this many people, she said. But we’ve cooked up enough to feed 300.
The fare included mountains of baked beans and potato salad, and desserts extending the length of several long tables.
It took her 10 hours to cook the Boston butts 12 butts in the commercial ovens of American Legion Post 214 and two more in her home oven.
We’ve had a blast and fed a lot of people, and they act like they are thoroughly enjoying it, she said.
It’s more people than I expected, said Dean Pelfrey, who motorcycled in with a group of Rolling Thunder, Chattanooga Chapter 2, members to join the celebration and show their support for the veterans.
Jean Blackwell, a former president of the Ladies Auxiliary, VFW Post 3679, was aglow with enthusiasm.
It’s great that they are combining forces and working together, she said.
Absolutely marvelous, said Army veteran Walter Cannon, attending the event with his wife Joan.
Cannon said he joined the Army at Fort Oglethorpe in 1943 and served 27 years before retiring. There are areas of the country where members of the American Legion and the VFW have a history of not getting along, he noted.
Burying the hatchet
It’s a wonderful thing, beamed American Legion member and bar manager, Jack Woodall. It’s the first time in history that this has happened.
Asked why it took so long, he said he would rather leave that up to others to comment on who knew more about it.
All three commanders put the blame squarely on past commanders who they said had their own agendas and discouraged the idea of fellowship between the American Legion and the VFW.
With our people, said Lea, this is something they’ve been looking forward to for a long time, a chance to be united and all working for the same cause which we are but have been kind of split.
The cause of that split and their inability to fellowship and work together was because of jealousy of past commanders, said Payne, adding that hes been working on the problem for six years.
The requirement for being a member of the American Legion is having served in the armed services, but for membership in the VFW the requirement is service in a war zone or in combat for a minimum of 30 days, said Payne.
There were some past commanders in the American Legion who were not qualified to be members of the VFW, and because of that they didn’t want their members associated with the VFW, he said.
Hester, in his second year as commander of American Legion Post 214, took it further. We had a bunch of people in the leadership that weren’t even eligible to be members of the American Legion and didn’t have the veteran’s interests at heart, he said. All they cared about was padding their pockets.
What did he mean by that? They were taking money from Bingo proceeds, he said, adding that he was kicked out of the American Legion by a 13-member board that didn’t allow the regular membership a vote on it.
What was the charge? Unbecoming conduct, he said, in that he threatened to whip their (expletive). He went to the judge advocate of the national American Legion and got reinstated.
The wall falls
Hester said he returned to Post 214, carrying his reinstatement papers with him on election day. He came in as commander because the past commander had resigned and he moved into that position automatically because he had been the vice-commander when he was illegally given the boot, he said.
The election was held and he was elected commander, he said, adding that they voted the crooks out.
With his election as commander, the barrier that was hindering fellowship between American Legion Post 214 and the VFW, next door, was removed and a closer relationship emerged, said Hester who is also the service officer for VFW Post 3679, under Payne, with duties that include helping veterans and the community become acquainted with the VFW and its services.
The barrier that interfered with the fellowship between American Legion Post 40, in Ringgold and the VFW in Fort Oglethorpe, came crashing down about two months ago with the election of Lea as commander, said Payne.
As with Hester, Lea is a member of both organizations and serves as an elected member of the House Committee of VFW Post 3679, under Payne. The House Committee is responsible for the buildings, their contents, and the grounds.
With the commanders of both American Legion Posts also serving as officers of VFW Post 3679, the time was finally right to join forces and pool their resources and energies to better serve all veterans and the community, said Payne.
This way we can now take on bigger projects together, said Lea, adding that they would now be able to do more for children and widows and the youth programs at all the schools in Catoosa and Walker counties.
When someone needs something and you have three places kicking in, it doesn’t hurt as bad, he said.
Gone are the days of the good ole boy handshakes and members that were not qualified to be members, said Payne, adding that from now on it will be veterans helping veterans and working for the common good.
All vets are brothers and that’s the way it should be, said Hester, comparing the fallen wall that had stood between the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars to the dikes in New Orleans that finally broke.”
Archived from Northwest Georgia News, September 19, 2005by Naman Crow