Thankful vets know they served a grateful nation

By: 
Bob Bonnar

“It was rejuvenating,” VFW Post #2516 Vice Commander Tom Streeter told the News Letter Journal in the aftermath of the annual Veteran’s Dinner the organization held for the community on November 11.

“That is our Christmas,” Post Quartermaster Chris Rhodes confirmed, noting that as many as 250 people may have been fed in the small hall on the west edge of Newcastle.

“We filled it beyond capacity,” Streeter nodded.

This year’s event was even more special because it marked the beginning of a new partnership between the VFW and American Legion Post #3, who jumped in to host the celebration alongside their brothers.

“They’re still two separate organizations, but under one roof and moving forward to serve the community,” Streeter reported.

“We’re trying to bring all of the veterans together. We have the same goal in common — our vets,” Post #3 Commander Don Dafoe said.

“And mutual respect,” Post #2516 Commander Stan Dixon chimed in, noting that there are a number of important functions the two organizations will be able to address much better if they combine their efforts.

“We haven’t had enough with either one of us to do proper representation on funerals and stuff, but now we can give the proper respect,” Dixon said.

Since electing new officers and experiencing something of a rebirth in the past couple of months, the local VFW has taken on an entirely new look and feel — including the decision to make the establishment smoke-free — and it appears to paying off.

“We’ve recruited more people to the post in the past month than we’ve had in years,” Rhodes said, indicating that the VFW Hall is definitely more family friendly.

“And more welcoming,” added Brandon Vaughn, who was recently appointed Public Information Officer for the post.

“We’re more than just a canteen,” Dixon said.

“It’s a club-like atmosphere,” Streeter agreed, pointing to a glass display case just inside the entrance displaying a number of military medals and other memorabilia from the wars in which members of both organizations have served. The displays will be rotated out regularly, and local veterans and their families are encouraged to bring their momentoes in to take a turn in the case.

“Their family history can be shared with the community,” Streeter said, noting the importance of having a place where veterans feel comfortable and appreciated.

“We are the people who gave you the freedom to do what you want to do,” Dafoe said.

“We lived and thrived in a very unique environment, and when we leave that environment it leaves a hole. This is where people go to fill those holes, and find that camaraderie for just few minutes,” Streeter observed.

That fellowship has really taken off since changes were made at the VFW, and while the accompanying jump in recruitment has brought Post #2516’s head count close to 100, the group is eager to welcome even more veterans into the fold.

“We have made ourselves available to Upton, now that they don’t have a post,” Dixon said.

“We serve all veterans in northeast Wyoming, and all veterans who knock on our door,” Streeter added.

The new partnership between the VFW and American Legion organizations in Newcastle goes beyond the veterans themselves though, and their invitation to other community members to be involved in their mission to serve veterans goes beyond last week’s dinner.

“You don’t need to be a veteran to come help us out,” Streeter reasoned, indicating that membership is available to the majority of residents through either the VFW or Legion, or the auxiliaries for those organizations.

“Auxiliaries don’t require any kind of military service,” Streeter informed.

“But they have to have a connection to a vet,” Dafoe stated.

Connecting with vets is what both the VFW and American Legion are all about, and the officers for both organizations said they are gateways that allow veterans to connect with many of the programs available to assist them in the United States.

“If we do not have a program that suits a particular problem, we will get them a phone number for someone who does,” Streeter said.

Dixon said the Students 4 Vets program started at Newcastle High School last year is one example of a program the local posts turn to when veterans need assistance.

“I would like to thank all of the high school students that have stepped up,” Dixon said.

But the group of veterans who met with the News Letter Journal last week were grateful to a lot of citizens and organizations who helped put on the Veteran’s Day Dinner, which was prepared by the American Legion Auxiliary. They expressed appreciation for the support they received from Decker’s Market, Woody’s Food Center, Wayback Burgers, Pizza Barn, Beard BBQ Sauce, Alien Entertainment and Newcastle High School FBLA, but also acknowledged the contributions of several individuals and families and reported that one anonymous donor gave $300 to the cause.

“The Post only had to spend $250,” Rhodes said incredulously.

The veterans were also extremely grateful for all of the support they’ve received over the past few weeks, and their repeated expressions of gratitude made it feel like the Veteran’s Dinner wasn’t just Christmas for them this year.

It was Thanksgiving too.

Given the tradition of willing sacrifice embodied by veterans of these United States, it should come as no surprise that the members of the posts intend to repay the favors.

“You’re going to be seeing a lot more of us,” Streeter said, explaining that the veterans plan to be more visible at local schools and public events moving forward.

That’s something we can all be thankful for.

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