By Robert Lucke
"This isn't just a place for old vets to come and drink beer and exchange war stories," Ron Wolford said.
Wolford, Gary Crossler and Rick Wyer sat down to talk about the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in Havre. Wolford is the head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Wyer heads up the American Legion. Both organizations and their auxiliaries are housed at the Vets Club in downtown Havre. Crossler is the service manager for both organizations and manages the building.
In Havre there are 292 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and 148 in the American Legion. That does not count membership of their women's auxiliaries.
These folks do not have time to drink beer and exchange war stories. They are too busy being good neighbors to the community.
Wolford explained the basic difference between the two organizations.
"In the VFW the basic difference is that you have to have been a combat veteran in a foreign war," he said. "In the American Legion you only have to have served in the Armed Forces and gotten an honorable discharge."
Consider this. The following is a short list of what the VFW in Havre has accomplished in the past year.
Erected the library flag pole in honor of Dr. James Elliott and his wife, Kay.
Created a fund to erect a flag pole at the proposed town square park.
Performed a patriotic program for the Fourth of July at the Northern Montana Care Center.
Made flag plaques to sell with the proceeds to go to the Red Cross.
Conducted Poppy Day.
Sponsored the Voice of Democracy Contest for high school students.
Erected seven flag poles across the street from their headquarters to commemorate Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day.
Changed the name of the post to Uncle Sam's Finest.
Hosted a fund-raiser for the Hockey Club to go to the state championships, where they won.
Put on fund-raiser cookouts at IGA throughout the year.
Sponsored a car show and shine.
Donated money and assistance to veterans in distress.
Established a fund to erect a memorial at the Hill Country Courthouse for veterans of all wars.
At the last minute, hosted the Kiwanis Pancake Day during Festival Days when the National Guard armory became unavailable after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Maintained a safe and secure building for any community event.
Then Rick Wyer broke into the conversation and detailed American Legion activities for the past year.
They have a program in the schools providing instruction about the proper care and display of the American Flag. They also teach flag etiquette and respect.
They help sponsor Boys and Girls State each year, in which students go to Helena and form a government for a week. Last year four local girls and eight boys participated.
The American Legion got the name of Legion Field changed to American Legion Field and helped contribute to light the
They sponsor the white cross program here. That is the
program that places a white cross at the scene of any automobile fatality.
"The Legion takes care of the white cross program from Dodson to Joplin and Big Sandy to the Canadian border," Crossler said. "Any road anywhere that there is a fatality we go out and put up a white cross. Two years ago we redid all the crosses in our area. We got an award as being the best in the state but we damn near cover the entire state. That is one of our best programs. We get lots of comments about it."
"Both groups take care of Memorial Day and Veterans Day
ceremonies in Havre," Wolford added. "And each year we do a
retirement ceremony to retire flags that cannot be flown anymore."
"There are lots of flags. Most people bring their old flags here," Crossler said. "That is an impressive program and more involved than you might think."
Both posts share a lot of activities with Canadian posts and perform ceremonies at each other's ceremonies.
But mostly they pride themselves as being ready to help when needed.
"People come to us all the time," Crossler said. "We are always putting on a benefit for someone or other. This Sunday we are having a benefit. If you are a member and have a cause, it doesn't take long to get some help for it."
They are making plans for their Veterans Day ceremonies. Veterans Day is officially on Nov. 11 but also will be observed the next day as a government Monday holiday. There will be one ceremony at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Courthouse followed by another at the Vets Club. Later there will be a free feed of Gary's famous chili.
"We feel like we will really have a jam-packed full house this year," Wolford said. "Patriotism is running pretty high right now so we are looking for a lot of people and we are having a special ceremony for Korean vets since this is their 50th anniversary."
Like many civic organizations, the veterans clubs are feeling the pinch of not having many younger members.
"In our last honor guard, the youngest guy was 48 years old," Wyer said. "We really need younger people to carry on the tradition."
"They could join one or both sides," Crossler said. "If you are a vet and do not belong, you need to join one or both groups. Both are national agencies who really run the GI Bill and the VA hospitals."
A sign on one side of the Vets Club seems to echo those sentiments.
"It is not the price you pay to become a member. It is the price you pay to be eligible."