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franklin county times

PROGRESS 2024: VFW Post 5184 – ‘No One Does More For Veterans’

According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website, the VFW had its beginnings in 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902 founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. These grassroots groups soon banded together to form the VFW as it is known today, with membership standing at more than 1.4 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliary. The nonprofit group boasts as its motto, “No one does more for veterans.”

VFW membership is open to any veteran who served in a foreign conflict.

In Franklin County, VFW Post 5184 is active and welcoming new members, led by post commander Eric Reason.

To put it simply, “The VFW is good for opportunities for veterans to get involved in stuff after their military service. It gives them something to do,” Reason explained. Reason, a recent transplant to Phil Campbell, succeeded Bill Jackson as post commander in March 2023. He said the camaraderie to be found in the VFW is often a key draw. “Some veterans want nothing to do with the military at all after they get out, and that’s understandable because some of the stuff we see is not pretty, and people don’t want to be reminded of that,” Reason said. “But a lot of times you’ll share stories, things you haven’t thought about in years, and it’s a way to decompress things that have been building up for a while.

“When you try to bottle up emotions and push feelings down, its’ a ‘manly’ thing to do, but the further you push down emotions, it acts like a beach ball, and when it finally does come up, it will bust you in the face.” Sharing with fellow vets is one way to avoid or mitigate that.

The local VFW meets the fourth Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the VFW facility in downtown Russellville. Reason said while the group has hopes to grow and expand, it wasn’t that long ago that they were faced with shutting down. Following COVID-19, the post was floundering. They even held a vote on whether to disband.

“It was just hard to do certain things,” said Reason, who helped lead the charge to revitalize the post. Members voted unanimously to stay in operation, despite district-level efforts to shut it down. Since then efforts have focused on becoming more active again and recruiting new members, as well as seeing what can be done to rehab the building where they meet.

“We have leaky pipes, and we’ve got no heat,” Reason said. “Apparently the basement flooded, and we used to have meetings in the basement, and we had all kinds of kitchen stuff.”

Facility problems have limited the VFW from some of its former activities – Reason said some of the “old timers” tell stories about hosting meals and dances – but that’s not stopping them from getting engaged in the community. VFW members take part in Russellville’s Veterans Day Parade; they speak at schools for veteran and patriotic events; they host student essay contests; they place flags at veteran gravesites; and they support fellow members who are sick or in need of encouragement. This past year they set up a Fallen Soldier Table at a local nursing home, and they collected four large boxes of toys for the Marines’ Toys for Tots during the holidays.

Another big upcoming project is restarting the VFW Auxiliary in Franklin County. Auxiliary membership is open to immediate relatives of those veterans were served in foreign conflict. “They basically make sure that we can do what we need to do,” Reason explained. “They take care of us so we can take care of others, and then they do things that help out in the community as well.”

The VFW, in its own words, was “instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, development of the national cemetery system, in the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.” Additionally, the organization notes its part in helping see the GI Bill passage in 2008, “giving expanded educational benefits to America’s active duty service members, and members of the guard and reserves, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The organization also notes among its achievements being “the driving force behind the Veterans Access and Accountability Act of 2014,” along with the 2019 Blue Water Navy Veteran Act and the 2022 Honoring Our PACT Act. The VFW also continually fight for improved VA medical centers services for women veterans.

“Since its founding in 1899, the VFW has enacted many programs and services geared to meet the current needs of America’s service members, veterans and military families, as well to meet community needs worldwide,” the VFW website notes. “VA claims assistance, legislative advocacy, troop support programs, youth activities, community service and scholarship are a few of the ways we work to give back to those who’ve given so much for all of us.”

Current VFW membership in Franklin County is about 30, although not everyone makes it to the meetings or participates actively. Reason said they hope to see that number grow. Joshua Thomas serves as post quartermaster, and Barry Moore is post adjutant.

The VFW values include a commitment to:

  1. Always put the interests of our members first
  2. Treat donors as partners in our cause
  3. Promote patriotism
  4. Honor military service
  5. Ensure the care of veterans and their families
  6. Serve our communities
  7. Promote a positive image of the VFW
  8. Respect the diversity of veteran opinions

VFW MISSION AND VISION

MISSION: To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans.

VISION: Ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.

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