‘Home away from home’: Carmel American Legion, VFW aim to build community for veterans of all ages   

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Mike Slabaugh, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Carmel VFW, shakes hands with James Crider, an Army veteran and director of administration for the City of Carmel, during a city ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

Effron

In 2017, Rock Effron, past commander of American Legion Post 155, took part in seven interventions.

Veterans would call him during the night. They were depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases, they had a gun in their hand as they talked to Effron.

“It takes a toll on you,” he said. “But when it’s a fellow veteran, you take the call.”

Walk into the Carmel American Legion at 852 W. Main St. or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10003 at 12863 Old Meridian St., and you’ll find a room full of veterans having lunch, having a drink or smoking a cigarette. For some, it’s their daily hangout with friends.

McDanield

“It’s home away from home for a lot of members,” VFW Post 10003 Commander Steven McDanield said. “I’ve got members that come in every day. I’ve got auxiliary members who have been coming here since they were 5 or 6 years old, and this place reminds them of their grandfather or their dad. Even though granddad has passed, this reminds them of those memories.”

Declining numbers

Both posts have moved locations throughout the years but have remained mainstays in Carmel, a meeting place for military men and women to connect. But if you talk to veterans during meetings or lunch time, many served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the first Gulf War. It’s been tougher to reach out to returning veterans from the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to a Washington Times article, only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join the VFW have done so.

“They don’t know about us, and the younger people are so dang busy with school and work,” Effron said. “We’re willing to do anything. We just want to get them in here to hear our message.”

With older veterans passing away, new members are needed to keep the organizations afloat. Nationally, the VFW has lost a third of its members in the past 20 years, and the American Legion has lost nearly 1 million members from the 3.1 million it had in the 1990s.

Local numbers weren’t available, although both posts say they aren’t immune to the decline. But the post’s leaders are optimistic that if veterans knew about everything they offered, more would join.

Members of the Carmel VFW march in the 2017 CarmelFest parade. (Sub- mitted photos)

Members of the Carmel VFW march in the 2017 CarmelFest parade. (Submitted photos)

Making connections

Both the VFW and the American Legion host regular social events that include golf outings, cookouts, karaoke nights, motorcycle rides, casino trips and more.

Every Saturday morning, the VFW has a steak and eggs breakfast that attracts 50-plus attendees.

But it’s not all about social activities. Veterans also can be connected to resources and receive help navigating Veterans Administration benefits. Effron said he’s helped American Legion members find employment. The organizations also are involved in a variety of charity events.

And of course, both posts offer lend a sympathetic ear for those suffering from PTSD or depression.

“We’re here for these people, and we want them to know there’s not stigma about seeking help,” McDanield said.

Both organizations also are involved in a variety of events for charity.

The local American Legion post has raised more than $630,000 during the last 26 years for the Indiana Veterans Home, The Hoosier Veterans Assistance Fund and the Legion scholarship fund for high school juniors and seniors in Hamilton County. VFW holds similar golf outings for local charities.

McDanield said he’s especially proud of the Honor Guard services. The Carmel VFW has a team of volunteers that provide free ceremonies to honor veterans upon their death. It includes folding and presentation of the flag, a three-volley, seven-rifle salute and the playing of “Taps.”

CARMEL VFW DEALS WITH ZONING ISSUE

As the Carmel VFW looks to the future, some members are concerned about a proposed hotel that would be built in front of its building at 12863 Old Meridian St.

Ohio-based The Witness Group requested three variances from the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals for a proposed 88-room Home 2 Suites hotel. The variances address signage, buffer areas and building height. All three were denied.

VFW Post 10003 Commander Steven McDanield said he’s concerned the new hotel would reduce available parking and make the post hard to find.

“We sit so far off the road that it almost looks like an abandoned post office,” he said. “There’s an identity crisis here.”

The Carmel Plan Commission will consider the hotel at its June 5 meeting after being tabled multiple times.

The American Legion is a place for veterans and their families to connect with the community and meet friends.

WARYEARS GROUP CONNECTS VETERANS

About 15 years ago, a group of local veterans started the Waryears Group to meet and discuss military books they’ve read.

“The first meeting there was about five of us at the Borders book store,” said Richard Osborne, one of the founding members. “It’s grown a lot.”

Now, about 30 members meet monthly in the community room at the John W. Hensel Government Center at 10701 College Ave.

“It can get as high as 60 people depending on the speaker and the time of year,” said Dave Allen, one of the members.

Each 1 1/2-hour meeting has a few announcements and club business, similar to a Rotary or Kiwanis club meeting, and then a guest speaker gives a presentation on a military topic.

Jan Ogle said her late-husband, Donald, helped start the group because it’s important for veterans to connect.

“My husband was a Korean War veteran, and he said veterans generally didn’t want to talk about their wartime experiences,” she said.

UPCOMING WARYEARS GROUP MEETINGS

All from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the John W. Hensel Government Center

May 24

Speakers: Meredith and Judy Wilson    

Topic: Civil War Diary, Stories & Music

 

June 28

Speaker: Marlene Mendosa

Topic: A Tribute to Cap’t Henry Thomas Waskow, WWII

 

July 26

Speakers: Dave and Dan Allen

Topic: The Congressional Medal of Honor

 

August 23

Speaker: Jerry Mansbach

Topic: Tank Commander WWII, Normandy   

 

September 27

Speaker: Allen Andrews

Topic: “The Night Witches” WWII Russian Female Bomber Pilots

 

Upcoming Military Events:

CITY OF CARMEL MEMORIAL DAY

At 9 a.m. May 25, the City of Carmel will honor its fallen heroes with an event outside the Veterans Memorial Plaza on Third Avenue SW, south of City Center Drive. Carmel’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts will perform a flag-raising ceremony and join the mayor, other dignitaries and a keynote speaker from one of the various branches of the military.

AMERICAN LEGION CHARITY GOLF OUTING

On July 20, American Legion Post 155 will hold its annual golf tournament at Brookshire Golf Course in Carmel. Start is 11 a.m. Cost is $500 per team or $125 per player. Entry fees are due no later than July 10 and are non-refundable. Participants can sign up at the American Legion.

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