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VFW Magazine November/December 2016 : Page-34

OVERSEAS VFW POSTS UNITED KINGDOM: 1 FRANCE: 1 GERMANY: 15 ITALY: 1 KOREA: 7 JAPAN: 4 NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS: 1 TAIWAN: 2 GUAM: 2 THAILAND: 6 CAMBODIA: 1 PHILIPPINES: 5 PUERTO RICO: 7 PANAMA: 2 VFW’s 56 overseas Posts number 29,407 members in 11 countries and 4 U.S. territories. Members in Thailand and the Philippines are fi nding innovative ways to make themselves visible. O B Y K ARI W ILLIAMS been associated with for more than two decades. “To be able to do that removal and transfer of the remains—and that’s 40 years, 50 years after the fact—it pro-vided fi nal closure for a family who had been wanting to do that since November 1965,” said John Gilbert, former admin-istrator of the cemetery and burial assis-tance program. He also is current senior vice commander of the Department of Pacifi c Areas. Situated in an island community of nearly 300,000, Post 2485 maintains the cemetery and assists veterans’ fam-ilies with burials. For those efforts, the Post received the Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award in July during the 117th VFW National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The award recognizes “unique and out-standing community service projects.” Members of the Post have assisted families since 1994, ranging from the burial itself to graveside services, coun-seling and assistance with benefits. While the services offered have received praise, the Post was not deeply involved in the steps leading up to the burial itself. AMERICAN SAMOA: 1 verseas Posts have been a facet of VFW activity since the 1920s, with the old-est existing overseas Post— Benjamin Franklin Post 605—chartered July 20, 1927, in Paris, France. The most recent, chartered March 19, 2015, expands VFW efforts in the Pacifi c Areas at K-16 Seongnam Post 12147 in Korea. While distant, the organization’s message is still heard as these outposts continue to reach local veteran com-munities and beyond. Let’s explore two such Posts in the Pacifi c Areas. PHILIPPINES: MAINTAINING A CEMETERY Post 2485 in Angeles City, Philippines, assisted the family of a fallen Vietnam soldier through its burial assistance program to re-entomb the remains at the family cemetery in Iloilo province. The soldier initially was buried at Clark Veterans Cemetery, which the Post has LEFT: Post 2485 in Angeles City, Philippines, receives this year’s Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award . Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy presents John Gilbert, Department of Pacifi c Areas senior vice commander, with a ceremonial check for $1,000 at the 2016 VFW National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this year. 34 • VFW PHOTO BY ROBERT KNUDSEN Gilbert said because of the Post’s loca-tion, families “deal with both the U.S. Embassy and local law,” complicating the process. “Probably the greatest value is [that] we make a very sad time at least as effi -cient as it can be,” Gilbert said. The Post has since created a burial assistance team that includes a cemetery chairman and assistant, casualty offi cer, Post chaplain, surgeon, service offi cer and burial honor guard. Gilbert, who served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War as chief opera-tions NCO for Army Forces Central Command, said the “biggest challenge” faced with the burial assistance pro-gram is “poor preparation” and a “lack of understanding” about requirements. In response, the Post began hosting a burial seminar to help families. However, it was the addition of a casualty offi cer, according to Gilbert, that was “the piece that was always missing.” “We didn’t have anybody who was a subject matter expert and could deal with both local law and the funeral homes,” Gilbert said. Prior to the Post’s involvement with burials themselves, it formalized efforts to maintain the cemetery grounds in November 1994. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 and a typhoon shortly thereafter led to degradation of the site, prompting the Post to step up. The agreement allowed VFW to care for the cemetery grounds, which also were made available for veteran burials. • NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016

Overseas VFW Posts Engage The Community

Kari Williams

Overseas Posts have been a facet of VFW activity since the 1920s, with the oldest existing overseas Post— Benjamin Franklin Post 605—chartered July 20, 1927, in Paris, France. The most recent, chartered March 19, 2015, expands VFW efforts in the Pacific Areas at K-16 Seongnam Post 12147 in Korea.

While distant, the organization’s message is still heard as these outposts continue to reach local veteran communities and beyond. Let’s explore two such Posts in the Pacific Areas.

PHILIPPINES: MAINTAINING A CEMETERY

Post 2485 in Angeles City, Philippines, assisted the family of a fallen Vietnam soldier through its burial assistance program to re-entomb the remains at the family cemetery in Iloilo province. The soldier initially was buried at Clark Veterans Cemetery, which the Post has been associated with for more than two decades.

“To be able to do that removal and transfer of the remains—and that’s 40 years, 50 years after the fact—it provided final closure for a family who had been wanting to do that since November 1965,” said John Gilbert, former administrator of the cemetery and burial assistance program. He also is current senior vice commander of the Department of Pacific Areas.

Situated in an island community of nearly 300,000, Post 2485 maintains the cemetery and assists veterans’ families with burials. For those efforts, the Post received the Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award in July during the 117th VFW National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The award recognizes “unique and outstanding community service projects.”

Members of the Post have assisted families since 1994, ranging from the burial itself to graveside services, counseling and assistance with benefits. While the services offered have received praise, the Post was not deeply involved in the steps leading up to the burial itself.

LEFT: Post 2485 in Angeles City, Philippines, receives this year’s Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award. Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy presents John Gilbert, Department of Pacific Areas senior vice commander, with a ceremonial check for $1,000 at the 2016 VFW National Convention in Charlotte,N. C., earlier this year.

Gilbert said because of the Post’s location, families “deal with both the U.S. Embassy and local law,” complicating the process.

“Probably the greatest value is [that] we make a very sad time at least as efficient as it can be,” Gilbert said.

The Post has since created a burial assistance team that includes a cemetery chairman and assistant, casualty officer, Post chaplain, surgeon, service officer and burial honor guard.

Gilbert, who served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War as chief operations NCO for Army Forces Central Command, said the “biggest challenge” faced with the burial assistance program is “poor preparation” and a “lack of understanding” about requirements.

In response, the Post began hosting a burial seminar to help families. However, it was the addition of a casualty officer, according to Gilbert, that was “the piece that was always missing.”

“We didn’t have anybody who was a subject matter expert and could deal with both local law and the funeral homes,” Gilbert said.

Prior to the Post’s involvement with burials themselves, it formalized efforts to maintain the cemetery grounds in November 1994. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 and a typhoon shortly thereafter led to degradation of the site, prompting the Post to step up.

The agreement allowed VFW to care for the cemetery grounds, which also were made available for veteran burials.

Beyond the cemetery and burial efforts, Post 2485 sponsors a Veterans Day observance. Gilbert said the Post also has started other projects, such as a Boy Scout troop that boasts four Eagle Scouts.

THAILAND: ESTABLISHING A REPUTATION

Chartered Feb. 19, 2015, Post 12146 in Ban Chang, Thailand, began with 38 members. In less than two years’ time, its membership has more than tripled to 121. While increasing its own ranks, Post members also have made themselves known in the western district of Rayong province.

Post Commander Ken Stein said as members join the Post, the leadership tries to give them responsibilities, such as project chairman, to establish a “growth pattern.” But overall, Stein said, the “key” to starting a Post is to “have a core [group] of members who really believe in it.”

“[You have to have] members who want to give back and also think of the future of the Post,” said Stein, who served as a Navy officer with the Marines during the Persian Gulf War and in Somalia in the early 1990s.

He said the Post has helped a variety of people in its community, including a 75-year-old disabled veteran who sought care options and a 70-year-old veteran seeking disability benefits.

“From the time we started, we just were a presence here,” Stein said. “So people heard about us and they would come to us.”

Post 12146 is “unique in a couple of ways,” according to Stein, in that member- wise it is a relatively younger Post with a median age in the 50s. Most are military retirees, having served at least 20 years.

“It really adds to the personality and the culture within our Post,” Stein said. “We have so much more in common than the average Post.”

Roughly six months after being established, the Post started its honor guard. While Stein said there wasn’t “too big of a need” when one arose, another Post had to be contacted.

“The main reason is we wanted to become independent, totally self-sufficient,” Stein said of forming the group.

Additionally, the Post’s use of its website and Facebook account has helped “spread the word,” according to Stein, along with articles in The Typhoon, the monthly publication of the Department of Pacific Areas.

The Post also aids non-veteran members of the community and has launched an informal group called “Friends of the Post.” It includes people not affiliated with VFW but who are friends with a member. Thirty people attended the first meeting.

“What we expect them to do is find other opportunities within the community where we can make a difference,” Stein said.

In August, the Post and its “Friends of the Post” delivered toys and two Sinks to the Wat Somnatton school for severely disabled children in Banchang, Thailand, according to Stein.

Post 12146’s outreach continues through its hosting of a Memorial Day celebration—the first event was “almost a coming-out party for our Post,” Stein said.

Additionally, a golf tournament was sponsored to bring out non-VFW residents. Of the roughly 100 golfers and 24 teams, Stein said, 90 players were not members. The event also doubled as a way to raise funds for other ongoing projects.

“We’ve been in existence for a year and a half,” Stein said. “We still want our name out there, and this is one of the ways to do it.”

RIGHT: Post Commander Ken Stein greets attendees with his daughter, Bammy, at the Post 12146 Memorial Day event.

BELOW: Post 12146 grants the final wishes of retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Benjamin Epley to have his ashes spread in the Gulf of Thailand. Post Commander Ken Stein presents the U.S. flag to Epley’s partner, Kanokwan Sridabundi, upon completion of the ceremony.

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/Overseas+VFW+Posts+Engage+The+Community/2600835/343594/article.html.

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