Monday, May 29, Memorial Day, was observed in many ways. For some, it meant visiting a national cemetery to honor the military men and women killed while in service to their country. For others, it meant a parade with bands and veterans marching in uniform. For the SSG Michael W. Schafer Memorial VFW Post 10209, it meant a quiet, reverential ceremony. This holiday has particular significance because the post is named after a local man killed in Afghanistan in 2005. Several of the speakers and the people attending the event shed tears of sadness for the men and women lost; tears of joy for the lives they lived, no matter how short; as well as tears of gratitude and pride for the sacrifice these military service people made for our country.
One of the veterans who attended the event was Michael Hory, a retired Navy submariner. He served for twenty-five years on three different types of submarines. During the war in Vietnam, he was part of the “41 for Freedom.” His submarine carried Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and was there to engage the enemy if need be. “My first [submarine] was the USS Sennit (SS 408), a World War II era diesel-powered submarine. We came to the surface every couple of days to recharge our batteries.”
Later he served on nuclear-powered submarines. “The only thing that created a need to come to the surface was running out of food,” Hory quipped.
The outgoing post commander, John Coleman, began the ceremony with some opening remarks. He spoke about the VFW, which began in 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. Many prominent Americans were and are members, including President Theodore Roosevelt; Alvin York, one of the most decorated Army soldiers of World War I; Audie Murphy, Medal of Honor recipient who later became an actor; and astronaut Jack Swigert.
Coleman cited some of the many accomplishments of the VFW. For example, the organization has been instrumental in obtaining medals and recognition for many servicemen and women. The VFW was one of the organizations that pushed for medals to be awarded to Coast Guard members who died in World War I when they were not being recognized. “Today, we, the living, are dedicated to continuing the work of those who have gone before us, to preserving the memories of the fallen and declare our unending gratitude,” stated Coleman.
Then he unveiled a shadow box containing the uniform, photographs and other memorabilia of Sgt. Schafer, while his proud parents looked on. For the story behind the re-naming of the post, click on this link: https://bit.ly/45G2auA Outgoing Auxiliary Chaplain Gaye Hieb recited opening and closing prayers while incoming Chaplain Patty Laycock recited a poem entitled “One Spirit.”
The week before, on May 24th, Josie Tamayo, CEO of VoluteerFlorida (www.volunteer.org), presented both the post and the auxiliary with Outstanding Excellence in Volunteerism plaques recognizing the many volunteer activities and hours of service provided by its members. Ms. Tamayo explained that the mission of VolunteerFlorida is to expand national service, coordinate, promote disaster relief, and advocate for volunteerism in Florida. It’s not connected to veterans’ organizations or any other particular organizations. “We seize the opportunity to recognize those who make a change in the world, who stand up and step out for the causes they believe in and are making Florida a better place to live,” Ms. Tamayo stated.
“Both of these groups [VFW Post 1029 and the auxiliary] represent the qualities to support veterans in need. You all are an inspiration of volunteerism and civic responsibility,” she concluded.
To reciprocate, the VFW and the Auxiliary presented Ms. Tamayo with commemorative medals representing the branches of the military.
The VFW encourages anyone who has served on foreign soil during wartime to become a member. One does not have to have been in combat. They especially want to attract younger veterans because so many of their older members are passing away. A year or so ago, they opened their doors to an American Legion group that did not have anywhere to meet. Now the American Legion group has a place to call home.
There are many activities in which to become involved, and there’s a camaraderie among young and “not so” young alike – whether you were a private or a general. In some instances, a member will help another member who is dealing with difficult personal issues. Like in active duty, they have each other’s back. Other times, they’ll sit, talk, laugh, and reminisce in the comfortable social area at the post headquarters, where they can enjoy a snack or meal, a beverage, or a game of pool.
The VFW Auxiliary is made up of women and men who are close relatives of qualified veterans, whether living or deceased. The auxiliary is active in supporting the VFW as a whole. They host dinners, Bingo, dances, and other fun activities. Most of all, though, they volunteer their time to help veterans in need and to educate the public about patriotism and the importance of all our veterans. For more information about VFW Post 10209 and the Auxiliary, go to www.vfw10209.org or call 352-796-0398. You can also follow them on Facebook for up-to-the-minute news on their activities.