By Debbie Adams
Vinton VFW Post 4522 hosted a special ceremony on August 13 for the installation of the new officers who were inducted by the National Commander in Chief of the VFW, Hal Roesch. He is the first Virginian to serve as Commander in Chief of the national organization. Roesch, a U.S. Air Force retiree, lives in Hampton.
Roesch served in the military from 1982 to 2002. He earned his VFW eligibility during his combat service in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and in overseas service as part of Southern Watch.
The local VFW post, part of Virginia VFW District 6, is working to revitalize its membership and move the post forward. Post 4522 had a membership of about 300 in 2004. With the aging and health issues of longstanding members, membership has been declining; the post currently has a roster of about 66 members.
Age and health are problems many VFW posts are facing across the country. The organization is hoping to recruit younger veterans to breathe new life into the organization which provides vital support to veterans.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4522 was “mustered” in Vinton with about 100 charter members in 1945. The post will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in December.
Ken Wiseman, past Virginia State Commander, addressed the veterans at the meeting on August 13. He transferred his membership from Dale City Post 1503 to Post 4522 that evening to indicate his willingness and dedication to helping recruit new members and reinvigorate the once-active post. He also volunteered to serve in several offices in Post 4522 as an incentive for others to sign up.
“We don’t want to lose our historic past,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman served in the U.S. Navy. He was deployed to Latin America twice for counter-narcotics operations, earning Imminent Danger/Hostile Fire Pay, making him eligible for the VFW.
“The VFW has fought for veterans since 1899 and their efforts resulted in a brighter future for those veterans,” Wiseman said. “I am one of those veterans who have benefited and, as a result, I owe it to the VFW to serve and support veterans.
“More specifically, I used the GI Bill to earn multiple college degrees,” he said. “I have amazing health care at the Salem VA. I was picked to work for the VFW in Washington, D.C., for three years where I testified to Congress on several occasions and fought to secure better benefits for veterans. Really, I’ve been cared for by the VFW in so many ways both directly and indirectly and it has created a fierce sense of loyalty inside of me.”
Vinton VFW officers sworn in by Commander Roesch include: VFW Post 4522 Commander Earl Baskett, Senior Vice Commander Jay Kincaid, Junior Vice Commander Lawrence Julian Marshall, Quartermaster Ken Wiseman, Chaplain Charles Bishop, 1 Yr. Trustee Scott Williams, 2 Yr. Trustee Steve Greene, 3 Yr. Trustee Wayne Mieson, and Ken Wiseman serving as Adjutant, Service Officer, Judge Advocate, and Surgeon.
During the evening, Roesch was presented with a letter from Congressman Ben Cline welcoming him to VFW Post 4522 and thanking him for traveling to Vinton to join local veterans and Post 4522 in “promoting all the good efforts of the VFW and helping to increase membership in the Vinton Post.”
Cline is known as a strong advocate for veterans and the VFW.
Roesch says the VFW organization is at a crossroads. The majority of VFW members are Vietnam War veterans. They are working to recruit veterans of Desert Storm through more recent conflicts.
He believes it is imperative to revitalize the organization because, in addition to its advocacy and programs for veterans, “veterans need a place to go to be with other veterans; a place to find camaraderie, brotherhood, and fellowship with those who have been through what they have. There is a special bond between combat veterans.”
The national VFW organization was founded after the Spanish American War. Soldiers returning home had no guarantee of medical care, no pensions, and many were left to fend for themselves after their sacrifice. A “visionary band of veterans” formed what would become the VFW.
Roesch says that for 121 years members of the VFW have consistently served as pillars of their communities.
The VFW works to connect veterans with governmental agencies and non-profit organizations at the local, state, and national level, regarding veteran benefits assistance, services for veterans with disabilities, and information about medical care, insurance, jobs, housing, and education benefits.
The VFW serves as an advocacy group for veterans’ interests with legislators in both Congress and the Virginia General Assembly. Members have been involved in virtually every major legislative victory for veterans in the past century, including establishing the Veterans Administration and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs position. They were instrumental in the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. A current legislative focus is on the estimated 20 American veterans who commit suicide a day.
In 2008, the VFW won a long-fought victory with the passing of a GI Bill for the 21st Century, giving expanded educational benefits to America’s active duty service members, and members of the guard and reserves fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The VFW helped fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II, and Women in Military Service memorials and have supported the National Desert Storm War Memorial, which is planned for construction in Washington, D.C.
District 6 VFW Commander David Jarrett says the No. 1 priority of the VFW is “taking care of veterans and their families.” The organization has become more family oriented and the local posts have become deeply involved in their communities—trying “to improve the communities we live in.”
Local VFW posts sponsor patriotic scholarship contests for middle and high school students and Teacher of the Year Recognition programs. They work with elementary school students on flag etiquette and with other community organizations such as firefighters, Boy Scouts, JROTC units, and Civil Air Patrol units. They replace old and worn out flags. They provide military honors for veterans who have passed away, helping families gain closure.
The VFW assists veterans, service members, and their families by representing them in their fight to secure their earned VA benefits – free of charge. (Contact Bobbiejo Lazo in the Hopewell office at 804-452-1437, Kelly Pearson in the Norfolk office at 757-904-1083, or Tami Brown in the Dale City office at 703-670-4124 for assistance.)
VFW Post 4522 is located at 117 East Lee Avenue in downtown Vinton. Meetings are planned for the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m.
The eligibility requirements for joining the VFW include being a U.S. citizen or U.S. National who has served in the US Armed Service and received an Honorable or General discharge or is currently serving. They must have served in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters and have received an authorized campaign medal, or Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay, or have served in Korea.
Roesch emphasizes that the VFW is an inclusive organization open to all living veterans who served in combat regardless of age, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
For more information about the VFW or membership in Post 4522, contact Ken Wiseman at 540-487-4476.