Since Sept. 11, patriotism has been popular, but for members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9478, the concept is crucial.
"Those of us involved in VFW have always been patriotic," said Cascades resident Dave McWatters, a VFW member since he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1981 after two Vietnam tours and serving in the military for 21 years, providing communications and intelligence in the infantry. "We want to keep alive patriotism and love of God and country and the military and honor."
Post 9478 currently has 67 members, most of them from Sterling and Ashburn. The VFW aims to serve veterans whether they are members of a VFW post or not. "We represent all the veterans, even though there is a handful that make the meetings," McWatters said.
ABOUT 12 TO 13 members show up at the monthly Wednesday meetings for a half-hour social hour, followed by a business meeting that includes opening ceremonies and lasts one to one-and-a-half hours. The object or mission of the VFW includes being fraternal, patriotic, historical and educational while strengthening the comradeship among members.
"It's the camaraderie that exists. We have different people from different eras," said Sterling resident Edwin "Ed" Linek, quartermaster for the VFW, past commander and retired warrant officer from the U.S. Navy. "We got Marines, the Navy, the Air Force ... World War II vets, Vietnam vets."
"These boys can tell a few good stories," said Ashburn resident Bill Buckler, commander-elect and retired senior master sergeant who served during the Korean and Vietnam wars for the U.S. Air Force. Buckler said he joined the VFW in 1993 when he was in England. He transferred to the Sterling post in 1999 for the comradeship and "to get together and listen to a few war stories."
Yet the war stories are not the primary topic of conversation, said VFW member Lyle Adams, a retired colonel who served as a B-17 bomber pilot in the World War II Army Air Corps, now called the U.S. Air Force.
"It's something that always is present. It's the foundation," Adams said. "There isn't anything like it that exists. People who have been subject to the discipline of the military, you learn a lot from that. Everybody had a common goal to defend our country and its ... values."
THIRTY VETERANS originally established the Sterling post in 1967. The post began meeting in various places, settling on the Sterling Ruritan Club hall for 20 years and ending up at Falcons Landing two years ago. The commander at the time considered the Sterling-based military retirement home as an ideal meeting place.
"We picked up a few members [since then]," said Sterling resident James "J.T." Luttrell, post chaplain, past commander and a retired warrant officer from the U.S. Army.
Adams is one such member. "I've been a member of the American Legion for many years, but never have been located near a VFW post. When the post ... decided to hold their meetings here, it seemed to be the obvious thing to do," said Adams, who lives in Falcons Landing. "It serves a good purpose, seeking to demonstrate what our country is."
The VFW is the nation's oldest major veteran's organization and has acted as a voice for veterans for more than a century, according to the VFW web site. The organization requires veterans to have serve in an overseas combat, while members of the American Legion served in some form of military service but may not necessarily be able to join the VFW.
VFW members assist other veterans through hospital visits, fund-raising activities and lobbying efforts, while also providing community service.
"It's a way to return to the community and to fellow veterans who need assistance," McWatters said.
THE VFW FUNDS several safety programs, provides a student scholarship and sponsors the Voice of Democracy speaking competition for high school students and an essay program for middle school students. Post members help other clubs in their volunteer work, doing what the members call community activities. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, the members distribute food baskets to the needy, and on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, they distribute buddy poppies, accepting donations for the relief of needy veterans and their families.
"It's extremely important to continue to emphasize the fact these people who we remember in all these circumstances gave their lives because its important to defend our country," Adams said. "We do not have our freedom and liberty at light costs."