Middle-East era vets: VFW can be big help

J. Patrick Eaken

Membership at the Greater Birmingham VFW Post 4906 remains strong at 125 veterans and 300 auxiliary members.

Inside their banquet hall on Consaul Street in East Toledo’s historic Birmingham neighborhood, the post displays a memory case. Inside are flags and medals donated by the families of past members who have fallen, charter photos, and pictures from the opening of the new Glass City Skyway Interstate 280 bridge that the VFW was a part of.

However, there is an active attempt to recruit veterans who served over the last three decades-plus while the United States was involved in Middle East conflicts.

“We’re trying to recruit younger veterans and would love to have younger veterans come in and join us. Right now, we are mostly Vietnam-era veterans, and most of us are up in the 70s, so we would love to have newer veterans and hopefully they could carry us further. A lot of VFWs are in the same position, their members are dwindling as we get older and numbers are dropping off,” said Birmingham Post Commander Jesse Suraica, a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Germany.

“We’ve been here for most of our lives, but it’s just a generation-gap if you will. The younger generation just has different ideas than what is actually established as a VFW. What happens, too, is a lot of your younger veterans have families and have jobs. We try to look at that aspect of it as well — many of them don’t have time because of jobs and all that.”

For the younger veterans, the VFW can provide assistance on obtaining benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs by calling 419-698-4411.

Birmingham Post member Gena LaHote, a Korean War-era Army who is also the auxiliary’s vice president, for 20 years drove a van taking veterans from the Toledo VA Outpatient Clinic to the VA Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

“I want to tell you the organizations, the American Legion, the VFW have done so much for veterans. I’ll grant you the VA is good to give them medical care, but they need a little bit more than medical care and subsidizing them. The Legion and the VFW have done great for them,” LaHote said.

The Birmingham VFW has banquet facilities for fundraising, social engagements, and can arrange to host in-house funeral services for veterans. Plus, if a veteran needs an ear, the VFW is a good place to go.

“A lot of veterans don’t talk about the war. There are a lot of atrocities that occur during war,” Suraica said. “You want to forget them, but you can’t. They can release because they have fellow veterans here who can appreciate what they’ve been through.”

One of the Birmingham VFW members says whether its World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, “each war is different and has created a different breed of soldier.”

“They appreciated the VFW. They got together and they talked about it among themselves, where they didn’t tell their family or their wives, or their kids. I think that is why you don’t have the membership today like you did back in World War II,” he said.

“My brother was in the Navy and his ship got sunk over at Algiers, and the only way I knew his ship sunk was that he came home and got rope burns. After he went back, I asked my mother what happened and she told me, but he didn’t tell me. They didn’t talk about things.”

The Post 4906 veterans believe it can be the same for those who served during the more modern conflicts. The same has been heard from VFWs and American Legion posts in Oregon, Walbridge, Genoa and Elmore, too. Some, like VFW Post 2510 on Second Street in East Toledo, have already closed.

“We discussed that the other day — the charter members who started this after World War II are now gone. Now, Vietnam era veterans have taken over but now we are dwindling so we need younger veterans to take over where we leave off,” Suraica said.


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