VFW Thanksgiving to be a labor of love for Oregon woman

Tammy Walro

Like many veterans, Joseph Matyi didn’t talk much about his military service in WWII.
His daughter, Lisa Schmidlin, recalls asking him, “Dad, what did you do in the Army?”
“He’d say, ‘I worked in the mess tent. I cooked big pots of spaghetti, and peeled potatoes for hours till my hands were sore,’” she said. “Back then, as a 20-some year old, that didn’t sound like it was too horrific.”
Her father died in 1984 at the age of 59, when she was 27. Though she thought of him often, she didn’t think much more about his military service…until a recent series of events prompted her to do a little digging.
What she learned inspired her to do something special to honor her dad and other local veterans and active military for their service this Thanksgiving.
So, on Thursday, Nov. 25, Schmidlin will be peeling lots of potatoes and cooking up turkey, ham and all the fixings for a free Thanksgiving meal at Walbridge VFW Post 9963, where she became a member of the women’s auxiliary in March. She and her husband, Dennis, have offered to cover the cost of the meal.
The planning, shopping and cooking that go along with preparing a holiday meal for what she hopes will be 250 or so people has been a labor of love for Schmidlin, a home baker who is retired from the catering business.
“My dad’s a hero”
Schmidlin’s involvement with the Walbridge VFW began with delivering wedding cakes and food for clients who had events there.
“I was going there quite a bit, delivering cakes and decorations and things for people who had events at the Walbridge VFW, and the hall manager, Guy Gokey, asked if I ever thought about becoming a member,” she said. She learned her dad’s Army service would allow her to join the post’s women’s auxiliary.
“I really enjoyed the people and being at the post, so I decided I’d like to join,” she said.
Post Commander Ken Gilsdorf told her she’d need her dad’s DD-214 – a document of the U.S. Department of Defense, issued upon a military service member's discharge from service. “I sent letters requesting the paperwork and subsequently learned that my dad’s records had been burned in a fire. I sent another letter to another place, and they directed me somewhere else.
“I got really discouraged thinking I was never going to be able to find Dad’s records,” she said. “Then one day, Guy (Gokey) called me and asked if my dad had a funeral,” she said. “Guy said, ‘Call the funeral home; If they gave him a flag or any other military honors, they probably got a copy of his DD-214.’”
She called Ansberg-West Funeral Home, which had managed her father’s funeral arrangements.
“When the woman called back, she said, ‘Lisa, you’re not going to believe this. I got a copy of your dad’s DD-214 and you’re going to be very surprised,’” Schmidlin said. Minutes later, reading the email from the funeral home, her jaw dropped.
“The email detailed all this information I didn’t know – my dad’s rank, private first class – the years that he served, what unit he was in, which I still haven’t deciphered. Apparently, he served in Normandy, working in transportation in a bombardier unit.”
As she read on, she also learned her father had earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star, two bars from Normandy and a good conduct medal.
“Then I really started to cry,” she said.
She called her brother, who is also a veteran, having served in the Army and subsequently worked for the Army as a civilian journalist. “I said, ‘Keith, you’re not going to believe this,’” she said. “Then my brother said, ‘Yeah, Dad told me he saved a guy’s life after pulling someone from a burning plane or helicopter.’
“I was stunned,” Schmidlin said. “I guess because my brother was in the service, Dad talked a little bit about Army stuff with him, but he never talked to me about it. Apparently, he didn’t say much to my mom about it either; at least she has no memory, but she’s 91.
“I thought, ‘My dad’s a hero…he’s my hero,” Schmidlin said.
Schmidlin enjoys being at the VFW post, spending time with veterans and participating in special events and fundraisers. As the fall approached, she approached her husband, Dennis, with the idea of having a Thanksgiving dinner at the post in honor of her dad.
“I told him I wanted the dinner to be free to any veterans, any active military and their families and I want it to be for the community, too, so that people will know what we do at the VFW post – that we’re not just a canteen; that we hold fundraisers and do lots of things to help veterans every single week.
“My husband said, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you want, we’ll get it – let’s do it,’” she said.
Schmidlin then approached post Gilsdorf with the proposal, who agreed to host the dinner at the post. She followed up with fellow members of the women’s auxiliary and the hall manager, who were on board with the plan.
“So, we drew up and got approval for a flyer to get the word out,” Schmidlin said. “We’ve distributed them everywhere we can think of. I felt so empowered to get the message out. We need to recognize our veterans and active military. We have to remember that a lot of these people weren’t drafted; they chose to serve our country and put their life on the line.
“We’re hoping for the best,” she said. “I’m just praying that God will bring the people who need to be there, and it will touch someone’s heart in some way.”
As one might expect, with Turkey Day getting closer, Schmidlin has been pretty busy. “Because of the shortage of turkeys, my husband and I went shopping early and got two carts full of turkeys. We also got some hams and have been buying other items as they’ve gone on sale.
“We’ve been grateful to have received a number of donations toward the meal, too,” she said, adding that fellow auxiliary member Pat Bacon arranged for the use of the VFW hall, and donated the pop for the dinner.
“So far, we have 24 turkeys and three hams, and another person is going to buy more hams,” she said. “If we get a big crowd, I’ll add kielbasa, too.
“We’re also having homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, green bean casserole, corn, deviled eggs, all kinds of salads, and a variety of desserts,” she said. “Pop, lemonade, iced tea, hot chocolate will also be free. Alcoholic beverages will be available at the cash bar.”
Donations will be accepted at the dinner and will be directed to the post Veterans’ Fund, which goes to provide programs and services for area veterans, whether or not they are post members.
The Thanksgiving dinner will be held at 2 p.m. in the Walbridge VFW post hall, 109 N. Main St. Reservations are required and may be made by calling Schmidlin at 419-697-6959 or Gloria Lewiccz at 419-508-2404. Post members may sign up at the canteen.


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