The organization is family oriented and provides comradeship for its members.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BESSEMER, Pa. -- At a time when some veterans organizations are struggling to maintain membership, a three-month effort by one man produced enough veterans to charter a new Veterans of Foreign Wars here.
VFW Post 267 became a reality Thursday when its charter was presented by VFW District 25 commander Robert C. Eiler, who succeeded Phillip E. Kelly Sr. as district commander.
Distance is the main reason for wanting a new post, said Kelly, of 110 Clyde Ave., who spearheaded the membership drive. The nearest posts are in New Springfield, Ohio; New Castle and West Middlesex, anywhere from 15 to 25 miles away.
Kelly, 53, elected the first commander of the new Post 267, first joined the VFW in 1969 with Post 252 in Ellwood City, Pa. He eventually transferred to Post 315 in New Castle, where he served as commander in 1996-97.
It was while he was serving as District 25 commander for the 2000-01 year that Kelly said he realized the areas of Bessemer, North Beaver Township and Mahoning Township had several thousand men who are eligible for the VFW.
When he went out of office in July 2001, he began thinking about forming a new post.
"I took that as my personal project," Kelly said.
He said the ball really got rolling in February.
"We went door-to-door and neighbor-to-neighbor to get names. On my street alone, there are at least five veterans eligible for the VFW," he said.
How word spread
After that, the word spread and Kelly received names of veterans that might be interested, and contacted them. He advertised in the local newspaper, put up posters and sent out letters.
"It just opened the floodgate," he said.
The membership drive was so successful that at the initial meeting March 23 at the Bessemer Croatian Club, 25 veterans signed up, the minimum number needed for a charter. At that point, Kelly submitted an application for a charter to District 25.
On Thursday, when Post 267 received its charter, membership was up to 39.
"We're gaining ground all the time," Kelly said.
Chartering a new post is great, particularly because a lot of posts are having trouble, said Pennsylvania VFW Commander Charles Beistline, with headquarters in Harrisburg.
The VFW knew there was a large population in the Bessemer area, Beistline said.
"They went door to door. This proves they [veterans] can be found, but we have to get back to the basics and go out and recruit. They won't come knocking on the door," he said.
Pennsylvania has 598 VFW posts; 24 VFW Districts; and 135,429 members, Beistline said.
To be eligible for the VFW, a veteran must be honorably discharged and have served on land, sea or in the air in a theater of operations during a war-time era.
Kelly said there are good reasons for veterans to join the VFW.
For one, the VFW has representatives in Washington, D.C., who lobby for veterans issues. Membership provides comradeship with people who have had similar experiences, and the VFW is family-oriented. Kelly noted that there are plans to form a ladies auxiliary.
The post's first activities are already under way. The membership has voted to clean up veterans memorials and monuments in the area and to put up wreaths at four monuments.
"On a personal level, getting the Post 267 charter means I've accomplished something as a member of the VFW that few others have done," Kelly said. "I'm doing my part to help fill the void left by the men the VFW lost.
"We're providing an opportunity for men who never belonged to the organization. It is a fresh start," said.
Who's in charge
Post 267 officers are: Commander, Kelly Sr.; senior vice commander, Luther E. Maloney of Bessemer; junior vice commander, William E. Young of Bessemer; quartermaster, Max A. Roseck of Hillsville, Pa.; adjutant, Donald G. Cracraft of Bessemer; judge advocate, Victor Suszynski of Mount Jackson; chaplain, Edward Erhardt of New Castle; surgeon, Thomas F. Wellman of Mahoningtown; officer of the day, Robert C. Moore of Mount Jackson; 3-year trustee, Walter L. Young of Bessemer; 2-year trustee, James L. Hoover of Poland, Ohio; 1-year trustee, Randolph Peace of Edinburg, Pa. Kelly is the post service officer, and William Donahoe of New Castle is post guard.
Kelly, a member of the New Castle Area Honor Guard, served three years of active duty in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam in 1968 and 1970, where he was injured by shrapnel from a mortar. He retired in 1995 as a master sergeant after 23 years in the Army Reserve. He retired from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in 1999 after 29 years as a welder. He and his wife, Rose, have two children: Phillip Jr. and Paula.
Post 267 meets at 2 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month at the Croatian Club. Interested veterans may contact Kelly at (724) 667-9759.