ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ In solemn remembrance for those who’ve fallen, members of Alachua County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2811 and its auxiliary spent the early hours of Nov. 4 decorating the graves of former servicemembers in preparation for Veterans Day. By reverently placing small United States flags near each headstone, they’ve shared in a custom that has a special meaning to those who’ve dedicated themselves to helping local veterans.
Before noon, approximately 2,300 flags were placed in six local cemeteries. Among those decorated were Forest Meadow East Cemetery and Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Designated a Florida Heritage Site, the latter is the final resting place of Marine Lance Cpl. Vernon T. Carter, Jr. – Gainesville’s first Vietnam War casualty.
In less than two weeks, the flags will be collected. And the mission of the VFW post will go on.
Alachua County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2811 has maintained a proud tradition of upholding the VFW’s motto – honoring the dead by helping the living. Although more than a routine day for the veterans of VFW Post 2811and its auxiliary, the graveside tributes are just one of many benevolent works done to support those who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force and Coast Guard.
“We’re not just here for veterans on Veterans Day,” said VFW Post 2811 Commander Chester Lundy. “We’re here to help all veterans, at all times.”
Formed nearly 125 years ago by those who deployed to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and China, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has a proud tradition of service. Its work in advocating for the welfare of veterans and their families has been endorsed by a perpetual congressional charter, and its lobbying efforts helped form the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Health Administration.
For nearly a century, VFW Post 2811’s good work has also been recognized. Several times over its history, Alachua County VFW Post 2811 has been selected as an All-State Post. It earned this honor largely on the strength of its community service.
To be selected as an All-State Post, Commander Lundy and the other VFW Post 2811 members had to accomplish a long list of service-oriented goals outlined by the VFW Department of Florida.
Such good works include supporting student scholarship programs, helping hospitalized veterans, and participating in fund raising to assist the VFW’s network of service officers. Through its world-wide network of service officers and individual posts, the VFW directly assists veterans in filing benefit claims, as well as promoting awareness for veterans’ preference in government employment and educational opportunities.
Also, magazines, periodicals, podcasts and social media messages produced by the VFW on the state and national levels regularly inform members about the myriad of services and benefits available to eligible veterans. Former servicemembers in the VFW receive steady, up-to-date information not only about current benefits, but legislative efforts by veterans service organizations to help those in its ranks.
All of these services are provided free of cost—regardless if veterans can qualify for full VFW membership or not.
“We’d like people to get past thinking that we’re a smoke-filled bar,” said Lundy, a Marine veteran of Operation Desert Storm. “We’re a service organization that helps veterans and their families.”
The building VFW Post 2811 meets in does serve a vital purpose. Money raised by the VFW post through its canteen and social hall funds veterans’ programs. This fills an important niche. Not all veterans who need support have their necessities completely met by the government.
Many of the local homeless veterans and other residents at local veterans’ centers are indigent, and what little financial support they have by way of pension or government benefits are utilized to help finance their care. All the monies raised above operational costs from bingos and other such games of chance conducted by the Gainesville VFW post goes to help fellow veterans.
An example of this would be the post food and clothing drives that directly help local and hospitalized veterans. Additionally, VFW Post 2811 funds monthly picnics and other activities for low-income veterans who are living at the Sunshine Inn, Gainesville.
“We’re on a mission here,” said Avery Owen, VFW Post 2811 quartermaster. “Much like we did on active duty, we’re supporting each other.”
The quartermaster added that those in the VFW who attend meetings and are active in their posts are not only able to learn about benefits and programs, but speak with veterans who’ve applied for and have taken advantage of them.
“Veterans talk to each other,” said Owen, who retired as a master sergeant with the 3rd Bn, 20th Special Forces Group of the Florida Army National Guard. “We also watch out for each other. That camaraderie runs deep, and doesn’t end after one leaves the military.”
Some of the post’s programs over the years have been unique and literally homegrown. For instance, VFW Post 2811 collaborated last year with the local nonprofit, Grow Gainesville. The resulting initiative established a gardening therapy program for combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to fellow veterans, the post’s outreach efforts also extend to youth programs. Community groups VFW Post 2811 has worked with over the years include Scouting, the Young Marines and the local Eastside and Gainesville High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Also, the student-focused VFW Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen programs that potentially award thousands in college and university scholarships are supported.
From its initial chartered membership of a few veterans mustered in May 21, 1933, the post’s roster has swollen to more than several times that amount. But despite its visibility in the community and focus on service, finding new members has been a problem.
Much of this, said Lundy, is because of misconceptions some in the community have about the VFW.
“This isn’t a club,” the Marine said. “This is a service organization. Veterans who need help or those who want to help veterans should join.”
Those interested in VFW Post 2811 and its activities can call 352-376-7660.
* * *
Michael P. Mauer is a life member of VFW Post 2811. He served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war. This year, Mauer won the Grand Award for top feature article in the VFW National Publications Contest.
# # #
- Font Size
- Reading Mode