Failure to fill leadership roles leads to VFW post's closure

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Tom Thigpen is succinct when describing his feelings about the closure of the Veteran of Foreign Wars post he joined more than 50 years ago.

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Alvin Mays is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3200, which lost its charter. Mays joined after World War II.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Alvin Mays is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3200, which lost its charter. Mays joined after World War II.

“It hurts,” said Thigpen, 82, a veteran of the Korean War and former commander of VFW Post 3200 on Gun Club Road, off River Watch Park­way.

The post’s charter, which dates back at least 70 years, was pulled Tuesday when no one volunteered to become post commander or quartermaster. Without those positions filled, there can be no post, explained member Jim Daskal.

The post’s decline was gradual but seemed to accelerate over the past eight to 10 years as regular members died or could no longer attend meetings and functions. It reached the point that there were not enough active members to hold a membership drive, Daskal said.

The memories of some members stretch back to the original VFW building on Greene Street, when the roster had as many as 1,000 names. There were a few World War I veterans, but most of the young men packing the hall for steak and beer on Friday nights were newly returned from fighting in Europe and the Pacific.

Service projects were im­portant. Veterans visited patients at the Veterans Affairs hospital and Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home; they collected donations by handing out poppies. They were a constant community presence at parades and laid wreaths during the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies.

“That’s what we were founded for,” said member Rob­ert “Sonny” Nelson.

Just as important was the socializing. Audrey Ma­honey was at the post almost as often as her husband, Paul Mahoney, a Navy doctor who served in Vietnam. The VFW was as much a place for therapy as a dance hall, she said. Today’s veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a network of support from the VA, but that was not in place for older veterans, she said.

The VFW “was a place to go and talk with people who have experienced the same things as you,” she said.

Tuesday’s closure of the VFW ends a 67-year fixture of Alvin Mays’ life. Mays, 90, witnessed the beginning of World War II at Pearl Harbor and was still on the front lines with the Army when Hiroshima was bombed. He witnessed terrible carnage and experienced the worst of jungle fighting in the Pacific.

“There was a long time I didn’t want to discuss it,” said Mays, a past commander. When he was willing to open up, however, he had his friends at the VFW to listen.

There are still two VFWs in Augusta Mays could join. Post 3887 commander Abram Dunn said membership remains at about 60 veterans but growth has been stagnant for years.

A message left Fri­day for the commander of Post 649 on Windsor Spring Road was not returned.

Mays said he has no interest in joining a new post.

“I’m not going to get involved in another post and be looked at as a member of the post that went under,” Mays said.

Thigpen’s fondest memories were going into the post after work on a Friday and watching members stream in. The noise grew as the afternoon stretched into the evening. About 10 p.m. people started heading home, often joining up again the next morning for a service project in town.

Those times are over, but Thigpen still holds fast to one truth.

“I’m a life member, and they can’t take that way from me,” he said.

AREA VFW POSTS

For information about VFW Post 3887, call (706) 793-4975. For information about VFW Post 649, call (706) 790-4282.

Comments (38) Add comment
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SemperParatus
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SemperParatus 08/24/12 - 04:55 pm
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Very...

disappointing.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 08/24/12 - 05:52 pm
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Darn

If I was younger, I would love to try an fill that position.What a lost!

dichotomy
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dichotomy 08/24/12 - 06:44 pm
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It's sad to hear of a VFW

It's sad to hear of a VFW post closing due to an aging and declining membership. Too bad the VFW has not been able to bridge with the veterans from the 3 wars in the middle east. I can remember the time when us Veitnam vets were not exactly welcomed by the VFW members....of course we were not exactly welcomed by anybody.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 08/24/12 - 07:39 pm
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To all you veterans...Vietnam

To all you veterans...Vietnam included, dichotomy...thank you so very much for your service to our country! The country would be nothing without your time and committment toward our freedom!

bclicious
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bclicious 08/24/12 - 08:21 pm
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Too sad about young veterans!!!

I only wish that our young veterans would step up to the plate and realize that the VFW is a great organization to be a part of. With all the recent wars, that post's roster should have exceeded 3,000 easily.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/24/12 - 09:17 pm
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I've been a member of that

I've been a member of that post for a couple of years. I hadn't gone much, but I didn't realize they were in that kind of trouble.

Dixieman
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Dixieman 08/24/12 - 09:54 pm
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Sad

I'm a life member too but never went to this post to hang out. Now I wish I had gone.

smartasugarsugar
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smartasugarsugar 08/25/12 - 06:27 am
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its different for each wave of veterans

i don't go to the VFW, because i don't feel i belong. it's a fantastic organization, and I'm sad to see it go. but its not really going, its just a building. the heart, the love and the cause is still very much alive. you have nothing to feel sad about. be proud be happy that you helped countless brothers and sisters through many things. thank you for your service again. we'll be ok, there is another post not too far away.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/25/12 - 08:01 am
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Perhaps younger veterans are

Perhaps younger veterans are choosing to build their lives in healthier ways.

jmo
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jmo 08/25/12 - 08:14 am
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Thank you

Thank you to each of you for your past service. If you are interested, you will be warmly welcomed at American Legion Post 205. Your help in continuing to serve our veterans will be appreciated.

dstewartsr
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dstewartsr 08/25/12 - 08:45 am
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Self-inflicted wounds

.. should not be given much sympathy. The VFW and Legion basically spit on Vietnam veterans; this is the cause of the "missing generation" refered to in the article; it's no mystery. This was the orginal old boy's club of WWII veterans with a occasionally tolerated Korean vet, a mutual admiration society that whose attitude was --and probably still is, "We won our war, we don't need you," at least until now. What does the "loss" mean to me? One or two less pieces of junk mail.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/12 - 09:53 am
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Dstewart, I respectfully disagree

I found VFW Post 3200 to be respectful of all veterans....young and old. All wars. A past commander had been in Gulf War II.

Willow, that post did not allow smoking inside and many people there did not drink. I hadn't been in a couple of years, but the last time I was there was with a large crowd watching the football game and I wasn't drinking. Well, I had an excuse..I'd just had my appendix removed. But, seriously, many go there who don't drink.

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 10:45 am
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Riverman...

Are you sure about the non-smoking policy at 3200?

I've been a member there for several years and I thought all the smoke was why I quit going. Also, I don't remember seeing lots of people who weren't drinking. Maybe I'm thinking of another 3200.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/25/12 - 10:58 am
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River, the military is famous

River, the military is famous for encouraging it's members to seek alcohol related activities which is devastating to them and their families.
If the purpose of the VFW is to give emotional support and healing to it's members, then I am just saying that seeking support with alcohol as the foundation is never healthy and doesn't work.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/12 - 11:08 am
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Harley, they did implement a

Harley, they did implement a no smoking policy a couple of years ago. Smokers had to go out on the deck. Now, realize I hadn't been in a couple of years. When is the last time you went? Willow, sure there was lots of drinking at the canteen as it was called, but there were other activities. And something else, if you were a member you would be welcome to sit there, talk, watch the game and not drink. They also became involved in many charity projects. For awhile that post was able to keep going because grateful veterans died and left assets to them in their wills.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/25/12 - 11:10 am
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:)

:)

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 11:27 am
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River...

....I was in there maybe two or three times in the past two years. Mrs. Harley was with me once. I've known a some of the guys in there for a long time. It was a nice club (as VFWs go) and I agree with you that you were welcome even if you chose not to drink alcohol (as Mrs. Harley chose), but I seem to remember a lot of smoke and I can't handle the smoke, though, as you know, I am a huge supporter of property rights including the right to allow smoking in a property you own.

Willow, I love you, but you're WAY out on your view that "the military is famous for encouraging it's members to seek alcohol related activities which is devastating to them and their families."

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/12 - 11:44 am
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Harley, all that could be.

Harley, all that could be. Our time lines may be off a bit, but I do remember the big controversy when the no smoking policy was implemented. You had to sit out on deck where you also waited to be voted in. It could be the no smoking didn't last. I dunno. You may have been there after me.

Riverman1
106997
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Riverman1 08/25/12 - 11:57 am
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Willow, could be right. Look

Willow, could be right. Look at you and me, Harley. Heh, heh, heh

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 12:09 pm
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"Look at you and me, Harley"

...I'd hope we could come up with better examples. :)

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 01:54 pm
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dstewartsr

I know what you mean about how Vietnam vets were treated in VFWs, but I think that was a long time ago, and I think it's a phenomena that happens with each generation. I remember the older guys looked at us with a degree of skepticism, but I think it was no different than how the old Sergeants looked at us when we were recruits. We weren't from the "brown shoe" Army, we were told. We had it a lot easier than they did, they said. We didn't know what "tough" really meant, I heard over and over.

I think it's like parents talking to their kids, or the older kids in a family believing they went through harder times than the younger kids.

Maybe I'm wrong, and even if I am wrong I can say those days are long gone and for the past four decades (at least) Vietnam vets have been treated just fine by the "old" vets in VFWs. I suspect some of the younger war veterans today feel like we did back in the "old days."

dstewartsr
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dstewartsr 08/25/12 - 02:41 pm
2
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Too little,

...too late. This is not just my opinion; both the VFW and Legion saw declining membership and support, and studied the matter in the late 90's. Their conclusion was the failure of both organizations to welcome the Vietnam veterans, and in many cases, exclusionary and hostile memberships.

They cannot spit on an entire class of veterans and then expect their support and bodies because the organization needs THEM now. Great place to open a weave studio or taco stand-- something useful in the community.

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 02:50 pm
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Never Heard Of Those Studies....

....but I am familiar with both American Legions and VFWs, having been a member of both organizations since the 1960s. I'm also familiar with the lack of acceptance Vietnam vets received initially from the "old guys."

Perhaps it is "too little, too late" for you, but I have long since forgotten about it.

Different strokes for different folks, they say.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/25/12 - 09:06 pm
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harley, you are right. I

harley, you are right. I apologize to everyone for how I said that. I didn't state my opinion very well. Let me clarify by saying that my purpose is not to cut down the military. Everyone in the military, nor everyone who takes a drink, is neither a drunk nor an alcoholic. The love of my life, my father, was career military.

When I said they encourgaged it, I failed to explain how they do so.
No matter what may be said by leadership, it is over ridden by the establishment of …

"Happy Hour" time posted at the gates… military drinking clubs such as Officer's Clubs; NCO Clubs and VFW’s.

Military men and women are highly vulnerable to stress related disorders and as such offering social outlets or support groups centered around the excuse of alcohol use is a very bad idea at best.

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 05:02 pm
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Willow....

I know where you're coming from and I appreciate your revising the thought, but let me say this....

The point you are making used to be true, but no longer. When I first entered the Army and for most of my career, drinking in the Army was quite commonplace. I suspect other services were much the same. My first few commanders insisted we meet him at "the club" every Friday and also insisted we all stay as long as he did (which was usually late.) Unit picnics and parties all featured kegs and cans. Those things are now relics of the past.

In the 80s everything changed. Today, at Fort Gordon for example, there is no Officers Club and no NCO club. There is a single "Club" for anyone who chooses to go, and I understand not many so choose. These days, commanders don't encourage drinking, they strongly discourage it and one way to ruin a career is to get a DUI. You're history. Drinking is discouraged on Active Duty and I suspect that has a lot to do with falling memberships in both the VFW and the American Legion which, by the way, shouldn't be considered part of "the service" because they have little to do with it....I mean beyond the requirement for membership. There is no chain of command between the services and those two organizations.

It's different now than when your father was on duty, or even when I was. I'm not saying soldiers don't drink for sure, just that they don't do it with any encouragement (or facilitation) from the Army.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 08/25/12 - 05:29 pm
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Brothers!

I think I will bite my tongue and stay away from making a comment.
I read all the comments by my Brother Friends and almost all I agree and disagree on most of your comments.
So I will go to bed tonight and not fear a blanket party against me. I will always support you all.

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 05:37 pm
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CG.....

Please add your two cents....I'd love to hear your views.

Riverman1
106997
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Riverman1 08/25/12 - 06:30 pm
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Man, there's no better fun

Man, there's no better fun than getting drunk, pushing a drunk pilot in his helicopter seat, going up and lighting up anything moving where it shouldn't be. CGEE and I'd take turns on the 50. Ah, the good old days. Give me enough booze and I'd have all kinds of medals.

harley_52
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harley_52 08/25/12 - 06:36 pm
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" Ah, the good old days."

I totally agree. It's a different Army and I'm not sure I'd make it in the new one.

Lots of camaraderie resulted from those unit parties and from sitting together with your teammates and drinking a few beers. Personally, I think the Army made a big mistake when they turned away from it, but that's just me. I think it probably had a lot to do with legal issues, but even more, I think, it had to do with Political Correctness which now rules the Army, much like it does the rest of the Country.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/25/12 - 09:06 pm
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Harley, thank you for telling

Harley, thank you for telling me about the changing attitudes

Hope I didn't offend all the men that I love and respect. There is clearly a lot that I wouldn't know about being a soldier or a guy. All any of us have to share is our own experience, and mine comes out of years of mentoring to both civilian and military wives, widows and children of adult alcoholics.

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