BANDON — When it comes to helping veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars was formed just for that purpose. The Bandon VFW is an active group that seeks to provide activities, services and camaraderie to veterans and their families.
First and foremost, members teach patriotism to the community, especially children. VFW Commander George Trott and Vice Commander Royce Kelley, along with others, have made regular visits to the local elementary schools to show the kids how to fold a flag and what it means to be patriotic. They hold an Honor Guard ceremony, which involves flag protocol, as well as relate the experiences they had in the military. Each presentation is followed by a question-and-answer session.
"Kids ask us the wildest questions," said Jerry Hettenbach, VFW adjunct and American Legion commander.
"One asked if we treated our enemies with mercy," said Kelley. "I paused and said, 'We tried to.'"
Kelley explained to that student that military personnel around the world are bound by the accords of the 1949 Geneva Convention, which are rules that apply during armed conflict to protect the treatment of people, such as prisoners of war, no longer taking part in hostilities.
The VFW also has an educational component for members. Every Friday evening, a talk is given at the hall related to the military, as a reminder of their mission.
Patriotism also extends to other ceremonies and activities VFW members perform throughout Bandon, including gun salutes, flag ceremonies, funerals and the Veterans Flag Project, in which flags are raised at the five cemeteries in town every patriotic holiday.
Another patriotic gathering has taken place every Friday from 4-6 p.m. year-round for the past 14 years. Veterans and others stand on the sidewalk at the corner of U.S. Highway 101 and Highway 42S with flags and signs telling people they "support the troops and their mission." The group gets many shout-outs, thumb's ups and honks from cars passing by.
The initial event started with the pacifist group Women in Black, who silently stood on the opposite corner. In response, the VFW group started gathering on the other corner. At one time, there was also the Veterans for Peace group, which stood on yet another corner, as well as counter-protesters on the fourth corner.
"We have not missed a Friday in 14 years," Trott said. "We're showing support to our troops. They're over there in harm's way and us being out in the rain for two hours is nothing in comparison. We'll stand there until our troops come home."
Comradeship is also an important function of the VFW. Members help each other by holding food and clothing drives for the Veterans Stand Down event, providing transportation to appointments, helping fill out paperwork and doing outreach to veterans who can't make it to the VFW Hall.
"We go to Pacific View (Assisted Living) and talk to the veterans there and they always get a kick out of that," Hettenbach said.
There is also the social aspect of the VFW. With a canteen at the hall, every Friday night there's a dinner and live music or karaoke. Community breakfasts are held on holidays or special events, as well as bake and craft sales. The hall can be rented for other functions as well.
The VFW also takes seriously its mission to honor its members, living or dead.
To that end, the VFW, along with American Legion, Bandon Lions, Bandon Rotary and City of Bandon have spearheaded the construction of a Veterans Memorial to be built in City Park. A groundbreaking will be held on Veterans Day.
Bandon's VFW was established on Feb. 1, 1936. The current hall on Bates Road off of Highway 42S was built in 1982, completely by volunteers. The land was donated for $1 if members agreed to maintain the VFW graveyard adjacent to the hall.
Just this year, the Bandon VFW was officially recognized as the only VFW group in Oregon to be named after a Medal of Honor recipient and the city was designated by the state as a Medal of Honor city. In April, the VFW was renamed the Veterans of Foreign Wars Frank C. High Medal of Honor Post 3440, in honor of U.S. Army Private Frank C. High, a Bandon resident who received the United States of America's highest award — the Congressional Medal of Honor — for Actions of Valor on May 16, 1899 during the Philippine insurrection.
The VFW Auxiliary, once called the Women's Auxiliary, is also active, supporting the activities of the VFW. Auxiliary members are wives, sons and daughters of VFW members. To be a member of the VFW, a person must have served in wartime in a foreign war. But those who served during peace time, or who didn't serve abroad, can become American Legion members.
The VFW is always seeking new members. Although its numbers have dwindled over the years, Bandon's group still boasts about 200, with about one-third of those living out of state. Anyone interested can call Commander Trott at 541-297-7097 for more information.
"Once you walk through that door, you're family," Kelley said.