Continuing to serve with honor: New beginning for Marco veterans after VFW post closed
They will still be military veterans, and veterans of foreign wars. They will not, however, be members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Marco Island chapter of that organization, VFW Post 6370, has been disbanded after the state VFW gave them an ultimatum – join with the Golden Gate post or surrender their charter. With many older Marco Island VFW members not willing to make the 50-mile round trip to the Golden Gate post, the leadership of Post 6370, the leaders of the Marco Island post opted to shut down their post.
They will not be disappearing, or ceasing to represent military veterans, though, said Dave Gardner, former post commander.
“We’re going to do the exact same thing – we just won’t have any baloney from higher authority,” he said. Jim Lang, another past commander and leader in the post’s disagreement with the state VFW, said they are starting a new organization, to be titled “War Veterans of Marco Island.” The Marco group had been waiting to be sure their chosen name was available before releasing it publicly, but said Tuesday they had official confirmation and “it’s a go.”
Four years ago, when the current state VFW commander, whose term will end on June 30, was the district commander, he expressed dissatisfaction with the Marco chapter, said Gardner and Lang.
“There’s a story behind how we were kicked out,” said Gardner. “We had a visit from the district commander. He pounded the table, and ranted and raved. He said, ‘you don’t do anything. I’m going to take your charter.’ Four years later, he’s the state commander, and he lowered the boom and got back at us.
“We were sending $4-5,000 a year to the national organization. We were supporting the home for veterans’ women and children, and the home for aged vets.”
The state commander, said Lang, “caused a lot of ruckus and got in everyone’s face.”
The state commander in question, Ken Corr of Fort Myers, said that the Marco post had been a problem for years.
“Over the past 10 years, they have not done VFW work. They failed. Anybody who doesn’t do their work will lose their charter. We tried to help them,” but to no avail, said Corr.
Gardner said one requirement that had been stipulated to them was to have a homeless veteran officer, “but we don’t have any homeless vets on Marco Island.” He said the post had maintained an active scholarship program, and would continue to support a VFW facility in Ocala.
“That part we’ll still do – but we won’t be sending our dollars out of Florida.”
Corr said that that Post 6370 had not complied with a requirement to hold a Memorial Day ceremony and report it. Informed that the organization had indeed hosted a widely attended observance, he replied it must be logged into the system.
“If you don’t report it on the website, it’s not being done. What about police officer of the year, firefighter of the year, teacher of the year?”
Dollars that Post 6370 had in its bank account were appropriated by the state VFW, about $3,000, said Gardner – “but we knew this was coming, and made some donations before they took the account.”
Lang and Gardner said that smaller VFW posts around the country had been the victim of consolidation by the national organization. “The Naples post closed, too,” said Lang.
Corr disagreed. “We don’t take surrendering charters lightly. We want to see independent posts.” He claimed that Post 6370 had surrendered their charter voluntarily, but acknowledged the choice the Marco post was given was to merge with the Golden Gate post, or disband.
Gardner, who recently made a personal donation of $10,000 to provide scholarships for Marco Island Academy seniors, and has provided American flags for many years, said he will still be making the flags available, and could be reached at 239-289-5862. Like the VFW, the War Veterans of Marco Island will limit membership to those who served in a war zone for at least 30 days.
“We represent the one tenth of the people in the military who actually picked up guns and used them,” said Gardner, who served as a combat medic in the Korean conflict. “We feel we’re kinda special.”
Don Mills, who had been VFW Post 6370 Commander and served as master of ceremonies at the Memorial Day service, was emotional when he announced the shuttering of the post. “It’s tragic we have to disband.”
Along with 99-year-old Herb Savage, who attended every meeting, Mills is a World War II veteran and one of those who did not want to make the drive back from Golden Gate in the dark.
The War Veterans of Marco Island expects to keep up the meeting schedule they maintained as a VFW post, convening at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at the Omaha Bank building.