Many veterans continue their military service by serving their fellow veterans and their community through their membership in veterans’ organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Stephen Wheeler, commander of VFW Post 6602.
“We visit hospitals and nursing homes once a month in Milledgeville and Augusta, and we adopt a unit overseas, then send letters and care packages to the soldiers in that unit,” said Wheeler, a military retiree who served two tours in Vietnam. “We’ve got officers in Washington, D.C., who help us fight for veterans’ rights. Our national president, Bill Thien, visits the president once a year.”
Locally, Wheeler — who has served as post commander and quartermaster — said Post 6602 conducts special ceremonies that commemorate Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day. During these ceremonies, he said, the VFW is joined by other local veterans’ organizations, active-duty soldiers and the 3rd Infantry Division band.
He said Post 6602 supports the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School, and their cadets take an active part in these ceremonies. The VFW also participates in the Veterans Day parade sponsored by the East Liberty American Legion Post 321. He said this year, the Veterans Day parade will be held Nov. 16 as part of a special Veterans Salute that’s supported by all local veterans groups.
According to presentation slides provided by vfw.org, the VFW has a history going back more than 110 years. The VFW’s nearly 2 million members make up more than 7,400 posts in the United States and around the world. Although most members are Vietnam veterans, more than half of its members are younger than 30, and a growing number of them are women.
Wheeler said Post 6602 has about 380 members, adding that its Ladies Auxiliary is an important part of their organization, supporting the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure (for breast cancer) and helping at nursing homes.
“First and foremost, the VFW is a nonprofit organization,” Wheeler said. “We’re here to serve our veterans and their families and to strengthen our community.”
Recently at Post 6602, Wheeler proudly pointed to pictures, plaques and mementos hanging on the walls inside the doorway. Outside, he pointed to a large display honoring American prisoners of war and those missing in action, and a red, white and blue mail box — a drop-off for worn and torn American flags. His post works with American Legion Post 168 to hold flag-retirement ceremonies.
Across from the flag-retirement box is a huge rock that he said the VFW had delivered from Fort Irwin, Calif. Statues of soldiers stand guard on either side of the rock monument. A large brass plate notes that Post 6602 was chartered Nov. 3, 1958. The monument was dedicated Nov. 11, 1990 to “veterans of all wars.”
Wheeler said under that huge rock is a time capsule containing dog tags, military identification cards and other items relevant to those who dedicated the memorial, including himself.