On a bustling day at American Legion Post 178 in Lakewood, there’s bingo — always a big draw. Soon, a spaghetti lunch will be served — a crowd favorite.
But on this particular Thursday, there’s something bigger than fun and food to think about.
It’s Veterans Day. And for those who’ve served the country, and those who serve veterans, American Legion Post 178 in Applewood is a place to reflect, remember and spend time with others who share this common bond.
Dee Yurko is selling bingo tickets. She’s been involved with the American Legion for 56 years and a member of Post 178 since 2003. She says Veteran’s Day, to her, is all about paying respects.
“It means honoring all of the veterans that served,” she said. “Those who are still with us and those who have passed.”
Nancy Chandler is a member of the American Legion’s Auxiliary. They do a variety of things to help veterans. One of the most poignant and perhaps relevant in the current culture, is creating suicide prevention journals for veterans.
Chandler is also Post 178’s Historian. In that role, she documents stories and captures photos of members to keep and makes quilts to aid in fundraising efforts.
“My daddy was in World War 1, in supply, so he got to give everybody their boots and their uniforms, and my brother was in World War 2 — he was an Air Corps pilot. My son was in the Army and I tried to get into the service and I was too little and too young and they just laughed at me,” she said.
She becomes a bit emotional as she talks about participants in her “Hug a Vet” program and why it resonates so much on this day.
“We had one winner of a quilt. His name was Hal. He flew 198 missions during the Korean War. He just turned 90,” she said. “When he got his quilt — I was telling him about all of the women (who make the quilts) that put so much work into them, and he said “I want to give a donation,” and he reached into his wallet and gave me all he had. And that’s what it (Veterans Day) means to me. They gave all they had.”
Kathy Schwab works behind the bar at Post 178. Her son was a Green Beret who spent 10 years in the Army. She said decades spent in her job have created a sense of family between her and the members. Some regulars have been known to give her a call to let her know they won’t be in if they’re going on vacation, because they know she’ll worry if they don’t pop in for a drink or to say hello.
“This is where my heart is,” she says. “This is a wonderful post and God bless all of the veterans and their families.’
Joe Hiller doesn’t mind chatting for a minute during the bingo break. He spent a few years in the Army during the Korean conflict in the early 1950s. He’s been a member of Post 178 for 35 years. Ron King, sharing a table with Hiller and another friend, fought
in Vietnam. He says to him, Veterans Day is all about heroes that have passed away, and their families.
“I think about that a lot,” he says. “It’s coming up on Christmas, and it’s deep in my heart and it stays there because I lost a few friends in ‘Nam and to this day I think about them and all of the families that have been affected.”
King has a grandson who served in Iraq. He says he’s thankful there’s more empathy shown to American soldiers returning from war today than there was when troops came back from Vietnam.
“We were in a different situation back in the ‘70s,” he says. “Back then, a purple heart wouldn’t get you a glass of water. Protesting was heavy back then and we felt very unappreciated returning from Vietnam. It was a rough war for everyone.”
He said he knows times have changed for the better for today’s soldiers and he’s for it, but he worries about high suicide rates among veterans and knows more needs to be done to support them.