March 1944 was a challenging time in the history of the world. The United States began bombing Berlin, Germany, bringing the war home to the Nazis. In fact, on March 22, over 600 8th Air Force bombers attacked Berlin in one raid. The German submarine U-575 sank the HMS Asphodel in the Atlantic Ocean killing 92 of the 97 men aboard. Imperial Japan began an offensive in Burma. At least 1,000 Jews were sent from Drancy, France to the Auschwitz death camp. Allied troops were fighting in Italy, throughout the Pacific, and on land, on the seas and in the air. The carnage of D-Day was still a couple of months away.
During that difficult spring of 1944, the Radford Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 776 was founded.
At last Monday’s meeting, the Radford City Council presented a plaque to representatives of the post after Vice-Mayor Dick Harshberger read a special resolution approved by the council recognizing the many notable activities of the VFW and what the group means to the community on its 75th anniversary.
According to the national organization, the purpose of the VFW is to “speed rehabilitation of the nation’s disabled and needy veterans, assist veterans’ widows and orphans and the dependents of needy or disabled veterans, and promote Americanism by means of education in patriotism and by constructive service to local communities.”
In Radford, the VFW achieves this mission by being involved in all aspects of the community. The organization provides new flags for each of the schools when needed. Members serve as honor guards for city council meetings, funerals and remembrance services. They participate in patriotic events like Memorial Day, Veterans Day, the Fourth of July and other ceremonies. They assist in flag disposal procedures and “watchfires.” Members visit schools for special events, to share experiences, and for many different projects. There are also national educational programs, including the Voice of Democracy audio essay competition for grades 9-12 and the Patriot’s Pen essay contest for grades 6-8. This short list is just a sampling of the VFW’s activities.
VFW Post 776 serves as a place where veterans can get together to share the camaraderie and patriotism that permeates the organization. All kinds of projects and social activities bring veterans, a band of brothers and sisters, together as a community united by service to the country.
Recently, the city council discussed the concept of an armed services flag display at the entrance to Radford near the Memorial Bridge. The VFW has been advocating for this display, and the city council indicated that they supported the concept. They also discussed exploring ways to raise funds for the project which would need flag poles and the purchase of flags.
Speaking of flags, Councilman Rob Gropman led an initiative that obtained donated funds that the city council enthusiastically agreed to accept for the placement of American flags on poles on the Memorial Bridge itself. These flags should be in place in time for Memorial Day.
Radford is a city that reflects the patriotic virtues that make our country exceptional. Adlai Stevenson once said, “When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.”
The members of the VFW, men and women who joined the armed services to protect that “inner light of freedom,” understand the fragility of liberty. They recognize the importance of being vigilant in promoting and educating citizens with a sense of duty to America and the rights secured by the Constitution. Not only did they fight for our freedoms; they fought for those same opportunities for people around the world.
Stevenson also said, “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
No, patriotism is not wrapping oneself in the flag, using patriotic words that do not match deeds or the fleeting commitment to duty expressed by Thomas Paine’s “summer soldier and sunshine patriot.” It is, instead, that “tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime” that characterizes the VFW. The members of the VFW have admirably modeled that kind of patriotism, service and leadership for the Radford community for the last 75 years.
Congratulations, VFW members, on this Diamond Anniversary. May you continue to teach and enrich our community about the importance of duty and love of country for many years to come.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.