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VFW post in Hampden to host 9/11 tailgate memorial party

Patriotism is high and bar prices are low at the Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 3065 in Hampden.
Patriotism is high and bar prices are low at the Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 3065 in Hampden. (Photo by Karen Jackson)

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is also the opening day of the National Football League, with the Baltimore Ravens facing the Pittsburgh Steelers — a perfect opportunity for Sheridan VFW Post 3065 to throw a "tailgate memorial party" at the post in Hampden.

But the purpose of the bash isn't simply for area veterans of foreign wars to commemorate terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

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And it isn't just to root for the Ravens, either.

The party, a fundraiser, is also about keeping the 65-year-old post alive at a time when many of its members have died or faded away due to infirmity or indifference.

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And young people aren't joining. Membership is down to 136 from a high of 600 after World War II.

"Truthfully, if we don't get some members, we're not going to survive," said post commander Herbert Hare, a World War II veteran himself and a retired stonecutter.

The welfare of the post is worrisome to the ladies auxiliary, which is increasingly active in raising money on behalf of the post, which also has an active men's auxiliary.

Membership in the post is down due to "lack of interest," said Michele Maszon, junior vice president of the ladies auxiliary. She and auxiliary president Shawn Greene are also trying to pump up the auxiliary – most of whose 43 members are in their 30s or older.

"The post itself has a lot of the older vets," said Maszon, 42. "I don't know a lot of young ones. That's the problem."

The post and its auxiliaries are trying to generate interest in the post and are recruiting a new generation of veterans and their grown children, at a time when the economy is bad — and many returning veterans can't find jobs, Hare said.

"They have their own things to worry about," said Hare, 79, one of only five World War II veterans still at the post.

Hare, as patriotic as he is, tries not to dwell on 9/11, or World War II, for that matter.

Hare isn't planning to go to the party because he has a part-time job that he loves, taking care of the men's locker room at the Elkridge Club on North Charles Street.

Don't get him wrong.

"It was a helluva tragedy," said Hare, a torpedoman in the Navy, as he reflected on the impact of 9/11 and the terrorists. "They hurt us, but we're always going to be here."

He thinks the country has moved beyond 9/11, more than the media realizes.

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"They made too much of it," he said.

Nelson Briley, 85, said he doesn't dwell on 9/11 or World War II, either.

"It's over with," said Briley, a retired oil deliveryman, who was 17 when the Navy destroyer he served aboard fired on the beaches of Normandy.

But the memories and the patriotism live on, and so does the VFW post, at least for now. Keeping it going is what's most important to longtime vets, who say most members now are veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"We still have a good crew," said Hare, kicking back with Briley on a Friday night at a table at the back of the post's barroom.

The post, at 1202 Union Ave., is a happy and lively place with the feel of a club basement and a string of colored lights along the top of the paneled walls.

Beer, wine and drink prices are surprisingly low, and there are six TVs in the bar and an adjacent hall, including three flat-screen TVs that the ladies auxiliary bought with about $1,500 the auxiliary raised.

Bar hounds were watching horse racing on a TV at the end of the bar on Sept. 2. Laughter filled the air and one World War II vet was feeling no pain as Greene prepared to walk him home.

"This is what I like to hear," said Briley, "a lot of noise."

Post members pay $22 a year in dues, and the post pays the dues if members can't afford them.

The ladies auxiliary is especially active, doing fundraisers for everything from TVs and new barstools to money for more general causes, such as cancer research.

"We haven't had a good ladies auxiliary in 15 years," Briley said. "Now, the young ones are bringing it back."

The women's and men's auxiliaries are both sorely needed, Briley said, because, "The only thing that pays our bills is that bar."

The auxiliary is planning a tailgate memorial party from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, including a deejay, beer, pit beef, pit ham, burgers, hot dogs, baked beans and salad. Tickets are $20.

At about 8:30 a.m., a service will be held at a fenced war memorial site outside the post, where yellow ribbons will be tied to five plaques honoring all veterans who have died in war. The flag will be at half-staff.

The auxiliary is also organizing a "cancer dance" and bull roast Oct. 8, and a quarter auction in November, as well as a Breakfast with Santa in December.

The events are as much about raising awareness about the post as they are about raising money.

I never get bored," said Greene, who joined the auxiliary in 2007 with her mother, after the death of her father, a World War II vet.

"There's a lot of things you can get yourself involved in," she said, clipping coupons for veterans as she talked to a reporter on the phone.

The most immediate priority is preparing for the party.

"Our 9/11 tailgating party is to honor people who died in 9/11," Greene said.

But she added, "We're trying to get people to come see what the post is all about.

"We want them to see how much we have done to turn the VFW around."

Quote: Truthfully, if we don't get some members we're not going to survive."

Herbert Hare, post commander

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