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VFW post celebrates national honor

September 18, 2018

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5877′s members and friends are celebrating an honor with a familiar ring to it, as their organization has won “All American” status for the third time in the past five years.

The post, which has Army veteran Lowell Koppert as its current commander, bagged the same honor in 2013-14 and 2016-17. The most recent honor recognizes general excellence for 2017-18.

Among the group’s most active members is Aiken resident Dick Chelchowski, a retired 20-year Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam. He said the award is partially based on such factors as recruitment, growth of membership, legislative activity and participation in programs such as a “teacher of the year” honor and two essay contests: “Voice of Democracy,” for students in high school; and “Patriot’s Pen,” for middle-schoolers.

Referring to the various criteria for the national award, he noted, “All these categories have to be documented and reported at the state level.”

Chelchowski, whose background is aircraft maintenance, was the post’s commander in 2013-14, the first year in which the post won the All America honor.

The post was established in 1952 and now has about 250 members, with various levels of involvement. Some participate in (and help plan) Aiken’s Memorial Day parade and other patriotic observances.

One of the most prominent is held each June 14: Flag Day. “We conduct a respectful ceremony to retire old and tattered American flags. We retire well over 100 flags at this ceremony and the public is always welcome to participate,” Chelchowski wrote, adding, “These are some of the categories we are judged by and we do them well.”

The group’s current leader, an Aiken resident who now works for the Department of State, is retired from combat service as a Green Beret in Iraq and Afghanistan. Koppert said one of his pet peeves is the idea that some organizations for vets — including VFW — serve mainly as a place where vets can gather at a bar in a smoky room and tell war stories. That is only part of the picture, he noted.

“It is a place for veterans — in our instance, combat veterans — to come together and enjoy that camaraderie that they experienced in the military.”

He noted the VFW is dedicated to serving veterans who were in combat situations. Less than one percent of the U.S. population serves in the military, so the VFW’s situation represents “a unique subculture within a subculture.”

The national group’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts and to serve our veterans, the military and our communities and advocate on behalf of all veterans.”

Post 5877′s building is just off Whiskey Road, south of Aiken, at 116 Midway Circle. Details are at vfw.org and (803) 648-0119.

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