At a gathering of more than 10,000 veterans, two local VFW commanders were presented with VFW All-American Honors, which commemorate those who go above and beyond in their roles as leaders of the group.
Commander James “Jim” Brown, of Titusville VFW Post #5958, and Jason Reed, former commander of the Oil City VFW post #464, were among the many commanders given the honors at the National VFW Convention in Florida held last month.
While their names may have been the ones announced at the convention, both men told The Herald that the honor truly belonged to someone else.
In Brown’s case, the commander saw it as an achievement of the entire post, not solely something earned by him, but through the combined effort and support of the entire Titusville VFW.
“I always use the example of a pyramid,” he said. “Even with that All-American hat, I said ‘I’m the top of the pyramid — I’m the point, and without that base underneath me, that point doesn’t stay there. It collapses. Without that base, there’s no top to that pyramid.’”
Brown described the experience of receiving the award as “surreal.” As someone who considers himself “not much of a people person,” he said it was strange to go out in front of the thousands of veterans in attendance at the convention to be presented with the honor.
Despite this view of himself, Brown has proved to be a capable recruiter for his post. According to the national headquarters of the VFW, Brown recruited 45 new members during his tenure, making him the top recruiter for Pennsylvania.
Brown partially chalked this accomplishment up to his age. At 47 years old, Brown said he is a “tweener,” being young enough to relate to more recent veterans, while still able to communicate effectively with the old guard. He finds speaking with veterans to be easy as the shared experiences of military personnel connect them on a deep level.
“It’s like a different family,” Brown said. “I mean, we call each other brothers and sisters, and it’s not just a term. I mean, we truly feel we are family.”
A major point Brown tries to express when recruiting is the more family and community focused aspects of the VFW. He said that many younger veterans are worried about bringing their families into the VFW, as they often perceive it as a place to smoke and drink.
Brown attempts to get rid of this “stigma” when recruiting, promoting the community involvement activities of the group. He also said that the Titusville post is attempting to move away from the usual image of a VFW, such as likely going non-smoking in the near future.
For former commander Reed, the effort to achieve an All-American Honor was something done through the combined effort of the Oil City VFW, but it was all in the name of a single man.
Last year, the Oil City Post lost its newest commander, Richard Mulholland, when he died suddenly. Before his death, Mulholland had made it a goal to earn an All-American Honor, as he was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, which bears the nickname “All American Division.”
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Reed said. “My name was present on (the honor), but everything we did this past year was in honor of Rich.”
Mulholland was actually the successor to Reed as the commander of the VFW post. However, after the former’s untimely death, Reed stepped back up and pushed everyone to do all they could to win the award.
“We all decided, after Rich’s passing, this was something he wanted to do,” he said. “So, all the members and all the officers made every effort they could to achieve the goal in memory of him.”
It wasn’t easy an easy task, however. Winning an All-American Honor requires the post to see a large swell of recruitment within a certain time frame, as well as participating in multiple community programs. These include sending names of local emergency responders to be recognized by the state VFW and holding essay contests at both the middle school and high school level.
Reed said the Oil City VFW managed to bring in around 30 to 40 new members during the eligibility period. They accomplished this, Reed said, by going after veterans who had decided not to join, many of them from the Vietnam War period, as well as people who had a certain negative view of the VFW.
“A lot of them don’t drink,” he said. “A lot of them don’t smoke. So you have to promote what the VFW does besides sitting in a dark room, drinking cheap beer and smoking cigarettes, which is going out into the community.”
Reed said the hardest part of recruiting is getting people to understand the VFW is more than a kind of bar for veterans. However, the Oil City VFW managed to do just that to earn the honor in Mulholland’s name. The group plans to hold a ceremony on Sept. 7 in which they will place the All-American Honor hat given to those who win the award on the patch board, which honors the service and achievements of the VFW’s members. This will be done in remembrance of Mulholland.
In addition to Brown and Reed, several other Pennsylvania VFW members also received the All-American Honors at the national convention. These included Thomas M. Hanzes, of Greenville; Dwayne Mackenzie, of Ephrata; Clark Eberhart, a transfer commander; and Richard Olvitt, of York.
Each of the honored commanders were also recognized during the Pennsylvania VFW Convention in Erie.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.