Every so often, 88-year-old Chauncey McCann opens a small case filled with military medals and other mementos. They’re from his days as a U.S. Navy radioman first class on the USS St. Louis, a 10,000-ton light cruiser active in the Pacific during World War II.
With each viewing, his mind drifts back to the early 1940s, when an enlisted 17-year-old, on the other side of the world for 3½ years, received and sent Morse code communications, doing his part to make it safer for the invading American forces.
He remembers “enjoying good liberties” at the Hollywood Canteen club while on leave, stateside, as vividly as he recalls surviving the Battle of Leyte Gulf, when his ship was hit by two kamikaze planes, he said.
“It’s not only that I want to remember those days, I can’t forget them,” said the Mt. Pleasant resident.
Mr. McCann is one of the oldest of 556 members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Marilao Post 33 in Greensburg, which turns 100 years old today.
“We’re really proud of our veterans and of how much the post has grown,” post Commander Cliff Smith said. “A lot of VFW posts have collapsed, but ours is thriving because we get our members active and involve their families and the community.”
On Saturday, post members will celebrate the 100th anniversary with a banquet at 5 p.m. at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, Greensburg. More than 230 tickets have been sold, banquet co-chairmen Paul Yeckel and Robert Stricklin said.
Among VFW dignitaries attending are: Larry Reese, past state commander; Nelson Lowes, state surgeon; and Robert Body, District 27 commander. The keynote speaker will be past state Commander Frank Lopes.
Carol D. Thomas of Greensburg, granddaughter of post co-founder Albert C. Johnson, will be in the audience.
Marilao Post 33 has its origins in the Army’s Marilao camp the Philippines, according to a history compiled by post adjutant Robert Krupey, Mr. Smith and others. Marilao is the name of a river and town in the Philippines where a March 27, 1899 battle in the Philippine-American War was fought and won by the U.S.
The first post meeting was held Aug. 21, 1914, in Armory Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue, Greenburg. R.G. Woodside, then national senior vice commander, presided over that meeting, which was attended by 13 men— the post co-founders. The first elected officers were: A.C. Remaley, commander; Harry F. Brewer, adjutant; and Mr. Johnson, paymaster.
Subsequent meetings were held in the Grand Army of the Republic rooms in the Westmoreland County courthouse, the history noted.
Post 33 formally received its charter April 17, 1915, with 70 members. The assigned “33” was a re-issue of a defunct post's number.
On Nov. 2, 1936, members bought the current post building at 516 East Pittsburgh St., from E.M. and Josephine Schuman, for $7,000.
Mr. Yeckel said Post 33 is one of the most active clubs in the area.
The post has an active Ladies Auxiliary and Honor Guard; holds community blood drives, dances and bingos; hosts a Buddy Poppy drive and socials for disabled veterans; and conducts Memorial Day and Veterans Day services, among other activities.
Post 33 has the second largest membership among the 23 posts in District 27, which encompasses Westmoreland County, post Quartermaster Jim Findle said.
“About 10-15 years ago, there were over 800 members, and last year we had 50 more. But the WWII and Korean War vets, they’re dying off every day,” he said.
Mr. Smith, who also is senior vice commander of District 27, said Pennsylvania has the largest total number of VFW members among the 50 states, but the number of VFW posts across the country is dwindling. In Pennsylvania alone, “almost 200 posts are nearly defunct,” and about 6 or 7 posts in District 27 are in dire financial straits, he said.
VFW posts are having a difficult time bringing in younger veterans, partly because those veterans are busy building families, he said.
For Post 33 to survive another 100 years, older members need to be open to change, Mr. Smith said.
“It’s a different world out there now. Younger veterans are not going to buy into the old ways. We want to keep the basic VFW rituals, but add their new ideas to make the organization into something they want to be a part of. We need them to keep us going,” he said.
Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.