American Legion, VFW find common ground
The commander of American Legion Post 83 in Merced told the Times his organization intends to keep working well together with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4327 members, including service to the community and shared use of the historic Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street.
Commander Ed Benes, a retired lieutenant colonel of the United States Marine Corps, described a recent situation involving complaints by VFW members as a “scheduling mix-up” and called for improved coordination between the two groups.
Six VFW Post 4327 members had complained to the Times that their regular monthly meeting in February was disrupted because space in the Memorial Building was rented out to a private party. They said the situation only highlighted the fact that they can no longer use a small “hut” on the property that is not up to building codes. The VFW members also made a community call for help to find a new facility where they can hold their meetings and community events.
In response, Commander Benes said: “We regret the confusion. We are happy to continue our relationship with the VFW and make the Hall available to them, and there should be no future problems.”
Both groups were scheduled to hold meetings this week. VFW member John Saenz told the Times his fellow members will be attending the American Legion meeting. Saenz said the VFW Commander Alex Flores has been out of town on
National Guard duty, but members have discussed the recent issues. He said a majority of members are willing to resume monthly meetings in the East Wing, every second Monday; however, they will continue to search for a new meeting facility at another site in Merced. The search goes on, he said.
Benes said the Legion had approved the VFW’s use of the East Wing of the Memorial Building this past December seeing the need for the members, and also after the county had indicated last year that the old VFW hut was not up to ADA access requirements, and should be torn down or used as a storage unit. He said the VFW’s meeting date was mistakenly not blocked off on the Legion’s calendar for February, but they have since blocked off future meeting dates.
“We have a great history of working together for years and years,” Benes pointed out. “The VFW is a parallel organization with the American Legion. Some of our members are members in both groups. Our members serve together in our Color Guard and our Honor Guard.”
The commander said he wants an open line of communication with VFW members and they are welcome to visit the Legion office at any time — the hours are 8 a.m. to noon, Tuesday through Friday. The VFW also has a mail box in the main office.
Benes started out as the Post 83 commander only seven months ago. He has been a member for 25 years, and he’s known for his role as an American Legion Baseball Commissioner for Central California and a coach.
He said he was proud of the Legion’s community service, including providing Honor Guards for funerals on a weekly basis, Color Guards at parades and for hoisting flags at local schools, and fun dining and other events at the Veterans Hall.
“This organization does a lot of good, and we get important support from the VFW, and we appreciate that,” he said.
The American Legion Post 83 holds the primary custodial responsibility of the Veterans Memorial Building, which is owned by the county. Benes said there’s a whole handbook on procedures, licenses and authority involved in the entire operation, including the use of the kitchen and bar areas, and the meeting places.
He said keeping the place running and paying the bills is a big job, and rentals for community events are the Legion’s main source of income to pay for it.
The county is currently in the process of making renovations to the historic building, including adding a new air conditioning system. Surprisingly, the halls have been using swamp coolers for years. That said, Benes expects the new air system will only further jack up an already significant monthly energy bill that Legion has to pay. “It’s a blessing on one hand, and a curse on the other, but it has to be done.”
The commander added that they have put in a request with the county for solar panels to help bring costs down at the Veterans Memorial Building.
The American Legion has about 480 members who donate to the cause, but only a small fraction of them show up for regular meetings, Benes said. The Legion welcomes those who have served honorably in military duty to become involved. There are roughly 14,900 posts in the United States. Legion Posts will often host events such as games, breakfasts, holiday celebrations, and they are available to the community in time of need.
As for the VFW, Benes said, “We want them to be successful just like us … They are welcome to hold BBQs and fundraisers. Use of the Veterans Building should be of mutual benefit.”