Frustrated VFW Post members looking for better place to meet
They’ve had enough.
And enough is enough.
Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4327 in Merced say they are tired and fed up of having to gather and hold meetings in cramped, ill-equipped quarters while their counterparts in the American Legion Post 83 are enjoying full use of the county-owned Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street.
Simply put: They want out of a little, so-called “Hut,” and they’re hoping some kind-hearted city and/or county officials will help them find a new facility where they can meet, put on events and fundraisers, and plan community activities.
“I’m going to fight so that we don’t have to be treated like this anymore,” said 82-year-old Ralph Gonzales, an Army veteran. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong for guys who have seen combat, and they make it back home, and decades later, they still get treated like this.”
The Times met up with Gonzales and six of his brothers in arms on Monday night inside The Hut. It was cluttered with equipment, memorabilia, tables and chairs. At max, the place looked like it was able to hold about 15 people, but not comfortably. The veterans said they have the potential of having up to 90 VFW members come to meetings if they had an adequate place.
When asked why they were meeting in The Hut, they pointed outside to the East Wing of the Veterans Memorial Building where a big event appeared to be going on.
“We had a longstanding agreement with the Legion to have use of the East Wing,” said John Saenz, a 68-year-old Navy veteran. “But they rent it out. And they also have to open it up. We never got a key to the building that was promised.”
It’s unclear how old The Hut is, but some say it used to be an old Boy Scout “hut” — hence the name. Saenz says it became a VFW hut in 1931.
VFW Post 4327 was chartered by the state in the mid-1970s. One of the soldiers said the VFW started taking on heat in the early 1990s when, he said, the American Legion leaders got together with the Merced County Board of Supervisors, and a lawyer, and they drew up a lease agreement giving the Legion responsibility and control of the main building.
They say the VFW Post has played second fiddle ever since.
A few years ago, past Legion leaders reportedly took down the VFW sign that hung above the East Wing. More recently, the VFW Post has been told The Hut needs to come up to building codes, and a wheelchair ramp needed to be added.
“Merced County doesn’t have the money or the time to put the ramp in there for us,” Saenz said.
Members feel they are being forced out, and that the Legion wants to turn The Hunt into a storage unit or something else.
“The whole damn thing is politics,” said 72-year-old veteran Bob Grissom.
Gonzales chimed in and said, “That guy fought in Vietnam. … He knows.”
After all that’s been said and done, the members of Post 4327 are ready to give up The Hut. They just want their own place.
Saenz say they have faithfully paid utility bills and insurance related to The Hut, and they will do so for another city or county-sponsored building. Grissom added that members would be willing to help renovate an old vacant building that’s not being used. Surely there’s got to be one around town, they say.
Several members said they would love to use the old fire station at 27th and K streets near John Muir Elementary. The City of Merced recently restored the facility. However, Mayor Mike Murphy announced in his State of the City address last week that the venue was going to be used for youth recreation.
The old soldiers say they will not retreat on the issue. They say they are prepared to go on the offense and hold their meetings under a big tent in what’s known as Merced County Veterans Memorial Park near the Courthouse Museum.
“One way or another, we are going to let people know what we are doing, what we are all about, and that we served our country,” Gonzales said.
The Times was unable to speak to a Legion representative about the issue before press time this week. Stay tuned for more in upcoming editions of the County Times.