A Laramie membership club, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, commonly known as the VFW, has a proud history in Laramie.
Established in 1899
Veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902 founded the VFW as a nationwide organization. The goal at the time was to secure the rights to medical care and veterans’ pensions.
It was through their efforts, starting in 1899, that the Veterans Administration began. They were also instrumental in the establishment of national cemeteries—other than Arlington National Cemetery, which had been formally declared for Civil War veterans in 1864.
Laramie VFW Post 2221 was established in 1931—it shows up first in the Laramie City Directory of 1934-5. At that time it met at 419 S. 2nd St. This was the former Lovejoy bike shop and garage building, the downstairs of which had been converted into the Mapleway Bowling Lanes. The building is still standing, next to Prairie Rose Café.
Joining the VFW
As the name implies, to become a member of the VFW, men or women must have been in a branch of the military at the time a state of military conflict existed. Also, they must have served in an active theater of that conflict or war. Members include those in the National Guard who have been deployed. Auxiliary members are women with close relatives who are VFW members.
Those who want to join must have served honorably as verified by having been awarded an approved campaign medal and citation. These veterans present their credentials to a local VFW post when they apply for membership. Also eligible are those who have received extra “danger pay” for being under hostile fire. Servicemen and women receive the DD 214 form, a “separation document” given to all personnel when they leave the military. It shows their service record and is needed for certifying VFW eligibility, and other veteran’s benefits.
“I’ve been a member for 51 years,” says former post commander Bob Gonzales, who still helps out tending bar and showing visitors around the facility. “My dad signed me up when I was still in ‘Nam, serving in the US Navy Quartermaster Corps from 1966-1970. Now we have 50 who pay dues annually and 290 life members for a total of 340 total in Post 2221.”
At the Laramie Post, there are still a few members who saw service in World War II. They include Ken Brown, Howard Wolf and Evan Hererra. But most are veterans of more recent conflicts including Korea, where American soldiers fought as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Current Laramie Post Commander Lee Killian says, “Many of the current members like me are veterans of Vietnam. I registered for the draft and knew that I’d be called up, so I enlisted to get the suspense over with.”
Some more recent members have received the “Global War on Terrorism Service Medal” for their service in the various theaters of that war. Since 2015, those serving in Agghanistan receive the “Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal.”
Laramie Post 2221
The Laramie VFW was among the first to build on a new subdivision on the east edge of Laramie. Called the Grand View addition, it had just been platted when the VFW bought a lot around 1952.
Members of the Corthell family in Laramie had acquired several parcels of former pastures in the vicinity and did the engineering and surveying work to lay out streets and lots. At that time, the city limits had just been extended east from the former city’s edge, which was 17th St.
By the time the 1953 City Directory was published, the post was already in its new building at 2142 East Garfield Street with Zachary T. Dozier as the manager.
In the photo, Garfield Street is still unpaved, but the VFW building and a small house next to it are built out of similar brick, indicating that the same contractor might have built them both at the same time.
“We remodeled in 1966, but other than changing the front a little, it still looks like it does in the picture,” Gonzales says: “We even have that same sign out front!”
Nationwide, there are auxiliary members who are the relatives of a qualifying veteran. There used to be a Women’s Auxiliary in Laramie, but that has disbanded, says Killian. Another auxiliary organization in Laramie was the “Cooties,” and the “Cootiettes,” made up of women who had relatives who were VFW members.
The Cootie organization still exists nationally as a VFW service organization, though not in Laramie. Its web site attests that the Cooties add “their own touch of humor” to furthering the aims of the VFW.
When the “new” building was first constructed, Friday or Saturday dances with live music was a main attraction for the young veterans of the Korean conflict and their dates. Now attractions for members and guests are Wednesday night cribbage games, occasional dinners and socialization at the bar. The Post also serves Sunday breakfasts (open to the public) as advertised in the newspaper.
Wreaths Across America
A major outreach project for the Laramie Post right now is participating in the fund drive for Wreaths Across America. This is a nationwide effort to place a natural evergreen wreath on the grave of every US service person buried in America. The Greenhill Cemetery wreath laying day is December 15 at 11 a.m. By that time the Laramie organizers hope to have funds to purchase over 1,500 wreaths for the veterans buried at the cemetery.
The Laramie effort was initiated by members of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Civil Air Patrol in nearly simultaneous efforts. The VFW has helped by hosting dinners in their large dining area that are open to the public with proceeds going to the wreath project. The Post gave $1,300 to buy wreaths, which will be combined with what the other groups are raising.
Donations for the wreaths, which cost $15 each, can be made by mailing a check to the DAR (Jacques Laramie Chapter, NSDAR c/o Vice Regent Katie Morgan at 412 S. 10th St., Laramie 82070) and indicating the number of wreaths it is to support. Last day to order wreaths is December 3, 2018. Karen Lange of the DAR emphasizes that the participating Laramie sponsors will also remove the wreaths in January so that the city crews will not have that chore after the holiday season is over.
A remarkable but almost invisible detail in the photo of the “new” VFW is the house on the extreme right background, the Vessely home—still standing. It was a “farmhouse” in this neighborhood, built around 1935 when it was outside the city limits and listed in the city directory as “east, on Sheridan St. “ The Vesselys are the first recorded occupants. Today the house has an address of 700 S. 22nd St., which didn’t exist in 1935.
The Vessely brothers operated the Star Transfer and Storage Company at 210 Grand Ave. Charles and Altadean (Vina) Vessely’s little farm was beyond the east edge of town where they kept animals that LPM historian Jerry Hansen remembers as an attraction for kids like him who grew up in the neighborhood. Eventually they sold and moved to California. Later the Marland Clark family lived there and greatly enlarged the house. They operated “Clark’s Hallmark Store” for a number of years in downtown Laramie.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series commemorating Laramie’s Sesquicentennial. Judy Knight is Collection Manager at the Laramie Plains Museum. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.