World War I had been over for nearly 20 years when local veterans came together to organize a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) post in Washington. Established on April 8, 1938, there were 28 men who signed the charter.
They named their post after Max W. Mueller, the first Washington soldier killed in action in World War I. Mueller, son of John C. Mueller, was killed in France on July 15, 1918.
Now, 75 years after members honored Mueller for his service, Post 2661 looks back on all the good it has done for local veterans and the community.
The first commander for VFW Post 2661 was Samuel L. Jones.
In the beginning, meetings were held in various places, like the old Elks Hall that had been located at Third and Jefferson streets. But early notes also show rental fees paid to member Clarence Weirich and another man, August H. Helling, said Leroy Frick, Vietnam veteran, Post 2661 member and past commander, although the notes don’t say where the rental space was or what it was used for.
From 1943 until 1946, the post held meetings and some events on the upstairs floor of the old Modern Auto building on Main Street.
“Some ads even call it the VFW Home,” Frick noted.
Then in 1946, the post purchased the old John B. Busch mansion at Eighth and Jefferson streets to be the VFW Hall, and it has been ever since. After buying the old home, members made extensive improvements to the building. According to a newspaper article from March 1953, the total investment was about $50,000.
“The interior of the large building was completely remodeled, and the grounds, beautified,” the article reads. “One of the very attractive exterior improvements is the large porch.”
Seven years after they purchased the building, Post 2661 members held a dedication ceremony to celebrate the mortgage being completely paid. The event brought the then-third ranking officer of the national VFW, Merton B. Tice, junior vice commander in chief, to Washington for a parade and ceremony, that included burning the mortgage papers.
It also brought representatives from all of the 19 posts in the Ninth District to town to take part in a parade.
Afterward, the Post 2661 Ladies Auxiliary served a buffet supper. Providing meals has been a service of the ladies auxiliary since it was chartered just a few months after the post on Nov. 29, 1938.
“They furnish all of the food for the weekly bingos, and they provide funeral luncheons or help other caterers set up,” said Frick.
More than that, though, the ladies auxiliary supports the post in a number of ways. The ladies sponsor the annual Patriot Pin writing contest for local grade school students.
The post added the hall to Busch mansion in 1958.
Many people may remember the local VFW members who also were members of the Cooties, an international VFW organization that is similar to the Shriners. There used to be several Cooties in Washington and they would walk in local parades carrying bed sheets stretched out for people to toss coins in for donation.
“They would go to the VA hospitals to visit the sick and injured veterans, to cheer them up,” said Frick.
Support for Veterans in Need
The VFW, which can trace its roots back to 1899 as a national organization, has “four cornerstones,” said Frick.
Care for veterans is No. 1, followed by national defense, patriotism and community service.
To accomplish these goals, the group holds fund-raisers. In the early years, members organized card parties and dances. The post held its first shooting match in 1946 and its first bingo in 1948.
In the ’60s, post members used to set up a barbecue stand on Saturdays to raise money.
But the post’s longest continuous fund-raiser is its annual Poppy Drive, which began in 1939 and has been held around Veterans Day every year since. Many people who make donations to the annual Poppy Drive may not realize it, but all of the money collected stays right here in Washington to help local veterans in need, said George Emke, Vietnam veteran, Post 2661 member and past commander.
It could be financial help to cover expenses like rent or utilities, or other needs.
“That money has always been used locally,” he stressed, “for vets in need right here in Washington.”
Today the VFW’s big fund-raisers are its bingos, held every Tuesday night, and its all-you-can-eat chicken and catfish fries on the first Friday of every month from 5-7 p.m.
“Those started out because we had a tree stump to get rid of, so we were going to burn it . . . and we decided to make use of it by frying some fish on it,” Frick recalled with a laugh. “People came by to ask if (the fish) was for sale.”
In the beginning the fish fries were often “spur-of-the-moment” fund-raisers, said Al Lampe, Post 2661 member.
“If someone caught enough fish one day, someone would say, ‘Let’s do a fish fry.’ ”
Post 2661 also makes donations to veteran hospitals and to the VFW National Home for Children in Michigan, which supports families and children of veterans.
The group also has a supply of hospital equipment — electric hospital beds, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, crutches, commodes . . . — that it will lend to veterans at no charge.
“It’s ideal for people who have a short-term need for these things,” said Frick.
Resource for Community
In addition to fund-raisers, Post 2661 supports the other cornerstones of the organization through activities it sponsors, like continuous lobbying (national defense);
Participating in parades, veteran funerals and flag raising ceremonies, organizing the Voice of Democracy speech contest for high school students, sending speakers to schools for Veterans Day and Memorial Day events, and teaching children how properly to raise and lower the American flag and how to fold (patriotism); and
Building a baseball diamond, sponsoring a Little League baseball team and sponsoring a Boy Scout troop, making donations to the local food pantry and events like Project Graduation, awarding scholarships and purchasing an AED (automatic external defibrillator) for the Washington Volunteer Fire Company (community service).
The post also donates the use of its hall for funerals and for various other community events, like sports team sign-ups.
Annual Homecoming Picnic
If you’re proud of the service given to this country by local veterans, stopping by the Homecoming Picnic of the VFW Max W. Mueller Post 2661 in Washington later this month, June 13-15, on the grounds of the Post home, is an opportunity to show it.
The annual event, which started out years ago as a way to bring veterans together to socialize, has evolved into more of a community picnic, one that everyone may not realize they are invited to, said Frick.
“It’s open to the public,” he remarked, “for everyone to come and socialize with the veterans.”
Special recognition will be given to all returning veterans.
On Thursday, the picnic begins at 5 p.m. There will be burgers, brats and hot dogs and live music by Dan Capstick and special guests.
On Friday, food will include pork steaks and fried chicken dinners from 4-7 p.m. and burgers, brats and hot dogs from 5-10 p.m.
Activities begin at 5 p.m. and include kid-friendly games like an obstacle course and bounce house. There also will be a veteran and honor guard flag ceremony at 6:30 p.m., followed by adult social/games and a cake walk at 7:30 p.m.
Live music will be provided by Burnt Whiskey from 7:30-11 p.m.
Saturday, the food includes pork steaks and white sauce chicken dinners from 4-7 p.m. and burgers, brats and hot dogs from 1-10 p.m.
Activities get under way at 10 a.m. with a poker run, followed by a horseshoe tournament at 1 p.m., kid-friendly games at 2 p.m., hourly walking tours of the building from 3-6 p.m. and a veteran ceremony at 6:30 p.m.
Live music will be provided by Gary and Dynamics from 2 to 6 p.m. and by Borderline from 7 to 11 p.m.
The annual VFW Picnic goes back many years, members said, and was originally held at the city park. At some point it was moved to the parking lot at the post home.
In the past, the picnic was a much larger event that included a parade, rides and a car raffle, and members wouldn’t mind seeing it return to that stature if the community supported it.
Membership in VFW Post 2661 is down today, but that’s not any surprise, said Frick.
There are simply fewer veterans these days, and not just because they are aging. It’s also because of the way today’s wars are fought.
“We are a dying organization,” said Frick, noting membership in Post 2661 stands around 400 compared to 700 or 800 at its height. “Our youngest members are Vietnam veterans. After that, the wars were all quicker or smaller, and since there’s no draft, there’s not a large number — today’s wars redeploy the same veterans.”
In Vietnam, when there was a draft, soldiers served one year “and then we were replaced,” Emke added.
“Our goal we all have would be to lock that door permanently,” said Frick. “To end war.”
But until that day comes, if ever, the VFW will be around to help them.
“As long as there are veterans, there will be a VFW,” Frick remarked.
Benefits to Membership
To those men and women, though, who do qualify for membership in the VFW (having served in a combat zone overseas), there are benefits to joining the Post, namely access to services.
“If you need to inquire about getting help, at a VA hospital or with some paperwork, we can help,” said Frick.
But there’s also the sense of understanding that can only come from someone who has lived through a similar experience.
“There’s a certain amount of camaraderie gained through experiences veterans have had,” said Frick. “It’s unlike any other bond you can have. There’s no way you can relate unless you served.”
That’s why he’s a member of the VFW.
“You know what you went through, and you want to be there for them,” said Frick. “You have the best way to understand what they went through.
“We can point them in the right direction, because we know what they’ve been through.”
Anyone with information or details about Post 2661’s history can contact Frick at 636-239-4662 or Lafrick@yhti.net, Emke at 636-239-7433 or Lampe at 636-239-7418.