Chesapeake Veterans Serve the Community and Each Other

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Some members of the American Legion Post 280 recently gathered together at their hall in Chesapeake, including (from left to right), JJ Wizieck, Kurt Lofquist, Wayne Sarapata, Barry Connolly and Kenny Kitchen

Some members of the American Legion Post 280 recently gathered together at their hall in Chesapeake, including (from left to right), JJ Wizieck, Kurt Lofquist, Wayne Sarapata, Barry Connolly and Kenny Kitchen

By MJ KNOBLOCK

Military veterans are a strong part of the Chesapeake community. According to the National Census Bureau, there are 26, 949 veterans in Chesapeake. Many of them are members of four veteran-based organizations in Chesapeake. Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Marine Corps League (MCL) all have active posts in the city. Each group has different requirements for membership. In some cases, local veterans are eligible to be members of all four organizations. Each group has a different mission and vision, although all of them aim to serve and support their fellow veterans and contribute to the local community.  

Many local associations and organizations, however, including the veterans groups, are seeing a decline in active participation, and in some cases in the number of members altogether.

The VFW SSG Jonathon Kilian Dozier Post 2894 is one of the groups hoping to boost its active membership so that it can better serve veterans and the Chesapeake community.

With about 65 members, but a core group of about 15 or 16 actively participating, many of the members aren’t as active in the group for a variety of reasons. Others simply don’t have the time or interest due to due to work and other commitments.

“Young people just aren’t as inclined right now to join,” said Carl Dozier, commander of the VFW Post 2894. “There is so much to do these days. There wasn’t back then.”

As an Army veteran of 27 years who served during Operation Desert Storm, Dozier remembers when people used to gather together to have fun and talk. Now, there are so many other activities for people to engage in, that club involvement has dropped off for many organizations.

Dozier said he hopes to change that, since the VFW has a lot to offer its members, especially camaraderie in meetings and social outings. One of Post 2894′s next goals is to secure a facility where it can hang its flag; a place to call home, to hold meetings and have social gatherings.

For now, the group meets the Lighthouse Pointe Retirement Home on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. Some regular activities include sponsoring the Voice of Democracy essay contest and supporting the Samaritan House and Vets House. They will participate in the annual Bataan Death March Commemorative Walk which will be held on Saturday, April 27, 2013. The group also has a newsletter and supports disabled veterans through Buddy Poppy sales.

 ”It’s a worthwhile organization that needs to stay strong and look after the needs of other veterans,” he noted.

The Marine Corps League is another local group that serves the community. Joe Hoadley recently became the Commandant of Chesapeake Detachment 853, Marine Corps League. Although there are about 70 paid members, the number of those active in the organization has dwindled over the years.

A former member of the Marine Corps who served in the Vietnam War, Hoadley’s goal is to reinvigorate the local chapter and increase its active membership and service to the Chesapeake community. Some of the activities that Hoadley hopes to revive among League members is participation in parades, assisting with the Toys for Tots campaign, assisting the local Eagle Scouts and Boy Scouts of America and helping other veterans.

To be eligible to become a member of the Marine Corps League, individuals must have served in the Marine Corps or been a Navy Corpsman who served with the Marine Corps for at least 90 days. League members can be active, former or retired from service.

Locally, Detachment 853 is well known for its participation in the Chesapeake Jubilee. It sells and delivers the ice for the various events and merchants at the festival, sometimes moving up to 30 tons of ice during a single Jubilee. The group also participates in Memorial Day wreath laying ceremonies and donates food baskets to charity groups during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons.

Hoadley noted that the favorite method of recruitment used by local League members is to simply open a dialogue with people.

“Anyone who wears a Marine Corps emblem, we talk to them and tell them what we’re about and try to get them to join,” he said.

The American Legion is another military veteran group active in the

Chesapeake community. While the national organization places restrictions on when local chapters can bring in new members from recent wars, the group always tries to help local veterans and has applications available for those who are eligible for membership and want to apply.

“We’re available for people if we’re needed, and if they want to join, they can,” said Wayne Sarapata, commander of American Legion Post 280 and a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and retired Air Force Reservist.

The American Legion recently honored local public safety and emergency service members of the Chesapeake community at Law and Order Night. Award recipients were chosen by their respective organizations as the Police Officer of the Year, Deputy Sheriff of the Year, Firefighter of the Year, Paramedic/Firefighter of the Year and Trooper of the Year. They were each recognized with a plaque from the American Legion and a gift certificate from local sponsoring businesses.

“As a veteran’s organization, we try to work very hard with the rank and file of the community,” said Sarapata. “The American Legion asks that we do this. It’s part of their profile. It’s our honor to recognize the men and women in our community that place themselves in harm’s way. As some of us veterans are aware, we were not always recognized for what we’ve done when we got back, but it’s gotten a lot better now. This gives us a chance to recognize our brethren for what they do.”

The American Legion is also an active sponsor of the Concerned Veterans of America, a local baseball team and the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Post 280 has a general membership meeting on the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at its headquarters, located at the corner of Kempsville Road and Battlefield Boulevard in GreatBridge.

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