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Big honor for local post

Bruce Bartling takes a closer look at the award Enumclaw’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post received Thursday night. -    Photo by Brenda Sexton
Bruce Bartling takes a closer look at the award Enumclaw’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post received Thursday night.
— image credit: Photo by Brenda Sexton

When the Enumclaw Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1949 received the national VFW’s Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award Thursday night, no one in the audience at the post home was surprised.

Year in and year out those in the audience have seen or been on the receiving end of the local VFW’s charity.

The surprise came from the veterans who entered the memorial dedicated to the Army aviators from the 4th Squadron, 6th Calvary Regiment who lost their lives Dec. 21, 2006, when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed on Mount Peak.

“There is only one of these given annually and I think it’s absolutely awesome they have chosen our post for this award,” Post 1949 Commander Darren Dyer said.

VFW members were touched by the number of people and the response to the bronze plaque mounted on sandstone that faces Mount Peak. It pays tribute and recognizes the sacrifice of those soldiers who crashed during training flight while preparing to deploy to Iraq. At the time of the tragedy, the community helped search, donated services and then continued to stay in contact and rally around the unit and families during their loss.

The July 4 dedication drew a large crowd with visitors from across the country and the memorial continues to be a popular stopping point. In November, the squadron flew in to the memorial to pay tribute to their fallen brethren, and the emotion, memorial chair George Rossman said, not only for those who sacrificed, but for the community that cared, was touching.

When the award application was brought to the Enumclaw VFW’s attention, they looked at it as a way to reach more people and spread more awareness. But they were past the deadline. Organizers gave them 10 days to put together pictures of the activity, a summary of the impact of the project, newspaper clippings, letters of congratulations, a budget summary and documentation on the plan and how it was carried out.

Topped with the fact that Milton, Wash., earned the award last year, Enumclaw’s post members thought their chances to win were slim.

“We didn’t do it for the award,” Dyer said.

“We didn’t even know there was an award,” post member Al Zarb said.

The VFW’s National Award of Merit in the area of Community Activities National Awards Program for Special Projects is given for community activities that meet a specific need and clearly benefit the community. It is designed to award VFW Posts, county councils, districts and departments for unique and outstanding community service projects over and above what is expected of VFW units.

“Through our VFW Community Service program, we help in building a better and stronger America, and we fulfill our commitment to serve America’s veterans and their families,” said VFW Commander-in-Chief Glen Gardner in a press release.

State Commander Gary “Fosty” Hulsey, who made the presentation to the Enumclaw VFW Thursday night called it prestigious and said he knows this group will not stop with this recognition but will continue its dedication to community service.

He was the first in a long line of community members who spoke at the presentation which drew members from the groups that had a hand in the memorial’s erection – Enumclaw Garden Club, Scottish American Military Society, Chamber of Commerce, city of Enumclaw, City Council and Marine Corps League.

“From the city’s standpoint we are very honored to partner with the VFW,” Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter said. “This memorial means a great deal to the community.”

It also means a lot to 1st Sgt. Jimmy Martin of D Troop, 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Calvary, whose colleagues and friends were lost on the mountain. Martin, who recently finished his fifth deployment to Iraq and is retiring after 20 years, and his squadron corresponds with a support group of community members in Enumclaw.

He said without a doubt this community sticks out in his mind

“Thank you for supporting and adopting us,” said Martin, who along with his family was at Thursday’s celebration. “It’s very rare for a community to adopt a group like ours.”

When the 25 airmen from D Troop visited the memorial in November, Rossman said he promised to make the Enumclaw memorial one of the most beautiful veterans parks in the nation.

“We want to take this award and use it as an impetus to do more in this community,” Rossman said.

Enumclaw VFW members said it is their hope the extended benefits of the award trigger other projects, not just for them, but for other community organizations.

The memorials and actions of the community send a message, Dyer said, they say, “Veterans are cared for and active in this community.”

The guys coming home are having a hard time, he said, and the Enumclaw VFW is here to help. Zarb said the Enumclaw post works as an ombudsemen with Veterans Affairs to get returning soldiers benefits and to help them transition home.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is a nonprofit veterans’ service organization composed of combat veterans and those who currently serve on active duty or in the Guard and Reserves. Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is the nation’s largest organization of war veterans and is one of its oldest veterans’ organizations. With 2.2 million members located in 7,800 VFW Posts worldwide, the VFW and its auxiliaries are dedicated to “honor the dead by helping the living” through veterans service, legislative initiatives, youth scholarships, Buddy Poppy and national military service programs.

The response to the helicopter memorial project and the dedication was so well received the Enumclaw VFW will continue the July 4 celebration annually. Plans for this summer’s program are already under way.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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