A Little Self-Policing, Please
There's no doubt that the Veterans of Foreign Wars has performed great service for our nation, lobbying for veterans' benefits and performing millions of hours of local community service.
But, as with any large enterprise, the VFW has its share of lemons (pun intended) who embarass the organization and its members. Here are a couple of recent examples: In South Dakota, a local chapter promised to furnish a POW-MIA Table for a veterans salute program. The required elements are simple, but their symbology is powerful, as The Moving Wall explains:
The table is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressers.
The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their Country's call to arms.
The single rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep faith while awaiting their return.
The red ribbon on the case represents the red ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper account of our comrades who are not among us.
A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time. The chair is empty. They are NOT here. The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope that lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to open arms of a grateful nation.
The American Flag reminds us that many of them may never return - and have paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure our freedom.
Let us pray to the Supreme Commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks. Let us remember - and never forget their sacrifice.
Unfortunately, that South Dakota chapter decided to cut some corners with their table. For the lemon, they used a picture of the fruit; for the salt, a couple of condiment packets from McDonald's (unopened).
An Air Force retiree in attendance was horrified. He rushed to the grocery store and bought a lemon, and tore open the fast food salt packets--despite protests from the VFW contingent.
While the POW-MIA Table was properly configured, the VFW color guard was decidedly out-of-kilter, marching into the room out of step, and posting the flags so they tilted at odd angles. Meanwhile, one of the chapter members bragged about his 14-month military career and how he "partied almost every day like it was spring break."
But those offenses are relatively minor compared to the antics of one Ronnie Robbins, former Commissioner of Revenue in Dickenson County, Virginia and (you guessed it) a one-time district adjutant for the VFW.
Mr. Robbins was in federal court last month, facing charges that he lied about his military service.
Prosecutors charged that Robbins altered his DD-214 to include an overseas duty tour that he never served, and lied to the VA to obtain $40,000 in disability benefits, based on a PTSD claim.
Among the revelations from court testimony: the VFW apparently doesn't do a very good job in screening its officers. From the AP:
Former Veterans of Foreign Wars District 12 commander Ray Wells testified that around 2005, he appointed Robbins as district adjutant, meaning he maintained the district's records.
Members are certified by providing a copy of a DD-214 showing service in an overseas conflict, or through other evidence such as photos of themselves in the combat area of operations, Wells said.
Robbins faxed a copy of his DD-214 to Wells in 2006, Wells said, adding that he thought he saw unusually dark spots indicating the record had been altered. Also, Wells noticed that while Robbins' listed medals included the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal, the collective medals were listed in the wrong order.
Wells further said Robbins had told him where in Vietnam he served, but under cross-examination, Wells had trouble remembering the place's name.
To its credit, the VFW eventually booted Robbins from the organization, after the state quartermaster reviewed his record and said it appeared to be forged. However, it is not clear how long Robbins was a member of the organization, or if he held any posts with the local chapters. There's also the little matter of why no one at the local level spotted the obvious deceit.
Clearly, that embarrassing display in South Dakota and the alleged crimes of Ronnie Robbins are two small stains on the VFW's reputation. But they are blemishes nonetheless, and could have been easily prevented. If you can't afford a genuine lemon for a POW-MIA Table at a public event, cut back on the post's beer budget for the next month.
Likewise, there's no reason your color guard shouldn't rehearse before appearing at a public event. And, if the DD-214 of a prospective member looks altered, it probably was. Better to deny membership to that "vet" and avoid a possible public scandal down the road. BTW, Mr. Robbins was convicted after a three-day trial. His political affiliation wasn't mentioned in press accounts, but you can probably guess the party he belongs to.