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BY DEBORAH A. BREHUN
For The Latrobe Bulletin
Recently elected VFW Post 734 Commander Chris Smith is congratulated by Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Scott Haines.The Fort Ligonier Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 734 canteen was on the brink of closing in late March when community members joined VFW members to raise the needed $3,000 to pay outstanding bills. Since that time, the VFW has recovered from its debt and is making plans to start giving back to the community again. On Sunday afternoon, the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce and the VFW conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate their recent good fortune and opportunity to save the canteen.
Canteen manager Sherry Naugle said she is so excited to move forward with plans for the VFW to interact with the community.
“We are starting fresh today. Let’s keep it going,” Naugle said.
Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Scott Haines pledged the support of the local Chamber to the VFW for the efforts to keep the canteen open.
Members of Fort Ligonier VFW Post 734, including officers, auxiliary and staff, as well as borough and Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce officials, participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 23, to mark the continued service of the VFW to its community. Taking part were Jim Tobias, Aaron Bielke, Rich Luther, Richard Grizer, Post Commander Chris Smith, Mike Harko, John Balega, Michael Hootman, (second row) Sara Holland, Sherry Naugle, Dee Leonard, Donna Jones, Eilene Hunter, Penny Williams, Connie Tobias, Jeff Williams, Ligonier Borough Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas, Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Scott Haines, John Hissem, Tammy Saier, Karen Whitlock and Hattie Naugle. Photos by Deborah A. Brehun“The ribbon-cutting, conducted in conjunction with the Chamber at the VFW Sunday was not as much a reopening as it is a continuance of something that has been here in the past, but we want to cherish the present and rebuild for the future,” said Haines.
Members of the Fort Ligonier Auxiliary 734 cut a second ribbon at Sunday’s ceremony to mark the continued success of the local veterans organization in Ligonier. Taking part were Sara Holland, Dee Leonard, Donna Jones, Sherry Naugle, Eilene Hunter, Penny Williams and Connie Tobias Photo by Deborah A. BrehunHaines said the Chamber will be there for the VFW. When it has events, the Chamber will make sure everybody knows about it and offer support to make sure the VFW is successful in the future.
“When you think of what the VFW stands for, in a town like ours it’s real important to remember those who fought in wars or are fighting now and the sacrifices they gave for our community, its priceless. We can’t even put a thank you on it,” said Haines. “From a Chamber’s perspective, its real important to provide a place for not only veterans, but for their families to gather, to go to have fun, to tell stories to remember the past and prepare for the future. We absolutely need our VFW.”
Ligonier Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas asked the community to support the VFW by attending the dinners and other fundraising events it offers.
“I think the VFW is an important part of our community. It serves a function for our returning soldiers and I am glad it is still here. I support everything the VFW stands for,” said Bellas. “I am glad they are taking the initiative to keep this VFW open. All they have to do is ask, I will be there for them.”
President Connie Tobias spoke on behalf of the VFW auxiliary and announced that Naugle would receive a special citation from the auxiliary for her efforts to save the Fort Ligonier VFW Post 734.
As a disabled veteran himself, Quartermaster Aaron Beilke said his goal is to help other veterans. He plans to use his personal experiences in making connections with the local VA organizations and readjusting back to civilian life with other veterans.
“I’m here to help the rest of the vets. I work six days a week and I’m not much for drinking at the bar. I want to do what I can for the community and help other veterans,” said Beilke, who served with 141 Field Artillery, Third Infantry Division, based at Fort Steward, Georgia. “We hope to help returning vets with employment and lodging or other needs.”
Beilke said the door at the Ligonier VFW is always open for anyone who needs help.
“We always have open arms here. I’ll do anything I can for the guys who have served,” Beilke said. “They don’t teach you how to be a civilian in the military. They teach you how to fight. When it has been what you had been doing for the past how many years, it’s hard to break a routine and that state of mind. People don’t realize shell shock is a real thing.”
Recently elected Commander Chris Smith of Lycippus served in the Marine Corps for 13 years. He worked for Morale, Welfare and Recreation with headquarters and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Initially, he was a member at the Pleasant Unity VFW and transferred to Ligonier after meeting Rich “Coach” Grizer at a golf outing. He has been at Ligonier for nearly three years and was elected commander in May.
“One of my goals as commander in Ligonier is to start doing scholarships for ROTC. I’d like to keep it local. The JROTC at Ligonier Valley High School helps us and we’d like to help them,” Smith said. “We want to show them we appreciate their work. They come to all of our memorial services.”
The VFW also plans to donate to local fire departments and is working with the Chamber to find ways to give back to the community.
“We just ask that the community continue to support us the way they have the last three or four months,” Smith said. “I don’t want the VFW to be just a bar. That is not why I joined the VFW. We hope we can help the community. We don’t have the money to do a lot but we do have a little.”
Naugle said social and veteran memberships are now available for $20 and will include the remainder of 2018 and all of 2019. Visit the VFW to renew memberships or apply for a new membership. Social memberships are available for non-military members.