Nevada City Advocate
On the corner of Pine and Cottage streets in Nevada City stands a unique mid-century building that has for decades been the center of support and camaraderie for veterans and the community alike.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2655, which opened in 1954, carries on a tradition of service started in the early 1900s and is part of a nationwide organization that now numbers about 1.7 million members.
For many veterans, the organization not only offers valuable programs and services, but it is a place of mutual support and friendship across generations of military personnel and reflects the make-up of the surrounding community.
“The first thing I noticed when I came here was you had Vietnam veterans sitting and interacting with Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf War veterans and Korean War veterans. There were no cliques – everyone was treated as if we were all in the same branch, the same unit,” said Will Buck, the post commander.
Buck, an Army veteran, transferred to the post in 2004 and became Commander in 2016. The Post now has 206 members – 140 are lifetime members – and has a cross-section of veterans from World War II up to present-day conflicts.
“We have one, we call him the colonel, and he comes in once a month and chats a little bit. He actually enlisted in the Army during World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps, fought, came back and got his degree, then did Korea and part of Vietnam before retiring.”
Buck noted that the Post is a good reflection of the Nevada County community at large.
“I think the community as well as the Post is warm and inviting. You can come here and find your place and that’s the same with Nevada City. As long as you’re not a huge troublemaker, you’re welcome. I think that holds true for this VFW and the city.”
Local Post 2655 focuses on the needs of veterans and does considerable work in community outreach programs such as Christmas family sponsorships, school backpacks and school scholarships.
“We also do cleanup operations. This year we are sponsoring the Independence Trail. This is the sort of thing that makes this a good place to be. You can come in and do some good for your community.”
Buck added that one of the most important elements is the interaction with fellow combat vets that these projects bring.
“When you hang up your uniform a lot of guys and gals think that they hang up that camaraderie. It’s right here, alive and well. So in doing this (community outreach), we do a lot for veterans and civilians together to keep this area beautiful the way we all love it. And we get to have a little fun.”
Working with veterans, service members and their families, Buck has seen the impact of the lack of affordable housing in the area.
“The biggest need is affordable housing,” he said. “It’s huge. A lot of veterans, particularly the elderly and younger veterans, when they start looking into apartments or rentals they are having a difficult time paying all the different costs in order to move in. What we do on a case-by-case basis is help them out.”
In addition, many vets don’t know about special programs such as PG&E’s CARE program (California Alternate Rates for Energy), which can give a discount to veterans. “If you’ve got a disability, even if it’s only a 10 percent rating with the VA, you qualify, and that’s a 30 percent reduction in your PG&E bill.”
And like many in the community, once you’ve found housing you still need money for essentials such as food, he said. Once the bills are paid, it might be only the 22nd, and there’s another 10 days before another check.
“I’ve worked it out with the Nevada County food bank. If you come to me and tell me how many are in your household and if there are any dietary restrictions, I can go up Monday through Thursday and pick up a big box of food and they let me deliver it to you,” Buck said. “The vet doesn’t have to swallow their pride and go to a non-vet, or if they suffer from PTSD, go to the distribution area and be surrounded by so many people.”
Collaboration with other non-profits in Nevada County has helped the VFW stretch its budget to reach those most in need, he said.
“We have 678 non-profits in Nevada County, and it doesn’t make sense for me to spend $200 on food when I can go to another organization. We can better use that $200 to pay your PG&E bill, or your water bill. Or help toward getting a homeless vet off the streets.”
The scenario mentioned above that occurs with emergency relief for veterans is one that Buck says historically has always been a factor for many returning to civilian life after service overseas.
“Veterans are too damn proud 90 percent of the time to ask for help. In 2018, we still have this mentality that we should be doing things ‘Stand Alone.’ There’s a saying you’ll hear some vets say. ‘If there’s no bones showing, take two Motrin and drink some water.’ And that attitude has continued over time. You’re trained to soldier on, continue the mission. So, when they do ask for help, they’ll usually ask a fellow veteran.”
Besides VFW functions, the venerable building is also an important meeting space for the city. Up to 30 groups a quarter regularly book the upstairs and/or downstairs halls for activities ranging from painting and martial arts to crepe making and the Nevada City Film Festival. But above all, Post 2566 continues its mission, as it has for the past 64 years, to help veterans find their place – a mutually beneficial proposition for both veterans and our community.
About the photos:
The VFW Color Guard of Luis De La O, Greg “Cowboy” Lanfre, Jeff Tynan, Mike Gardner and Will Buck lead a parade down Broad Street in Nevada City.
The VFW building on Pine Street is used by many community groups throughout the year
Photos by Andrew Wedgbury
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