By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — When the Naugatuck Veterans of Foreign Wars Crusader Post 1946 marked its 50th anniversary in 1980, the celebration started with a cookout on a Sunday and ended the following Saturday with a dinner party with events every day in between.
“That party lasted seven days,” recalled U.S. Navy veteran Paul Miller, 83, who was commander of the post from 1978 to 1981 and is still an active member.
The post’s 90th anniversary on Dec. 6 passed with much less fanfare due to the COVID-19 pandemic; though members plan to celebrate the milestone at the post’s next Citizens Award Dinner or another time when they can gather without restrictions.
World War I veterans — and at least one from the Spanish-American War — chartered the post on Dec. 6, 1930; 31 years after the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization was formed in 1899 in Altoona, Pa., to advocate for veterans and fight for the government benefits they were entitled to receive.
When Post 1946 was chartered it had 107 members, making it the largest instituted VFW post organized in Connecticut, according to Miller. The last known charter member, Eugene Gladding, died on Feb. 17, 1998, at the age of 101.
Miller, a veteran of the Cuban Missile Crisis who pointed out he still fits in his Navy uniform, joined the post nearly 50 years ago because many of his neighbors were World War II veterans and active members.
“I was the young guy on the street. I didn’t even have gray hair yet,” said Miller, who has served in numerous positions with the post, including junior vice commander and senior vice commander.
“I’ve enjoyed the friendship of the people in the VFW,” he added.
Stanley Borusiewicz, 62, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Korea, grew up going to the former post home on Rubber Avenue with his father, Stanley Borusiewicz Sr., a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Korean War.
Borusiewicz is the post’s quartermaster and the state chaplain. Since joining the post in 1995, he has served as post commander seven times, district commander five times and state commander once.
Borusiewicz said growing up around the post members taught him what it means to be a veteran. At the same time, he said, he saw what the organization does for veterans and how it fights for benefits owed to veterans. A fight, he added, continues to this day, pointing to a recent ruling that ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to reexamine denied benefit claims for exposure to Agent Orange filed by “Blue Water Navy Vietnam” veterans who were stationed on ships during the Vietnam War off the country’s coast.
A LOT CAN CHANGE in 90 years.
The chartered members of the post first held their meetings in a building on South Main Street where Route 8 is now, Miller said.
The post moved its headquarters to 239 Rubber Ave. and expanded it over the years to have three sections: a two-story brick building that used to be part of Uniroyal Chemical Co., a main building with a community room and canteen, and a banquet hall.
In 2015, the post decided to sell the building due to the high cost of maintaining it.
Today, the post meets monthly at the Ion Bank community room on Church Street, though meetings are virtual at the moment due to the pandemic.
Despite not having a physical home, the post maintains its charter and remains steadfast in its mission of advocating for veterans.
“We’ve actually done more for the community and for our members since we got rid of the building,” Borusiewicz said.
Borusiewicz and Miller both said a lot of eligible veterans don’t realize the benefits that are available for them.
“We can help a lot of people out, if we know about it,” Miller said.
The post has a service officer to help veterans file claims for government benefits. There are programs available to help pay for utilities or rent, and money for veterans for school, among other benefits.
Information on available benefits can be found online at vfw.org. Borusiewicz encouraged veterans to call him at 203-704-0969 for information, as well.
AS THE POST MOVES into its 91st year, the organization — like many other community groups — has seen its membership dwindle.
The post has about 300 members today, Miller said. When he was commander, he estimated there were about 700 members.
Borusiewicz and Miller said the post is hoping younger veterans step forward, but it can be difficult for them to find the time because many of them are now starting families.
Borusiewicz added that many younger service members don’t know they can join the post, even if they are still active in the military.
The VFW is open to veterans who served oversees during a time of conflict. Veterans are eligible to join the VFW once they receive their campaign medal, Borusiewicz said.
Borusiewicz said the post is trying to hold more family-oriented events, such as an outing at Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury, to keep younger members involved and active.
“Too many people this think this is all older veterans,” he said.
Borusiewicz said he’s been lucky to be part of the VFW, an organization that has afforded him the opportunity to travel the country and world. Last year, he attended a ceremony in Normandy, France, to observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“It’s a good organization,” Borusiewicz said of the VFW. “Like any other organization, you get out of it what you put into it.”