By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Celebrating 75 years of honoring and improving the lives of veterans and serving the community, North Oakland VFW Post 334 received national recognition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States on August 11.
Presented by Senior VFW 5th District Commander Su-Jen Mauldin and accepted by North Oakland Post Commander Jim Hubbard, the group was gifted the Diamond Jubilee Award, given to VFW Charters existing for three-quarters of a century and demonstrating exceptional service.
“A couple of years back, I found out a Post had received one, and I thought, ‘Wow, how prestigious would it be to receive an award like that?’” Commander Hubbard said of how the Diamond Jubilee came to be. “I started checking into our Charter and, come to find out, we were due here this year. I always thought, ‘What a thrill it would be to have that.’ It was probably about three years ago when I found out we were so close, and then it ended up being a surprise because it left my mind.
“At the district level, someone called me and said, ‘We’re going to come to your meeting on Tuesday night.’ Usually, the higher-ups, they don’t come to the meetings and stuff, but they came, and toward the end of the meeting, I re-introduced them, and they said, ‘We’re here for a reason.’
“They got up and made this wonderful speech about our Post and the loyalty to the country and the community, and talked about hundreds of things we have done, dating back to the 1940s, bowling tournaments, sponsoring little league baseball, all these things we haven’t done lately because we’ve moved on to other things, but, it was a quite a thrill to listen to all the things we have done in the past.”
One of the organization’s more visible activities is the annual “Buddy Poppy” distribution. Reaching the 75-year mark grants Post 334 access to a new color of poppy, which are the VFW’s official memorial and remembrance flower, and are frequently displayed by civilians on the rear-view mirrors of their vehicles, among other places.
“They’re called Anniversary Poppies,” explained Hubbard’s wife, Kathy, President of the VFW Auxiliary. “When you hit 50 years, you can get a gold one, and for 75 years or more, you can get the other color, which is called diamond, but it’s more of a silver.”
The standard poppies are red in color and the group usually distributes them in May. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) prevented that from happening four months ago. According to Commander Hubbard, the Post is targeting November to pass them out this year, a date that coincides with Veterans Day on November 11.
The Auxiliary, chartered in September 2013, works in lockstep with the VFW to bring needed services, information, and assistance to veterans, service members, and their families. Prior to October 2015, women were the only ones eligible for membership in the Auxiliary, but the group now admits men related to someone who served in overseas combat. Today, the Auxiliary consists of 143 members, nearly as many as Post 334’s 160 veterans.
Unfortunately, most of the Auxiliary and VFW’s activities in 2020 have been postponed or canceled by COVID-19, but the group still meets on the second Tuesday of every month outdoors at the pavilion at LakePoint Community Church, located at 1550 W. Drahner Road, to touch base and make a difference in the community.
Always placing an emphasis on patriotism and putting America first, the VFW passes these values down to middle and high school students through their Voice of Democracy scholarship program, an audio-essay contest that awards more than $2.3 million across the country annually.
Post 334’s candidate in 2019-20, Ruby Howe, a then-seventh grade student from Rochester Hills, captured the Patriot’s Pen Award, recognizing her speech on the theme, “What Makes America Great,” as the best among sixth-through-eighth grade students from all 50 states.
Ms. Howe won $5,000 and received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where she, along with the high school winner, Marian High School in Omaha, Nebraska’s Shruthi Kumar, were able to meet President Donald Trump.
For her excellent work, Ms. Kumar received a $30,000 college scholarship.
These Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen programs are open to any freedom-loving student and must be submitted to your local VFW Post by 11:59 p.m. on October 31. The 2020-21 competition is themed, “Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned?”
“The Voice of Democracy is for the high school, grades nine-through-twelve, to write an essay and record it, too, because it’s called the Voice of Democracy, so, it’s an oracle, as well as an essay. The Patriot’s Pen is for the sixth-through-eighth graders, and this year we had a national winner, our Post did, the first Post in the state of Michigan to ever have a national winner,” Commander Hubbard proudly shared.
In addition to their parades and other activities seen in the community, the VFW does a lot of work behind the scenes that many in the public may not be familiar with.
Prominent among these powerful gestures is their support of the VFW National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, where they provide Thanksgiving meals for each family, as well as Easter baskets and Christmas presents for the children.
Founded in 1925 as a place where the families left behind by war – mothers, children, brothers, and sisters – could remain together, keeping the family circle intact, even if their servicemen do not come home, the VFW National Home for Children currently consists of 38 families and a total of 86 children.
“It’s a little city in itself,” Commander Hubbard said of the Home for Children. “They have a hospital, a fire department, streetlights, sidewalks, paved streets, 62 houses, a gymnasium, everything you need.”
“There’s a church on-campus and a lodge for VFW members who come to sponsor something can spend the night, too,” Mrs. Hubbard added.
At the local level, the Post provides upkeep for the Orion Veterans Memorial and sponsors a shelf at FISH for needy families. The group is also involved with the Meals on Wheels program, transporting Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to seniors, some of whom do not leave their homes, so, the VFW takes care of their grocery shopping, too.
If you are flying an American or Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Flag on your property, members of the Auxiliary may stop by the present you with a certificate, thanking you for your patriotism.
Fortunately, many Oxford residents already proudly display these flags, but if you do not, there is a little incentive to add one to your collection!
To learn more about Post 334 or discover how you can become involved, visit their Facebook page, North Oakland VFW Post 334, or give them a call at (248) 628-8975.
By Teddy Rydquist