New commander shares his vision for Avon VFW Post
By Maria G. O’Donnell
The VFW does more than appear in Memorial and Veterans Day parades. They are a resource for community service and support.
Specifically, the Avon VFW Post 3272 provides camaraderie to veterans from various Connecticut towns, and a medley of ages, genders, religions, war theaters, and cultures, with Avon’s post named after an Avon resident born of Italian immigrants. The Gildo T. Consolini Post’s charter is a subset of the National VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) charter and recently installed its new commander for the next two-year term, Tim Healy.
He stated, “We’d like to see more members. All are welcome here. We want to hear your story.”
A Vietnam veteran, Army Sergeant and Infantryman of the Infantry Americal Division, Healy has a vision for the 89-member, non-profit organization that focuses on reaching out to younger veterans in hopes of carrying the torch forward. Additionally, “The main thing is community service and love of country, [and] the big thing is membership,” said Healy. “We have an open invitation to all veterans of foreign wars. Come see us at BeanZ, if you want to get involved,” he said, referring to BeanZ & Co. Café on 300 W. Main St., Avon. The post meets there on Monday and Thursday mornings at 9 a.m.
Healy welcomes those interested to read the Avon post’s newsletter, which can be found on their website, http://www.avonvfw.com/. As commander, Healy must appear at ceremonies and events, and also runs the organization’s meetings, which are held in the evening of every 4th Wednesday of the month at the Prince Thomas of Savoy Society (Italian Club), 32 Old Farms Road, Avon.
Many people are familiar with the presence of veterans on their most visible moments, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades and ceremonies.
Oftentimes, veterans are seen at store fronts running Buddy Poppy Drives, funds with which the VFW “pays for good things in the community, for veterans and their families,” according to Healy, who noted that his post raises $20,000 each year (hoping to double that) to give to various charities. Some include South Park Inn for homeless veterans, Tunxis OASIS (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Servicemembers at Tunxis Community College), dental assistance, and other state veterans’ organizations, as the post’s mission is to help veterans by funding groups that support them.
In addition, Healy noted that his post can help people needing Veterans Administration (VA) assistance. “We have a lot of skill working with the VA and can help [veterans] navigate it,” he said. The organization also assists at fellow veterans’ funerals. According to Healy, “We celebrate the person’s life and support their families.”
Avon VFW Post 3272 “has traditionally helped bring patriotic values to our community, especially our schools,” according to Healy. He said that the post runs an essay contest for students, who are awarded prizes. Post members also do presentations at schools during Memorial and Veterans Day. Boy Scouts help out by placing American flags on veterans’ graves. The post also has relationships with churches and synagogues – “what can you do for your vets and vice versa.”
As new commander of Avon VFW Post 3272, Healy kept returning to his goal to have younger vets become more involved. “We’re trying to connect their time to ours and work to make it easier to connect their community with ours,” he said. “If you’re not organized, no one will look out for your interests.”
Healy understands that the younger vets may not be able to join them for coffee in the morning or may have difficulty attending monthly evening meetings due to their work schedules. “What works for you?” He offered, “Do your thing on your time, your venue. We’ll help with funding. Invite us [older veterans] to help build their own community: Get input and get to know each other and come up with something for them on their terms.” The group encourages women veterans to join, as well.
At Beanz one Monday morning, Healy gathered with five other Vietnam veterans as part of the post’s twice weekly place to meet. Of his comrades, he said, “Everybody here put his life on the line. You only appreciate life if you’ve almost lost it.”
Joining Healy were Brian O’Donnell of West Hartford, a Sergeant in the Army’s Helicopter Unit; Thomas H. Shannon of Collinsville, Army Captain as Combat Engineer; Eugene Dzialo of Avon, Air Force Sergeant and Weapons Control Mechanic for F105 Fighter Bombers; Mickey Bennet of Avon, Air Force Sergeant and Aircraft Fuel System Technician for B-52 Bombers (and any aircraft fuel system); and Brady Faulkner of Bloomfield (originally from North Carolina), Marine Sergeant and Payroll Auditor, who “played grunt during my off-days,” he said, adding jokingly, “A Sergeant in the Marine Corps. is the same as General in the Air Force or Navy.”
O’Donnell chuckled in response, then noted somberly, “We’re not just a lot of old guys drinking beer; we do community service work.” Additionally, he is arranging a trip to The Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) in Washington, DC for Veterans Day, where they will read off the names on The Wall. The trip is open to all veterans.
Healy added, “We’re not just a club; we’re involved with each other and the community.” With this comment as a springboard to his own thoughts, Bennett emphasized that veterans truly are a “Band of brothers. It’s not a myth. There’s camaraderie in the military, and when the war’s over, we support each other. We share stories about the military no one would understand. It’s not Hollywood movies. Some of still have it [war] in here.” He pointed to his head. “When the rockets come down, there’s no place to hide, no safe place. After a couple of months, you give up worrying about dying. You do what you gotta do.” A dedicated member of the VFW for 50 years, Bennett has been with the organization since 1971, commander from ‘75 to ’76, and is now service officer for the VFW.
“It changes the way you look at folks,” Healy noted, “and the value of life, when you almost lose it.”
Faulkner added, “We appreciate and love this country more than most because we’ve seen the other side.” But he readily acknowledged appreciation goes both ways. “I moved here eight years ago from North Carolina. Connecticut is very, very friendly toward vets; they really appreciate vets here.”
“Especially Canton and Avon,” said Dzialo.
“Very generous,” said Faulkner.
Healy recalled one poppy drive when someone told him, “Thank you for your service.” He didn’t know quite how to respond at first, then said, “You’re worth it, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Dzialo chimed in, “It may take us longer – we can’t run as fast!”
The veterans also praised the VA in Newington and West Haven and how it’s vastly improved over the years. “Everyone’s happy with it and pleased with the level of care,” said Healy. Bennet said, “It’s a world of difference now with the VA.”
Shannon added that both the VA and treatment of vets in general have changed drastically over the past half-century. Whereas, back then, “medical care was less than minimal standards,” said Shannon, now, “it’s changed for the better.” So has veteran/civilian relations. “Fifty years ago, I wouldn’t advertise the fact that I was a Vietnam vet and get spit on and called ‘baby killer.’ A half-century has changed the whole veteran/civilian way of getting along with each other.”
Healy added “The VFW has something to do with that – not single-handedly, but had something to do with it.”
Healy wanted to remind the public that there are 20 veterans who commit suicide every day, and that trauma issues run deep. He said there are three levels of trauma: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); “moral injury,” where you’re asked to do something wrong, i.e., kill someone; and “soul injury,” where your very existence is called into question, according to Healy. “That’s the toughest one to deal with, your reason to be alive.”
Healy noted the dangers of “not having a venue to talk about this stuff. Talking out things marshals resources within yourself to overcome it.” Like Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous, they “rely on a higher power; you can’t do it without that. It gets you outside of yourself. You have a right to be here. We want to be as helpful as we can and let them wrestle with their demons – if they wish. There’s no forcing here.”
Other noteworthy resources for veterans include the memorial at the town’s center near the police station, commemorating Avon’s veterans; 200 histories of VFW members compiled by member Bill Newman (stored at Avon Library); CCSU’s “Veterans History Project,” providing soldiers’ name, branch, war and photos; St. Ann’s Church whose Avon cemetery contains a stately memorial developed by Bill Newman; and the state’s veterans cemetery in Middletown containing walls of cremated veterans’ remains. VL