They come from all branches, all backgrounds and different wars, gathering for the last 55 years or so at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4643 in Satellite Beach to participate in a cherished act of camaraderie: raising a toast to those lost as they observe Memorial Day, and taking delight in being able to share stories of service time most civilians would not understand.
Post Cmdr. Jeff Sedlak, involved with the post for 10 years and reinstalled for his third one-year term on May 26, recently discussed what makes the post special, as did incoming Chaplain Jim McGuiness. (Other officers installed during the annual ceremony included Senior Vice Cmdr. Jeanne Vogt, Junior Vice Cmdr. Sean Farmer and Quartermaster Mike Petty.)
The post officially has 350 members on the books, but many travel extensively and only occasionally drop by, many are snowbirds, and others come out mostly for big events. For Memorial Day proper, the post invites city officials and first responders, including fire apparatus, attracting nearly 100 in good weather for an old-fashioned patriotic outdoor event around the flagpole at 10 a.m.
“Particularly on a holiday, people here literally get up and sing patriotic songs. There’s camaraderie and people buying drinks for the whole place, which can be rather expensive. That’s very much the case here,” Sedlak said.
The post is comprised of mostly Vietnam-era veterans now, but younger veterans from the more recent conflicts, from Desert Storm onward, are being encouraged to drop in, although it can be a challenge as younger vets have different interests, he said.
“They are in their child-bearing age and typically they more and more are going the non-traditional route, the non-smoking posts that don’t have a canteen (bar), and plan family events with the kids. We are the more traditional type post,’’ he said.
VFW Post 4363 “is mostly the older veterans. The younger guys have different interests. That’s not to say their interests might change ultimately, when their kids get grown,’’ he said.
While there is laughter and good times, there is a special reverence for the members who were in the worst combat, acknowledgement of a sense of “shared risk” that permeates all military combat units, Sedlak said.
“If somebody in the group screws up, you all die. That’s where the camaraderie comes in: Somebody has to have your back and you’ve got somebody’s back,’’ he said.
McGuiness, 48, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, served in Somalia and went to Iraq twice as a transport helicopter crew chief. Hired at Patrick Air Force Base in a similar role after retirement, he dropped in at the post on a whim.
“I love talking to the guys who came before me and hearing their stories. Those are the guys who paved the way for me. It’s so cool because we have all branches of service here, but as you talk, you find a commonality. It is timeless because we’re all sharing similar stories. It’s funny, you talk to civilians about some of the stuff and they would never understand,” he said.