VFW and Auxiliary celebrate 75 years of service
It was only eight months after the Pearl Harbor attack when Dexter Fincher Post No. 1412 Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States officially formed — Saturday evening Aug. 1, 1942.
Prineville had lost one of its own in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Dexter Fincher, the 24-year-old son of John and Grace Fincher, was aboard the U.S.S. Arizona battleship when it went down. The Marine's remains are still with the sunken ship in the waters of Pearl Harbor.
Fincher's brother, Donald, was one of 31 charter members of the newly formed VFW Post under the leadership of Commander Vernon Eldridge. Fincher's mother was one of the 16 charter members of the Ladies Auxiliary VFW when it formed on Oct. 10, 1942, under the leadership of Lois Eldridge.
The post was named after the deceased serviceman — the first Crook County resident to lose his life in World War II.
Celebrating a diamond anniversary
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. recently presented the Diamond Anniversary Award Citation to the Prineville VFW and Auxiliary Post in recognition of 75 years of service to the community. The post has 141 VFW members and 55 auxiliary members.
Brian J. Duffy, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., congratulated all members of the post, stating, "I send my sincere thanks and appreciation to the members of VFW Post 1412 for their outstanding record of service to the community, veterans and to the nation over the past 75 years."
Local VFW and Auxiliary members invite the community to attend a celebration party from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Veterans Club.
Members will serve appetizers and cake. Don Branich, a saxophone, violin, guitar and piano player, will provide musical entertainment.
"It's the VFW's birthday," said Senior Vice Commander John Ferguson, who has been a member since 2008.
"The whole community is welcome to come," Post Commander Steve Nicholson added.
The VFW mission
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is the nation's largest and oldest major war veterans organization. Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is comprised entirely of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, Guard and Reserve forces.
With nearly 1.7 million VFW and Auxiliary members located in more than 6,500 posts worldwide, the nonprofit veterans service organization is dedicated to veterans' service, legislative advocacy, and military and community service programs.
The VFW Ladies Auxiliary is comprised of relatives of servicemen who have served overseas as well as women who have served the country. The organization offers numerous avenues for service and a way to stand with veterans and the military community on Capitol Hill and in local legislative battles affecting them.
Prineville residents Gilbert and Jessie Sharp say they are the oldest members and have been members of the post the longest — 71 years.
They were married May 18, 1946, and joined Dexter Fincher Post No. 1412 VFW and Auxiliary shortly thereafter.
"We got married in May, and they were after him to join, so we both joined," 91-year-old Jessie said. "They were really after the new guys that were coming home."
Gilbert was in the Air Force for three years, serving as an automobile mechanic in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and also in the coal mines. He was discharged in January of 1946 and returned home to Prineville, where his family had lived since 1941. Jessie grew up in Wheeler County and then settled in Prineville.
"I came home, and at that time, there was a lot of service men joining the VFW. We had a big VFW here and one in Bend and one in Redmond and one in Madras," Gilbert, who is 93, pointed out.
He worked in sawmills for 45 years and also farmed some. She worked in a mill in a box factory before she met Gilbert and then worked at Sprouse Reitz and then for a doctor. They have three children, Frances Carter and Theresa Grater, who both live in Prineville, and one son, Joseph, who lives in the Willamette Valley. They also have several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Being a part of the VFW is a family affair. Their daughter, Frances, is also a member of the VFW Auxiliary, and has been treasurer for many years. One of their grandsons served in Desert Storm and is a life member of the VFW in Georgia.
The Sharps became life members of the VFW and over the decades have remained involved with the organization and held various leadership roles. He served as post commander for several years, was the district commander, and served on the building committee. Three years ago, he was honored as the Grand Marshal of the Veterans Day Parade.
Jessie has served as Auxiliary president and treasurer and was also the district president and treasurer. She earned the statewide Ms. VFW Award for 2013-14 in recognition for her many years of service to veterans and families and for promoting patriotism. The couple also chaired the Voice of Democracy essay contest for high school students.
The VFW was in charge of putting on the July 4, Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades over the years and helped establish a war memorial at the Crook County Fairgrounds.
The Sharps say they have enjoyed their 71 years with the VFW and recognize that the organization has benefited many veterans.
"It's kind of rough because a lot of the younger guys don't really take interest in it," Gilbert said. "It's really good because stuff that comes up in the state, they work for the benefits of the veterans."