OLD LYME — The local Veterans of Foreign Wars celebrated acts of service in helping veterans in need at their annual awards banquet Friday night at the Old Lyme Country Club.
Among VFW posts, Lyme and Old Lyme’s Post 1467 is rare in that it doesn’t own a building, which members say keeps them lean and allows them to devote more of the money they raise directly toward covering essential expenses for veterans in need around southeastern Connecticut, filling in gaps left by the the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and similar social services.
“Our motto is ‘No bar, no building, just good deeds,” said the post’s veterans service officer Jack Fiedler. “Our business is to raise the money and spend it helping out veterans.”
Over the course of the year, the post raises funds through dinners, poppy drives, a “military ministry” partnership with St. John’s Episcopal Church of Essex, and from private donations. The local VFW doesn’t give money directly, but instead uses their funds to cover gas bills, rent, food, utilities, clothing, transportation, or similar essentials when they hear about veterans in need.
Friday’s award banquet acknowledged post members and supporters who had gone above and beyond in supporting the post’s mission. The final award of the night was for lifetime achievement award, given to member John Donnolly, acknowledging a decade of work in organizing fundraisers, helping to manage the post’s finances, and other acts of service.
Bob Roser, a previous lifetime achievement award winner, said that he and other previous winners of the award had chosen Donnolly for this year’s recipient for “long-term service with consistency, and sincerity” over a decade of membership.
“He was like the mortar who kept the bricks together. He kept our programs together. He would roll up his sleeves and said whatever we have to do, whatever you need, I’ll do it.” Roser said. “He didn’t do it for one year or two years; he’s done it for 10 years, and that’s why he was chosen.”
Post Commander David Griswold added that Donnolly “does a lot of little things behind the scenes that normally we don’t even think about and that he doesn’t get acknowledged for. And they’re not big deals unless they’re not done, and then they’re huge deals.”
In another award, one new to this year, Post 1467’s immediate past commander Edward Shyloski received the first Jack Sicora Memorial Award. Sicora was a post member who founded and then organized a military ministry program in partnership with St. John’s of Essex. Shyloski carried on that work after Siroca’s death last year.
“Jack Sicora was my friend, and he improved upon me,” Shyloski said upon receiving the award. He said Sicora, who was an Air Force pilot, was an “extraordinary person” and “I am very humbled by this.”
The program, organized by Shyloski and fellow VFW member Brian Fresher, brings veterans to St. John’s to speak at Sunday services around Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, sharing stories of their military experiences and describing the VFW’s work in caring for veterans in need.
The church makes a donation and takes collections from congregants to go to the VFW.
“We show them our colors and we show them what we spend our money on. It’s been fantastic,” Shyloski said.
There’s sometimes a “gap” between people who have been in military service and those who haven’t, Shyloski said, and so by sharing experiences through the military ministry, “it gives us that perspective to see things outside ourselves.”
Commander Griswold gave the annual commander’s award to J.T. Scott, who was sworn in as the post’s adjutant earlier this year.
Griswold said that Scott “helps us with technology, which some of us struggle with, and he’s also been involved in a lot of different events. He’s been very enthusiastic, he’s always willing to help, and he does all of this while holding down a full-time job that involves a lot of commuting.”
The post also gave honors to William Lacy, who serves as food service director at the Coast Guard Academy, for his work catering the post’s annual fundraiser dinners for three years; to the Graybill family of All Pro Automotive for in-kind donations and at-cost services helping veterans in need; and to Old Lyme resident J. David Kelsey for financial support. Kelsey is also the primary funder of the CT Examiner.
“We’ve been through the service,” said Bob Roser, the previous lifetime award winner, “and we’ve come out of it, all of us, and been successful in our business lives. Now we’re looking to give back, and we’re able to bring that into the VFW.”
Griswold said similarly that he’s appreciated the camaraderie of the organization and “If we can help someone, it’s a good feeling.”