Video by Allyson Morin, Article by Matt Benedetti
In an era when less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military, organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) play a key role for post 9/11 veterans seeking camaraderie, understanding and a welcoming place to gather.
Due to several factors, including dwindling enrollment, attrition as well as escalating real estate prices, many posts across the country have been forced to merge or permanently close.
However, the George Dilboy VFW post in Somerville, Mass. is defying that trend and recently broke ground on a new facility that will serve the next generation of veterans.
“We want the Post 9/11 veterans to have what we enjoyed for so many years,” Hardy said. “I personally know how important it is to have a place to go where people understand. Sometimes just a nod is enough to be recognized,” he said.
Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts has become one of the trendiest and expensive neighborhoods in the Commonwealth. Once a thickly settled working-class city home to many families at the lower end of the economic scale working for a hard dollar. Like most blue collar cities, Somerville boasts a proud tradition of military service. Today, Davis Square is dotted with a wide array of boutique shops offering exotic teas, microbrews and bohemian goods to the recently arrived hipster clientele.
Finding an American Flag amid the fashionable window boxes is a challenge. The Dilboy Post will have an American Flag flying for at least the next 99 years.
Founded in 1920 and located in Davis Square, the post was named in honor of George Dilboy, a Somerville resident who received the Medal of Honor for his service as a “doughboy” in the trenches of France during World War I. The post has served as a venue for family celebrations, military honors and community events for close to a century.
Of course, the arduous process from concept to reality required determination, commitment and the patience of a soldier.
Fortunately, these were attributes Bob Hardy, VFW Dilboy Post Commander and Vietnam Veteran, possessed in abundance.
Hardy spearheaded the project, which includes a 29 unit condominium development. It will be built on land owned by the George Dilboy VFW post and stirred some discord among adjacent neighbors.
“At times, I felt the whole city was against me, even my wife,” Hardy said remembering the myriad of neighborhood and zoning hearings.
After nine years of meetings, zoning disputes and related intrigue, the modern new structure will officially be opened during the fall of 2018.
“This new building is for our newest veterans and those who will follow them. World War II and Korean War veterans handed it to us Vietnam veterans and now we want to hand it off to the veterans of the War on Terror. Our goal is to have the post used by the members, by the community and by the veterans who live nearby for years to come,” Hardy said.
As an Army combat medic, Hardy understood how important a VFW hall is to returning veterans.
As a 20-year-old, he left his home on Summer Street and shipped to Vietnam during 1968-1969, the height of the widening conflict. Among his duties, Hardy established aid stations and treated wounded from places that Hue, Khe Sanh and An Khe.
“I was 20, but I felt 40,” he recalled.
Jennifer Sibert, Dilboy Post 529 Administrator, was pleasantly surprised by the final approvals and new development.
“I never thought I would see it actually happening,” Sibert said. “Bob doesn’t take a lot of credit for this but he fought hard to make this a reality. He deserves a lot of credit,” she said.
The construction of the new facility is a source of pride for state leadership as well.
“The groundbreaking is proof that the Veterans of Foreign Wars is committed to being here for our veterans and their communities for many generations to come,” said Eric Segundo, VFW State Commander.
Hardy said that the new building will proudly display a myriad of photographs and artifacts to commemorate their history. Hardy’s own name, etched in brick, along with countless others will be laid in the walkway outside for generations to come.
“This new building will ensure the history and the lineage of this post will remain and serve as a reminder of the sacrifices of all the veterans who have come before us,” Segundo said.
The new VFW building is expected to open this fall. To learn more or to get involved, please visit http://www.vfwma.com.