Veterans see youth as future of Basehor VFW chapter
With Memorial Day on the horizon, members of the Basehor chapter of the Veterans of Foreign War are trying to recruit new members.
"It's an organization for comradeship," VFW member Jerral Cooper said. "It also gives us a chance to support civic projects."
Since its inception in 1993, the Basehor VFW has been quite busy giving presentations at local schools, sponsoring families and children of veterans, and holding essay scholarship contests. The Basehor VFW also regularly participates in the Leavenworth VFW parade.
The Basehor VFW was started by veterans from the Leavenworth post and began in 1993. The Basehor VFW has 46 members and those men consist of veterans from wars in Korea, Vietnam and World War II. VFW member Jack Williams said the organization is always seeking new members.
In an interview with Basehor VFW members this week, several said that being in the organization gives veterans a chance to share a bond with men who served overseas as well as reflect on those servicemen who did not come home.
"We were the ones that didn't get killed," Cooper said. "Many, many, many men gave their lives to keep this country free and it's important to remember them."
"Many of the men that were at the beaches didn't even make it to them (the beaches)," Basehor VFW Commander Bob Wiley said. "I don't know what the exact number was, but I would say 75 percent didn't make it."
Of the men interviewed, all were involved in World War II in some way. All of the men remember Dec. 8, 1941, the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech asking Congress to declare war on Japan following a horrendous attack on Pearl Harbor.
Basehor VFW member Wilbur Grisham was stationed in Texas when the word came through that the United States would take part in the war.
"We heard it on the loudspeaker about the attack," Grisham said. "The next day, I was headed to the Philippines but didn't make it. They turned us around and brought us back because the number of ships they were losing."
Grisham was returned and stationed in the Hawaiian Islands and saw the destruction of Pearl Harbor first hand. Grisham said he has seen the theatrical trailer to the movie Pearl Harbor and hopes the movie is as accurate as the real thing.
"Six months after Pearl Harbor, the destruction was still there," Grisham said. "They were still pulling ships out of the ocean."
While Grisham was lucky, Basehor VFW member Harry Kelly was not so lucky. He was aboard the U.S.S. Houston when three Japanese torpedoes hit the ship. The ship was convoying materials to Australia for storage when it found itself manned against the Japanese fleet.
"The U.S.S. Houston had 1,068 men, we lost 700 men the night the ship went down, 368 got off," Kelly said. "Today, there is less than 80 of us left."
Kelly spent 11 hours swimming through the ocean before being picked up by a Japanese vessel. He spent three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp before being released. The memories of being in the camp have haunted Kelly.
"I always say 'Why me lord?' but you never know," Kelly said.
While the members of the Basehor VFW have seen their share of tragedies from wars, its hopes now rest on finding fellow servicemen to continue serving their community.