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“At some point in time, you’ll need me as bad as I’m going to need you,” says Don Briggs, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 280. That’s the conversation Briggs has with potential new members of VFW. “You’re going to need the VFW. The military takes care of you, helps you for your whole time in there, but VFW does the same thing.”
Post 280 is VFW’s Columbia post but reaches farther than city limits. There was a post in Harrisburg, but it shut down. The next closest posts are in Jefferson City, Fulton, or Sedalia, says Briggs, who has been a member since 1995.
The post was originally called the Robert M. Graham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 280, named after Graham, of Mineola, Mo., who was killed in action during World War I on July 7, 1918. He received the Silver Star, and in his honor, on November 4, 1919, 53 men activated the post. By July 1932, the members voted to change the name of the post to Boone County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 280.
The post has moved twice. The original location was in downtown Columbia. After that, the post moved to the pavilion area next to the current post, off of Ashley Street, until it burned down. The current post has undergone three renovations to expand it. It was built in 1975, and since then, the post has continued to grow with active members. There are currently more than 400 lifetime members, 86 of whom are annual members. There are 517 members overall. The post is also an All-American Post, a VFW honor that is not common for all posts.
As an active post, there are reoccurring activities for veterans to participate in during the week. Although closed on Sundays and Mondays, activities resume on Tuesday with karaoke and chicken wings; Wednesday with a blue-plate dinner; Thursday with bingo; Friday with steak and catfish; and dances on the weekend. The post also has an honor guard, a shuffleboard league, and “jam sessions,” as Briggs says, with a group that comes and plays music. Since 1995, the honor guard has done close to 700 funerals, and that’s not counting flag ceremonies, Briggs says. It costs around $100,000 a year to keep the post running.
With all of the activities, one would think there needs to be a lot of people running the show. However, believe it or not, there are only around three full-time volunteers, who help keep the post functioning smoothly. The post used to have two to three bartenders, a cook, and a maintenance man, but over the past 10 to 15 years, there hasn’t been any paid help. There is only one paid person left, and that’s the bartender. When it comes to the kitchen, cleaning, and maintenance, it’s up to the volunteers and members. “My wife says I spend entirely too much time here,” Briggs says.
VFW not only has volunteers helping at the post, but there are also members who volunteer in the community. There are around 20 people who volunteer at the VA hospital, Briggs says. The post also participates in youth scholarship programs, education outreach, youth activities, and troop support. For example, members give awards to the ROTC at MU and the junior ROTC in Boonville, Briggs says.
Briggs has been an officer since 2011 and has worked his way up from a trustee to commander to present quartermaster. One of the things that Briggs and the post does is reach out to veterans to join the VFW. “We need to get more young people back into the organization,” Briggs says.
He explains that many veterans, when they come back from the military, don’t feel like the same person. “How can you be the same person after you had somebody try to hurt you, maim you, kill you? You’re definitely not going to be the same person,” Briggs says. Speaking to his own experiences, Briggs says that before the VFW, he didn’t realize how he was missing the structure, camaraderie, and everything else that was ingrained in his head during his time in the military.
Briggs found the VFW as something that he was used to. He says it can put veterans back in a comfort zone. “[I’m] someone they can come to, someone they can sit down and talk to and understand what they’re talking about and be here to help them,” he says. “We don’t even have to know you — you ain’t got to try to be a friend, you’re already a friend. You are a comrade. Maybe I didn’t go to the same place you did, but I went through the same darn things you went through, good and bad.”
The post is a safe space for veterans to share experiences and memories of their time during service, but it is also a place for veterans to build new experiences and memories with people who can understand the difficulty of integrating into a normal American lifestyle after spending time in the military. Whether that means help with medical needs, filing a claim, or making sure you’re signed up at the VA, Post 280 can help, Briggs says.
The comradeship service men and women share while serving together doesn’t end when they’re no longer on active duty. That’s why Post 280 exists. They want all veterans to continue to know and feel this sense of belonging and friendship. CBT