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Founded by outcasts, VFW post celebrates 50 outstanding years

**Originally published in the Nov 24, 1996 issue of the Junction City Daily Union. Written by Gail Parsons.

After World War II, a group of local American soldiers returned from the devastation abroad and sought the companionship of other soldiers who, like them, had experienced the atrocities of war.

They turned to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and were turned away. They were not denied membership because their deeds had been less heroic than others or because they did not meet the requirements of VFW membership. Rather, these soldiers who risked their lives and red American blood were turned away because their skin was black.

When faced with discrimination, which was prevalent in those days, the group of veterans organized VFW Post 8773. Fifty years ago, on Nov 26, 1946, the post was officially chartered in a ceremony at the Municipal Building with Governor Docking present.

"Because of segregation, Post 8773 was born. - There was a black VFW and a white VFW," said Raymond A. Wells, past post commander "For years Mack soldiers and veterans were not accepted."

Wells' father was a charter member of the post which was named after one of the few black World War II veterans who died while serving in the Army. William Leroy Talbott died the day before he was to be discharged from military service The first post commander was his brother, Oscar Talbott.

There are only two charter members still living in Junction City: Robert Herron, a resident at the Good Samaritan Center, and Lee Gage.

Today, 50 years later, the members proudly celebrate their history-and achievements. Post 8773 is now desegregated; all local veterans of foreign wars are invited to be members regardless of their race.

"A veteran is a veteran; color is immaterial," said Roy Williams, past state VFW commander. "We have no strangers. We are all comrades," It was the desire for comradeship that brought the post together. McKinley Smith, post commander, said members find a comfort in each other's company.

"We speak the same language We understand the hardships endured, friends lost We speak

about the same things," Smith said. "The post might mean something a little bit different to different people. But what we all know is that war is pure hell. We laugh and joke now, but we cried before." For half a decade, the members of Post 8773 have been making contributions to the community

"We have been in this community for 50 years. We have seen a lot of businesses come and go, but we are still here and we get involved in all the community activities we can," Smith said "Especially things for the youth."

During the holidays, the post sponsors children's activities that are open to the public, such

as an annual Easter egg hunt, a children's Christmas party and special Mother's Day and Father's day activities. They are also involved with the Salvation Army's holiday bell-ringing program.

One of the projects they actively recruit youth in the community for is the annual Voice Of Democracy contest For this event, youth submit short speeches on tape. Starting at the local level, the winner can advance and become eligible to win the

national $20,000 scholarship.

The greatest achievement of Post 8773, Williams, Smith and Wells agreed, has been the advancement of members to the ranks of district and state commanders.

"There are. 200 posts in the state of Kansas It is a great achievement for any post to have a state commander come out of their post," Williams said.

Williams became Kansas' first black commander and served the 1995-1996 year.

"It was difficult but through perseverance I became commander," he said. "It was real interesting. The friends that I made over the way and the places I have been are indescribable "

On a district level, eight commanders have from Post 8773. As on the state level, the district's first black commander was from Post 8773

Another point of pride for the post is that they currently have a growing membership of 257, including a veteran of every conflict since World War I.

"We are probably the only post in the U S that can boost of having a World War I member, three original Buffalo Soldiers, several World War II veterans, a lot of Korean (veterans), a whole slew of Vietnam (veterans) and some Desert Storm veterans," Williams said.

It is unknown what conflicts will produce VFW members in the future, but Williams said Post 8773 plans on always being there for all veterans, including a growing number of women.

Plan call tor expansion of their building and continued growth in membership

"We are always looking for more members," Williams said "The larger the corps, the stronger the voice We veterans need to remind the Congressmen and Senators who made it possible for them to sit up there and make laws for this country.

One of the mottoes of the VFW is "We will do anything for this country. A person cannot do

more than offer up their life, and we have done that and made it back"


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