Alaska Rep. Don Young once told a gathering in Kenai that we don’t need a Veteran’s Day. We need 365 Veteran’s Days every year so can acknowledge that all the freedoms we enjoy in this nation every day is because of the service of our veterans and their families. So as we begin a new year as a free nation of the people by the people, we look at local organizations that serve our veterans and their families because “Freedom isn’t Free.” The first Veterans of Foreign Wars organization (VFW) was founded in 1899 by members of the First Colorado Volunteers returning from the Spanish American War. The purpose was to provide services to veterans before there ever was a federal Veterans Administration (VA).
Alaska is proud to have the largest per capita population of veterans in the United States. On the Kenai Peninsula the Jerry V. Horn Memorial VFW Post # 10046 has post colors, held services and marched in every 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and community event since its charter. Its members and axillaries have provided tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to youth who participate in Voice of Democracy essay competitions open to all students. While the common image of VFW members may be that of WWII, Korea and Vietnam era veterans, since the turn of the century another generation of soldiers have returned from foreign conflicts to join and be served by VFW Posts across America. Many of whom, like Anne Toutant, U.S. Air Force and Army veteran have returned from these wars and chosen the Kenai Peninsula as their home. A former weapons specialist and one of the first women in front line combat duty, Toutant is the present Senior Vice Commander for VFW Post # 10046 and next in line to become commander.
In a recent address to the Kenai Rotary Club Toutant said, “VFW Pubic perceptions are changing along with the awareness of the services we provide for returning veterans. We soon will be opening a new annex at the post in Soldotna that will provide some 2,000 sq. ft. of space for VFW as well as community events and activities. This is an ongoing volunteer effort funded by our members and auxiliary. I just can’t say how important our auxiliary’s are to our projects, services and all that we do. Our goal is to reach out to as many new returning and seasoned veterans of foreign wars as possible to let them know the VFW is here for them and their families. The VA is doing a better job these days in meeting direct medical and other needs of returning veterans. The VFW is here for the whole family of a returning soldier, beyond what the VA provides by making a place of mutual understanding, for fellowship and service with those who can relate to their experiences. From parades and remembrance ceremonies to Flag Days and funerals with military honors, VFW is here to reach out to the families of veterans and their dependents. A little known fact is that VFW auxiliary membership is open to children and spouses of veterans who served in a foreign conflict,” she said.
Toutant says she hopes the community and families of returning soldiers will help to get the word out that VFW is here for them, “I was back for 20 years before learning of all the things that the VFW does in a community. It’s not just a bunch of old soldiers sitting around telling war stories like some may think, we rarely do. We talk about and plan what we can do to serve our community. I was asked once if it helped to talk about my war experience and I replied that talking about it doesn’t make it any better, but it doesn’t make it any worse and as long as I can help someone that’s all that matters.”