RANDOLPH, NJ- "War is Hell" is an old adage that has been proven true since the dawn of time. Particularly now, when U.S. occupation has remained in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ravages of war currently weigh heavy on returning soldiers.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization ( VFW ) tries to provide an outlet for those that are returning from the strain of combat. This they do by encouraging personal communication. The VFW also has members busy themselves within the community providing various services.
"Face to face communication and interaction almost seems to be obsolete for today's generation," said Randolph Post Commander Scott Montanio. According to Montanio, "For veterans of this generation that come back, they rely too heavily on the internet as a coping mechanism for their pain.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11 to 20% of veterans who fought in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are yearly diagnosed with PTSD.
The VFW is the largest combat organization. The Randolph post is home to 70 members, 15 of whom are active. Members' experience range from WWII to the current Middle East conflict. The building itself is decades old, harkening back to its creation in the early '50s.
Just as the VFW states it is for veterans, this is quite true for the Randolph post. Their headquarters were built on a donated piece of farmland and it was constructed by the returning veterans of WWII. The contribution of the land came from the Knothe family.
"They were always good natured," said Alice Knothe. "They donated property to the Randolph firehouse after that."
Alice Knothe is married to Peter, a WWII medic who spent time in France and Germany. His parents, Edward and Fanny, donated the land. Peter was part of the dozen or so men who helped clear the field and set the foundation.
One of Peter Knothe's war time / post war experiences was covered by the local press. It was in Germany during WWII, that Peter Knothe tended to a little girl, Giselda Werndl. She had gotten her foot stuck in a bicycle's spoke. Knothe swiftly took care of her. It was more than 60 years later when they found each other again and reconnected for what was an inspiring and deeply emotional moment for both.
In the prime of its years, the VFW of Randolph would hold community events such as dances and card games. "We used to have about 300 people there for some of the events," said Alice Knothe.
The VFW Hall not only provided a place for fun and games, but also fundraising. "We used to have cake sales," said Alice Knothe. "There was quite a few girls that participated in that."
Bingo also used to bring in an allowance for the Randolph post, but now it is mostly sustained by the Buddy Poppy program. Future projects would be hindered without these donations.
Even so, the Randolph post continues to serve as a connection between different soldiers: WWII veteran Bob Brembs and his wife Joanne still visit the Knothes to play the old card games. Community service also helps the VFW band together.
Hospital visits, and ceremonies that honor the fallen are a staple of what they do. The VFW have reached out further into the life of the town by providing scholarships to high school students. Re-established in 2005, the award is given out to one young man and one young woman. One criteria stands above the rest. "'Must have a relative who served in the U. S. Armed Forces" is a pre-requsite in order to be considered for the rest of the evaluation process," said Post Quartermaster Jack Sassaman via email.
Another way, the post tries to encourage communion with other veterans is by opening up its doors every Thursday morning for coffee and conversation.
One of their concluding events of the summer for the VFW will be a picnic with invitations to all members of the post. This will happen on August 12, from noon to 4 p.m. The turnout is expected to be huge as members will bring family with them.
The soldiers who went into danger believed they were doing their duty. Peter Knothe is one example.
"I don't think anybody likes the idea of going in the service, especially, when war's going on. But, they went and they were glad to do it at the time. They were happy to do it for their country," said Alice Knothe.