By Steve Sears
Toeing the doorstep of 75 years of history, and of helping those who have served the United States of America in foreign battles.
The Denville VFW Post 2519 was chartered on May 10, 1945 with 45 charter members. Meetings were initially held at the Patriotic Order Sons of America Hall, and eventually moved to the Denville Memorial Library on Diamond Spring Road when its construction was completed. VFW Post 2519 Ladies Auxiliary was chartered that same year with 22 members, the group originally convening in private homes and then later in the library as well.
James Vialard, 72, United States Army veteran, Judge Advocate of and a Post 2519 member since 1968, says his wife’s father, Earl Davis, was post Commander (and past Chief of the Denville Fire Department) when she was born in 1950.
As both organizations grew in size and enthusiasm, a building fund was established and money was raised by raffles, donations, parties and more as plans to build the VFW’s own building formulated. Miss Anna G. Hall, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, whose father (John Hall, who died in 1936) was the last Civil War survivor of Denville, donated three acres of her property in memory of her father and grandfather near the old fire house on Route 53 adjoining the Den Brook. On Sunday, May 16, 1954, ground was broken by Miss Hall, then-Mayor John Hogan and the local and District members of the VFW for a planned 40 foot by 80-foot-long two-story building. A railroad tie bulkhead was built along the Den Brook and work progressed for over a year, but then a dilemma developed. “Our original building is (now) under Route 80,” says Vialard. The State Highway Department at that time began acquiring property for the construction of Interstate Route 80, including the parcel of land the post was already building on, and the dream of a location of its own for the VFW lay dormant for almost a decade. “The building was partially up when (Route) 80 came through,” says Vialard. “It was a concrete building. I think they just filled it in for the bypass over Route 53.”
After an extensive search was undertaken for another site, on January 4, 1963, property was found with a foundation, well and septic system on Ford Road. Post 2519 was in their new location later that year, and two small additions were made to the building by 1988. The Post had 200 members in 1988 – about half the members were from World War II and the other half were veterans of Korea and Vietnam – and the Ladies Auxiliary membership numbered 57.
In the 1990s, Commander Howard Shaw made the upstairs of the building handicap accessible and put a handicap bathroom on the building’s main floor. Also, the Ladies Auxiliary disbanded around 1997. “We’ve been chugging along,” Vialard says. “Brian Bergen is our Commander now; what he’s done now since he became Commander is have evening meetings, which bring the younger guys around. They had changed it, and everything was done at noon time. We didn’t have any participation from our younger members; they all worked. It helped out a lot since he’s gone back to the old style that we used to have. He changed it to be beneficial for the post survival and to go forward.”
Brian Bergen lives in Denville and is a Republican nominee for the New Jersey State Assembly. He alludes to Vialard’s statement. “It’s impossible for younger people to make the meeting times (that the older veterans hold), but these meetings are important to the older vets. I told them it’s impossible for the post to thrive (this way) and they made me Commander. The older members just keep doing what they’re doing while I’m working to keep the post alive. This post, and the VFW in general, is full of amazing people with great stories. Some of them are WWII vets, so you’re surrounded by history. My daughter Samantha – likes to come there to serve the veterans dinner. My daughter loves being involved with the post – she is like a daughter to the older veterans.”
For Bergen, it’s about meeting, talking, listening. “Eventually you start to seek out people who understand you and your experiences. I got out of the military in 2009,” says Bergen, a West Point graduate who was stationed in Iraq in 2005. “Eventually you realize that you miss the camaraderie of the army; this makes vets seek out VFW posts.” Bergen joined the post in 2016-17. “I first made my way to the VFW. When you first get out of the military, there are several organizations you can join. The younger veterans don’t always know that. They aren’t into getting together with their old buddies to drink, they have minimal amounts of time.”
Vialard calls to mind the past, and then applauds Bergen’s efforts again. “We had a good color guard, we had a lot of great things going on, but as time went on, the older members started dying off. Brian has done fabulous things to bring the young guys back on board, and they’re there at the evening meetings we have.”
“Since I got involved (with the post),” says Bergen, who is 40 years old, “I’m mostly surrounded by older men, and I’ve been trying to find ways to get involved – such as finding new membership and keeping the post alive.” VFW Post 2519 is always seeking new members, and Bergen utilizes social media as the arm for that “reach.” He wants to get the word out about the organization’s worth. “Like I said, the younger generation, at first they don’t see the value in an organization like the VFW. I help them see that it’s about helping other veterans and being a community.”
Vialard speaks to the post’s work with the community, especially kids. “We do a lot with our school programs, to make the kids aware of Americanism, and think about our country.”
Post 2519 currently has no means to do their Veterans Day event, but they do participate in events hosted by other organizations. “As a post,” Bergen claims, “we participate in Lakeview Elementary School’s Veterans Day presentation. We do it every year, it’s an unbelievable presentation.”
And that word – “community” – is a key one, as Bergen attests. “The community is very supportive of us. We are an integrated part of the Denville community.”