By Steve Sears
The Veterans of Foreign Wars – VFW, for short – will soon be celebrating its 120th anniversary with a commemoration ceremony to be held at their National Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.
Anniversaries are always nice, but what these celebrations are best made for is reflection: remembrances of earlier days, beginnings perhaps, the good accomplished, all meant to forge continuous movement forward.
And, it’s about history. The VFW has much of that, especially at Post 2347 in Netcong.
“It is the oldest post in Morris County and was formed in 1943 during the WWII era. It has served veterans and the local Netcong area since (that time),” says Steven Niblett, who joined the VFW in 2009 and became the Adjutant for Post 2347 in Netcong until 2015, when he became the Post Commander. “I am currently Post Commander and was elected District 10 VFW Commander (Morris County) in 2018 and I am in my second year as District Commander.”
But, to find the building may be a challenge. “The post address is 45 Main Street, Netcong but most folks don’t know it’s there because it sits so far back from Main Street and there are shops and apartments in front of it between the post and Main Street,” states Keith Nitka, who was Junior Vice Commander two years and then Post Commander for four years, and also served as Chairman for the Patriots Pen and Voice Of Democracy scholarship programs that the VFW holds every year. He weighs in on the Netcong VFW’s early days of its 76 years (and counting). “Yes, the Netcong VFW post is the oldest post in Morris County. The building was purchased by the charter (Founding) members of the post. The building was a livery stable before it was purchased by the post, and the odd thing about it today is that the post only owns the building and property that the building sits on. The grassy area around the post and even the parking lot is owned by someone else. The charter members were children of the great depression and didn’t see a need to purchase (spend their hard-earned cash on) the entire piece of property.”
There are 1.6 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliary throughout the world, and the organization lives by its “No One Does More For Veterans” statement. The definition, mission statement, and vision of the VFW since its 1899 inception, as gleaned from the VFW website:
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is a nonprofit veterans service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, guard and reserve forces.
Our Mission: To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans.
Our Vision: Ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.
The VFW’s core values are as follows:
Always put the interests of our members first
Treat donors as partners in our cause
Honor military service
Ensure the care of veterans and their families
Serve our communities
Promote a positive image of the VFW
Respect the diversity of veteran opinions
All of the above is especially well on display in Netcong. No matter the location, it’s there, and the good it does for its 100-plus veterans membership and beyond deserves to be bellowed, and that’s in addition to being involved with events including Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Netcong Days display. “We will have a solemn ceremony at the Stanhope Cemetery on Veterans Day, and post members and family usually go to Applebee’s for lunch on Veterans Day for fun and fellowship,” says Niblett.
Nitka adds some more specifics. “This post as all others help Veterans and active duty military transition to civilian life, help with finding jobs and schooling. We also help out where needed with monetary support for those in the community, not just veteran or active duty. One of the bigger things that Post 2347 does is at Thanksgiving. In November the post, in conjunction with St. Michaels Catholic Church, will give out $50.00 gift cards to ShopRite to assist with the Thanksgiving meal for those who need it. We (also) take part in Toys for Tots, and also a big aspect of the post is to assist veterans in getting the mental health they require after deploying.”
Nitka served in the United States Navy from 1987 to 1991 on active full-time duty, and then from 1991 until 1996 in the Navy Reserves. He did two deployments while on active duty. The first was a UNITAS cruise around South America and the second was to the Persian Gulf for Desert Shield and then Desert Storm. While in the reserves, he went to San Diego, California for drug smuggling intervention operations. He is adamant and upfront about his support of veterans. “The VFW is the largest Veterans advocate organization in the country, and we fight every day in Washington, DC and around the country to better the lives of our military and veterans.” He elaborates. “Through healthcare and compensation for injuries sustained in combat; assistance with widows, widowers and children of our fallen comrades; assistance with food and clothing in our communities and friendship to those in need; and we assist children in achieving their dreams of higher education through the Patriots Pen and Voice of Democracy scholarship programs. We can help you get a new roof on your home if you can’t afford it yourself. We listen to veterans going through hard times mentally and physically. We don’t judge or shun them but embrace them and welcome them. We all have one very tangible thing in common. Unlike the American Legion or American Veterans (AMVETS), to be a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) we have all been in Combat or served in a Combat zone, that is the one prerequisite that is needed for entry into this organization and sets us apart from the rest.”
Niblett served in the United States Army, his tours of duty taking him to Korea, Honduras, and Iraq. He also served two three-year tours in the 1980s with the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California, and a two-year tour at Picatinny Arsenal (located both in Jefferson and Rockaway) from 1989 to 1990. “I also served in the Army Reserves from 1991 to 2007. I retired as Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years of service in 2007,” he says, “and I joined the VFW to give back to fellow veterans in need and to serve my community.”
Nitka, now stationed in Virginia, sums up what it truly means about VFW brotherhood — Post 2347 and beyond. “I have friends in the community that I miss, but as a VFW member, no matter where I go in the world, I am welcome at the local VFW post as a comrade and brother. I am now a member of post 8545 in Smithfield, Virginia, and just as in Netcong, there is a strong community in the post, and we help where and when needed in the local community here.”
New members are welcome. “They (prospective) new members can visit the post on a Tuesday night when I am usually there,” says Niblett. “The candidate must have his DD214 Service Document to prove that he served overseas in a hostile war environment.” Also, members of the community can become a “partner” in the “Cause.” “The community can collaborate with us any time by calling us at the post,” Niblett adds.
VFW Post 2347 is located on 45 Main Street (right near the Route 46 and 206 intersection) in Netcong. For more information, call (973) 347-9858. Mailing address is P.O. Box 252 Netcong, New Jersey 07857. For general VFW information, visit www.vfw.org. For New Jersey VFW details, located at 171 Jersey St, Building 5 2nd Floor, Trenton, 08611, call (609) 393-1929, or visit www. vfwnj.org.