Serving those who served: VFW camaraderie stays strong as membership dwindles

  • Members of the Shelburne Falls VFW Post 8503 from left are Tom Johnston, Ray Godfroy, Commander Doug March, Greg Zagrubski, Arthur Phillips and John Chadwick. STAFF PHOTO / PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2023 2:32:03 PM
Modified: 5/26/2023 2:31:48 PM

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post #8503, located in Shelburne between Bridge Street and the Bridge of Flowers, which has provided a space for soldiers who were in active combat to gather in Franklin County, is celebrating its diamond jubilee 75th anniversary this year.

The Recorder spoke with Commander Doug March about how the post has changed over the years and took a look towards the future of the VFW.

At its peak, the VFW in Shelburne had about 180 active members who visited the VFW bar regularly, attended their banquets, dances and live performances. The post began declining about a decade ago, according to March, and now has 94 members who live in the surrounding area. Many VFW posts in recent years have closed and consolidated.

“We are active but inactive right now,” March explained. The post now meets monthly for official meetings, and the members regularly gather throughout the month and use the space at their leisure. They no longer have a staffed bar, they sold the field they owned to the town, and they rent out their ballroom space for other uses.

The VFW provides a space for a special niche of the population, allowing members to only join if they served in active combat zones. This separates the club from the American Legion, which allows membership to all veterans.

“At our meetings we swap war stories. Someone who didn’t serve would never understand that hardship. It is hard to relate to others in this situation,” March said.

March was in active combat service in Vietnam in 1968 where he would clear landmines in the morning to help escort convoys north all the way through to the border of Cambodia.

The post supports military efforts throughout the area, including hosting bingo games at the Old Soldiers Home, supporting the cemeteries and military band, advocating for the Shelburne Ozro Miller Trust Fund Account, maintaining the public flags and organizing the annual Memorial Day Parade.

The intense comradery created on the battlefield, March said, is something that does not exist today but has lived on through the veterans in the club. They make it a priority to help veterans in need, especially on holidays.

The membership bulk of the club was made up mostly of World War II and Korean War veterans. As most of the World War II and Korean War veterans are no longer living, membership has dwindled at the club.

“We used to be bustling,” March said.

Most of the soldiers who served in Vietnam from this area were volunteer fighters. March explained the only options in Franklin County in the late 60s when graduating from high school were fighting in the war, going to college or getting married. Many, including March, decided to serve. “In our area there was a lot of patriotic fever,” he said.

Younger veterans are tending not to join VFW posts to connect with people who had similar experiences as them. VFW posts across the country that were once lively social halls are all shrinking, even though there were many young volunteer soldiers who enlisted following the events of 9/11.

“We don’t know the future of the VFW, we are trying to get younger people involved.” March said.

The club owns their building and rents out the social hall room to a fitness business. This covers the bills they need to pay so the VFW is not going anywhere in the near future.

March thinks the country needs to care for veterans more than it currently is. “All the veterans I meet really need to be taken care of,” he said.

The Shelburne Memorial Committee, including many of the members of the VFW, will host their annual Memorial Day event on May 29 starting at 10 a.m. The event will include a parade, performances from the Shelburne Falls Military Band, a Color Guard Salute and speeches from Veterans.


Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or


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