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50 Years of Loyalty
Three Rivers Post 4726 to celebrate 50 years
By By Alica P. Thiele
Challenger reporter

April 22. 2013 8:22AM
Two days after the Brandon VFW was chartered, the Beatles single “Love Me Do” reached No. 1 in the U.S. charts. John F. Kennedy was still president. A first class postage stamp cost 5 cents, and the average home cost $19,300.

Fifty-two charter members started the Three Rivers Post 4726 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an impressive number at the time, according to Dick Pickering, a member since 1981. The group was named after the Big Sioux River, Split Rock Creek and Beaver Creek, all of which converge just south of Brandon.

Just one of those charter members is still a member, many having died over the years, and some having moved away. That member, Clifford McMartin, will be recognized at the post’s 50th anniversary banquet April 25.

The event will be a double celebration. The Brandon VFW Auxiliary was chartered Jan. 5, 1964. Auxiliary members will celebrate with the VFW this month.

McMartin said he doesn’t recall for sure where the VFW met during the early days, but he thinks it probably was the old fire hall on Main Avenue, now the City Council chambers. “I’m not much on keeping history,” he said. “What happens today is gone tomorrow.”

McMartin served in the Korean Conflict as a commanding officer. He drove an armored tank for the Army in 1952 and 1953.

Kenny Kuhnert, a former Brandon VFW commander, has been a member of the organization since 1979. He was a crew chief, taking care of helicopters in Vietnam. “It was scary,” he said of his time there. “I had my little Bible with me. That helped.”

He is glad he served his country, but he kissed the ground when he got back home, “just like a lot of the guys did,” he said.

Pickering, who was in the Navy and served in Vietnam twice, said Brandon VFW members represent all the wars in which the United States has fought, dating back to World War II. These days, there aren’t many WWII vets still around, he said. Brandon has maybe three, he said.

And although younger veterans of more recent wars are slow to join the VFW, a few are doing so. “We just signed up three new Iraq veterans the other day,” Pickering said.
It wasn’t until 1965 when the Brandon VFW got its own post home. It was a hardware store at the time, and one of the members – Bill Johnson – made a quick decision to claim it for the group when it became available. The building, at 321 Main Ave., is still the group’s permanent post home.

Three years after forming, the VFW hosted its first Loyalty Day Parade, one of the events for which the post is most well known. Held each year on the first Sunday in May, the parade will celebrate its 47th year this year on May 5. The parade has won one first place and several second place VFW awards nationally.

Over the past 50 years, members have continued to serve their country through volunteerism. Members visit veterans in nursing homes, hospitals and shut-ins. At Thanksgiving, the post hosts a thank you dinner for community officials such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, pastors and senior citizens.

The VFW educates school children about patriotism and freedom through school programs and essay contests. Local scouting groups help the VFW conduct two flag retirement ceremonies a year.

The VFW also branches out into the community, renting its post home as a place for special parties, senior citizens meetings, benefits and other public events.

For four years, Tonya Burd has worked at the VFW, the past eight months as manager. Although not a VFW member, she said the regulars who come in to eat and visit have become like family to her. “It makes it easy to come to work every day,” she said.

The public will have a chance to celebrate the VFW’s 50th anniversary April 26, when the post home will have karaoke, a beer pong tournament and appetizers, along with other entertainment. Of course, the kitchen will be open, Burd said.

Members will celebrate the evening of April 25 with a banquet. “We’ve got all the state officers coming in,” said Pickering, himself once the South Dakota commander. The district commander and district Auxiliary president will be there, and Mayor Larry Beesley will speak. The main speaker will be Shirley Redman of the VA hospital in Sioux Falls.

In addition to Pickering being a past state commander, Post 4726 has had five members become district commander, and several who have become aide de camp to the national commander. Many of the Brandon members have held other positions at the national and state levels.

The post has 143 members at present, many of whom live in other states but maintain membership here. Pickering said Post 4726 is third in the state for membership retention.

Fifty years after forming, the Brandon VFW continues the VFW mission: to ensure rights, remember sacrifices, promote patriotism, perform community service and advocate for a strong national defense.
WHAT: Public celebration of Brandon VFW 50th anniversary
WHEN: 5p.m. until closing Friday, April 26
WHERE: VFW, 321 Main Ave., Brandon
TO LEARN MORE: Call 582-3411

Members of the Brandon VFW will celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary April 26 and 27. Photo by Alica P. Thiele

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