Since 1983 war veterans of Ocean Beach have had a place to call home. Since 1983, VFW Post 1392 at 4944 Newport Avenue has served as a refuge. It’s not much. It’s a small storefront facing an alley. The inside is not fancy; a big screen HDTV, a pool table, and your usual assortment of stools and tables (all handmade by Outpost members).
There is nothing fancy about the décor. The walls of the canteen are decorated with various insignias representing different units of different branches of the military where the members were so proud to serve. The POW/MIA flag appears on the wall behind the bar, and waves above the hand painted mural outside. The Marine Corps flag hangs between the entry steps and the wheelchair ramp. Various award plaques hang on the wall throughout.
On the north side of the building, just inside the entryway, is the Honor Wall, which features photos and memorials to deceased members of the post. And above the door hangs the outpost’s most prized decoration: A custom surfboard shaped by John Neve in honor of his father-in-law who survived the beaches of Normandy in World War II. Mr. Neve has shaped various surfboards with a military theme that have been auctioned off to benefit VFW Post 1392, but not this one. This one’s special. This one means something.
The post isn’t much, but it has been built and nurtured by hand by the members who seek solace inside its walls. Members do all of the maintenance work themselves; all of the plumbing, all of the electrical work, anything that needs to be done gets done at either the members’ or the post’s expense. The mural above the entrance to the canteen was hand painted by a homeless VFW member who asked for nothing in return. He just wanted to share his art with his friends.
For 27 years the landlord has received a monthly rent check with no complaints and no requests from the Quartermaster. Whatever they need, they find a way to provide it for themselves.
After 27 years of calling 4944 Newport Ave. home, VFW Post 1392 is losing their home. The longtime landlord, Cocking Partners, LP, has made a “business decision” and has chosen to rent the canteen and the accompanying VFW thrift store to someone else, presumably for more money. Renovations to accommodate the new tenants are already under way, and the outpost’s future hangs in limbo.
VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 1392 is an oasis of sorts to its members. In order to become a member, you must have served during combat operations in a military action on foreign soil. Think of it as a place like in the TV show “Cheers.” You know the one, “where everybody knows your name?” The analogy, though, does not do justice to what the place means to the veterans who pass the time there.
The members view themselves as part of a family of people who share common experiences, common stories, common nightmares. Every man—and the handful of women—who are members of the VFW nationwide have been a part of the horrors of war. They have all survived war. Many return with physical scars; all return with emotional scars.
And that’s what makes the VFW post so valuable and so important to these veterans. Mary Leffler, USN (retired) served in Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Mary became the first female lifetime member of the Ocean Beach VFW. The emotional trauma, Mary says, typically cannot be adequately dealt with by seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. Sure the doctors understand the clinical explanations of what is happening in a veteran’s mind. They understand the chemical reactions and how the coping mechanisms work. They can listen to the stories, nod their heads, take notes, sympathize, and prescribe medications or other forms of therapy. But they can never truly understand what these veterans have seen, what they’ve experienced. They cannot fully comprehend the humanity that must be shoved aside and locked in a closet in order to survive.
It’s when the veterans return home that the closet door flies open and the camaraderie and understanding of the VFW post becomes a life saver, because in that place they can find people who KNOW what they’re going through, what they’ve seen and experienced, and are coping with the same nightmares. It’s a place where fellow servicemen and women open their arms and their hearts to lend a hand, an ear, or just sit and have a beer. Conversations drift in directions and depths that no other group can fully grasp.
Vic Tulsie is the newly elected Quartermaster of VFW Post 1392. Vic joined the Navy shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and served six years as a Navy cryptologist. He took part in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and the Global War on Terrorism. To sit and listen to him and his predecessor, Mary, talk about THEIR post and the possibility of losing it, it’s hard not to get a sense of just how important a role the post plays in their lives, and how heartbreaking the thought of losing it is. It is their temple, the place they go to gain a sense of sanity. It’s a place where young and old alike feel a sense of belonging.
Talking to them, you get a sense that they might just be lost without it.
The VFW is not, however, simply a way for the members to connect with each other. It is a way for them to connect with and serve their community. Have you ever noticed the American Flags that line Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach on national holidays? Post 1392 is responsible for that. Its members raise 97 flags and take them down again for every national holiday.
Members care for the flags at the Vietnam Memorial in Ocean Beach. It was Mary Leffler that designed the plaque at the memorial. That plaque has been copied and installed at memorials in Hawaii, Virginia, Florida, and Washington State.
Every year for Thanksgiving, the OB VFW sponsors food drives and provides meals for Ocean Beach families in need. This year they are sponsoring eight families. Every Christmas they host toy and food drives to provide for needy OB families. Every toy recipient gets a toy suitable to his or her age group.
Post 1392 is a strictly non-profit organization that operates by the revenues it generates in the canteen (the bar) and the thrift store it operates next door. The thrift store survives on donations of goods (and money), most of which it sells for a very modest price. However, they will never turn away someone in need, particularly a vet in need. They often donate clothes or blankets to homeless folks right out of the thrift store.
A few girls from Pt. Loma High were even able to find prom dresses at the thrift store last year; they couldn’t afford new ones, so some of the women from the VFW came through for them.
Proceeds from the canteen and the thrift store also allows Post 1392 to contribute to the 25 different charities they support—most of them local—including the OB Christmas Tree Fund, the OB Christmas Parade, Point Loma Little League (their support earned them “Sponsor of the Year” honors in 2009), the OB Women’s Club, the OB Street Fair, the Special Olympics, and Point Loma High School Athletics, to name a few. In fact, they make it a point to keep almost all of their support within the OB community.
The post, for the first time, was a part of the Ocean Beach Restaurant Walk, where they found three new members (they served Jell-O shots), and will be sponsoring a BBQ for the OB Street Fair.
But all of that could be coming to an end if Tulsie and Leffler cannot find the post a new home. They desperately want to remain in Ocean Beach, a part of the Ocean Beach community. Of great concern to them is the fate of some of their older members: Several of them live close by and walk to the canteen to find brotherhood. Unable to drive, if the post left OB, these members would be stranded and left with no place to go.
Further exasperating the post’s plight, the landlord has seen fit to begin renovations on the adjoining stores. The construction workers have been using chemicals as a part of the job that has made the thrift store uninhabitable. They have had to close the store down for a total of 14 days since the construction began, eliminating that much needed revenue that not only keeps the canteen and thrift store open, but would provide some of the necessary funds to facilitate a move should the post find a new, suitable location. Tulsie has enlisted the help of an attorney who has taken on the effort to recover the lost revenue on a pro-bono basis.
On this Veterans Day, 2010, please give a thought to those who have served our country and community with honor, dignity, and pride. And if you can lend a hand to those veterans of Post 1392 who have been so quick and eager to lend a hand to others, please let them know. They would normally happily accept donations of clothing or goods that they can distribute to the needy or sell in their thrift store, but in this hour of such uncertainty in search of a new home, your financial support becomes even more crucial.
Please let them know that you care, even if it’s only a voicing of support and encouragement. You can reach the post canteen at (619) 225-0921, or contact the thrift shop at (619) 223-3024.
Happy Veterans Day!