VFW 119th National Convention held in Kansas City

VFW national election results are in. Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence, from Alamogordo, N.M., was elected Wednesday as the new VFW national commander by delegates attending the 119th VFW National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. Lawrence served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 1986 and earned his eligibility by serving in South Korea, where an armistice, or cease-fire agreement, has existed since July 27, 1953. He joined VFW Post 7686 in Alamogordo in 2000 and immediately began moving the organization forward into the new millennium. He has proven to be a highly effective and dynamic leader, serving in myriad of critical leadership positions, to include being elected commander at every level of the organization. His theme for the year and challenge to the $102 million nonprofit organization is to “Make It Happen” even more in every community across the nation and world, from veterans service work to legislative advocacy and increased program activities both locally and nationally. The new “chief” is also putting a new focus on supporting the 6,400 existing VFW posts, creating new posts, and recruiting and retention. Also elected are: Sr. Vice Commander in Chief Doc Schmitz, Jr.; Vice Commander in Chief Hal J. Roechll; and Ruth A. Fairchield, a Desert Storm veteran from New Castle Post 316, as VFW’s National Surgeon. Appointed as the new VFW Adjutant General is Kevin Jones, of Smithville, Mo. Re-elected as VFW Quartermaster General is Debra Anderson, of Kansas City, Mo.

North Korea Begins Returning MIA Remains

“The VFW is incredibly encouraged by news that North Korea returned 55 boxes of remains believed to be U.S. service members who have been missing in action since the Korean War,” said VFW National Commander Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence. “This is a huge step in the right direction that we hope will finally bring peace to the peninsula and closure to American families who have been waiting more than six decades for their loved ones to return home.” The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lists 7,699 missing Americans from the Korean War, with some 5,300 believed to be in North Korea. DPAA also lists 111 Cold War losses in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula. “The return of our missing is a humanitarian mission that transcends politics,” said Lawrence. The United States government, specifically DPAA search and recovery teams, has not operated in North Korea since 2005 due to team safety and security concerns. The VFW sent a letter to President Trump in advance of the June 12 Singapore summit to urge him to include the return of American remains as a discussion point with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “The VFW is grateful to the president for acting on our recommendation and to the North Korean leader for following through on his part of the summit agreement.

More Korean and Cold War Family DNA Sought

Now that North Korea is returning remains, VFW National Commander Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence is urging the families of Korean and Cold War missing to ensure the Defense Department has a DNA reference sample on file to help speed the identification process. Family reference samples currently on file only account for 91 percent of Korean War missing and 85 percent of Cold War losses. “We have to do better than that,” he said, and is now calling on more than 1.6 million VFW and VFW Auxiliary members to canvas their neighborhoods and urge every MIA family — even distant relatives — to provide a family reference sample in the hope that the next identification announcement is their long-lost loved one. All immediate family members, as well as maternal and paternal relatives, are eligible to donate a family reference sample, which is essentially a cotton cheek swab. “Identifications can be made through strong circumstantial evidence, but nothing says proof-positive better than an actual DNA match,” he said.

POW/MIA Update

Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Vincent L. Politte, a WWII veteran, 19, of Leavenworth, Kan., whose identification was previously announced, was buried July 30 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Navy Seaman 1st Class Eugene W. Wicker, a WWII veteran, 20, of Coweta, Okla., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Aug. 4 in Fort Gibson, Okla.

Army Cpl. Albert E. Mills, a Korean War veteran, was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Interment services are pending.

Navy Aviation Radioman 3rd Class Walter E. Mintus, a WWII veteran, was aboard a torpedo bomber from U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron Fifty One on a mission targeting the Japanese base at Malakal Harbor. Interment services are pending.

Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Ottaway B. Cornwell, a WWII veteran, was a member of the 4th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, piloting a Supermarine Spitfire aircraft, which was shot down over Pierrefeu-du-Var, France, on Jan. 27, 1944. Interment services are pending.

Army Pvt. John B. Cummings, a WWII veteran, was a member of Company A, 276th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry. Interment services are pending.

Marine Corps Pfc. Robert K. Holmes, a WWII veteran, was stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. Interment services are pending.

Navy Fireman 1st Class Millard C. Pace, a WWII veteran, was stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. Interment services are pending.

Local VFW Post Officer Training Sessions Schedule

Southwestern PA – Aug. 4 at VFW Post 7505 in Mars

Northwestern PA – Aug. 5 at VFW Post 2006 in Meadville

All sessions begin at 9 a.m. Coffee and doughnuts will be available at 8 a.m. with lunch at noon. Dress casual with VFW cap. Be sure to have your VFW membership card.

Till next week, praying for all service members.


– Charles Castelluccio