ROCK HILL, S.C. – Gray-Corkerell VFW Post 3746 was formed in 1938 by 17 First World War veterans who could not join the local existing, all-white post, simply because they were black.
That may sound like a story of bygone days, but these veterans’ struggle continued.
When younger African-American veterans came home from their own global conflict in 1945, they joined the post, and promised the founders they would keep the fellowship going. A generation later, those returning from Vietnam made a similar promise. And today, the group is nearly finished building a much-larger, modern post that will offer greatly expanded services to current and future veterans.
Charlie Robinson of the VFW post, who is the building chairman, knows a lot about providing service. He was stationed with the Air Force at a position at the very northernmost point of South Vietnam – so far up that the first time he saw it on a map, he thought it was in North Vietnam. There, he and other radar operators guided and tracked B-52s and their fighter escorts on missions over the enemy in the north.
The base was regularly under attack. He tells of how the man he was sent to replace was killed by a rocket in his Quonset hut the night before he was to go home. Mr. Robinson is overcome with emotion when he tells about the smell of the dead after the massive attacks of the Tet Offensive.
In Post 3746, he’s far from alone in having such stories. Now, these veterans are working to provide a better future to others who have served.
They broke ground for a new facility in October 2019, just a short while before the pandemic hit.
They are nearly finished constructing a much-larger, modern building that will offer greatly expanded services to veterans in the Rock Hill area. It’s almost done. “We need to pave the parking and get the kitchen finished,” said Robinson.
They just need $31,000 more to finish the job. That’s no small amount, but it’s a mere fraction of the full $700,000 cost of the project, most of which has already been obtained.
The old post was tiny – about 750 square feet. It wasn’t handicapped-accessible. The new one is being built to meet modern codes, and will be about 5,400 square feet. That will be big enough to rent out space for community events. But more than that, it will be space for providing services many local veterans sorely need – helping them fill out forms and doing other things to see they receive the benefits everyone knows they have earned.
“The VA does not make it easy for them to get their benefits,” says Mr. Robinson, “and we have people in our post right now who can help.” He notes that a lot of older veterans are not computer-savvy. “Some go back to the Korean War. A lot didn’t finish high school back then.” He knows the frustration because he has a claim of his own with the VA that he filed in 2014. “It’s gone to Washington twice. They have not finalized the approval.”
Building the new post has also been kind of a long haul. Originally, the veterans had hoped to be done by the Fourth of July. They had to push that back. Mr. Robinson says the new goal is “We hope to be in it by the end of July.”
Some have already stepped up to help the post. Rock Hill law firm Morton & Gettys did so recently, making a contribution as one of a series it is making to community organizations in connection with the firm’s 20th anniversary. Now, Founding Partner John Gettys and his colleagues are urging the rest of the community, and all of South Carolina, to join them in helping complete the job.
Find information about contributing at the post’s website, www.vfwpost3746.com. Under “Donations” you will find a link to donate directly via PayPal.
“Having veterans fight for our country and not being allowed to congregate with other soldiers when back home is part of our history,” said Mr. Gettys, who is also mayor of Rock Hill. “Having the opportunity to step forward and assist in this effort is a testament to the promise of our shared future. My hope is that the people of our community step forward to raise this last bit of money necessary for the post’s purposes.”