New Orleans’ last remaining Veterans of Foreign Wars post is breaking the mold. In a city where there was once a VFW hall in every neighborhood, NOLA VFW Post 8973 is the city’s last. Once practically abandoned, the post is being revived by its Post 9/11 membership, which may require a second branch if it continues to grow.
“A large part of what makes us unique is that our identity as a VFW post is closely tied to New Orleans culture,” says retired Marine and VFW Post 8973 Commander Christopher Cox.
What also makes the post unique is its youth; this energy makes the post one of the National VFW’s most active. Membership has quickly grown from a handful of mostly Vietnam era members to 318 men and women, nearly all of them Desert Storm and Post-9/11 veterans.
The post was created by WWII and Korean War veterans decades ago, but its mission of transitioning and veteran support remains unchanged. It’s how they go about it that is noteworthy. Laid-back is one way to describe the New Orleans post. For instance, a lack of deployment while in service may not make you a de facto “veteran of a foreign war” but you’re still welcome to join NOLA VFW.
There are no garrison caps, few uniforms, and many of the old fogey ceremonies and rules have been dispensed with. Instead, members wear NOLA VFW ballcaps, t-shirts, and usually cargo shorts. The post is purposely modern and progressive in a way that only New Orleanians can be — without the fuss.
An excerpt from a recent email to NOLA VFW members and friends:
“If you’re new to getting a little dirty doing good works, I can say with absolute certainty it’ll improve your attitude, give you some positive memories, and bring back that feeling of serving a purpose greater than yourself that we all remember. If you want to help out, send me your t-shirt size before the sun goes down tomorrow.”
Relaxing rules which might turn off younger veterans has created an open and cohesive membership willing to support each other and engage in community service. Members can be found loading trucks and delivering food and medical supplies after a storm or other disaster. This is another area where youth and strength come into play. When NOLA VFW operates the recovery trucks to disperse supplies, it looks like a small battalion has arrived.
One young former Marine who lives nearby says he was curious when he saw members engaged in what looked like military precision disaster relief. He approached the group, joined in to unload trucks, and is now a member. His partner is also a regular.
Cox says he recognizes that veterans living in other areas of the city are unaware of the once small post and they may be unaware the city even has a VFW. To this end, the post is expanding its outreach miles past its boundaries. Cox’s goal is that all the city’s veterans understand that NOLA VFW is their resource. If they require transitioning assistance and support, members are ready to help them access VA health care, benefits, and other services earned while in service. This includes building ramps for the disabled and house repairs.
In early May, the post was all the way across town in the city’s economically challenged Ninth Ward. After enlisting assistance from a network of local non-profits and businesses, NOLA VFW spent the day on neighborhood cleanup and repainting a historic veteran-owned corner store pivotal to area. Afterwards, they helped serve meals — and enjoyed a BBQ with residents.
The post also hosts job fairs, networking events, resume seminars, and PTSD outreach assistance. This month, the post hosted a conference between the VA, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and other community leaders strengthening the post’s network of veteran specific initiatives, including employment outreach through a veterans’ employment program.
“We’ve had informal success simply by introducing transitioning service members to opportunities made available simply by networking,” says Cox. “One member who recently used his GI Bill and VA vocational rehabilitation to earn his Tulane law degree was hired at a local law firm that way. Another member was hired as an armorer at a local gun shop.”
So popular is NOLA VFW that young Marines and sailors from Marine Forces Reserve and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans have shown up to join or participate in activities. Active duty service members who want to join or volunteer on community service projects or join a crawfish boil are free to walk through the door anytime. It’s a given that the post welcomes LGBTQ. They also welcome veteran’s spouses and partners.
The post hosts ‘First Friday for Women Warriors’ a monthly open house for all women veterans or female family members and partners of veterans.
NOLA VFW membership also includes marching full force in camo kilts and helping pull the keg during the city’s St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras parades. However, this year, they’ve upped the ante. The post is marching in its first Gay Pride Parade through the historic French Quarter — glitter kilts optional. But as members and most of New Orleans military and veterans already participate in Red Dress Run, Santa bar crawls, and a host of other local events, it feels organic.
“Our membership and leadership foster an environment that belongs to veterans of every gender, race, orientation, religion, and age,” said Cox. “Keeping the doors open and answering calls when veterans need help or information is a large part of what makes a successful post. We’re doing that.”
Cox encourages all veterans to come to NOLA VFW during its weekly open house on Thursday nights — membership and hats not required.