Parish becomes first in diocese to have a Catholic War Veterans of the United States of America post
By Bill Brewer
Veterans Day hit a little closer to home this year at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa.
OLOF will be the first parish in the Diocese of Knoxville to have a Catholic War Veterans of the United States of America post.
Eleven veterans who attend Our Lady of Fatima were sworn in as officers of Post 1973 on Oct. 24, among the newest Catholic War Veterans posts in the country.
Arminda Crawford, commander of the national veterans organization and the first woman to serve as commander of the Catholic War Veterans, installed the OLOF officers. She was accompanied by her husband, George Crawford, who is national director of the CWVUSA.
In swearing in the OLOF veterans, Commander Crawford said, “Your fellow veterans have shown their confidence in your executive ability by electing you to office. Familiarize yourselves with the duties of your particular office and proceed upon those duties in a Catholic spirit. The welfare and success of the unit of Catholic war veterans depends on you. Public opinion is everything. With it, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. It is your solemn duty to protect the good name of the Catholic War Veterans and to make known its policies and purpose. Memorize the preamble of the national department’s constitution and keep in mind our five principals of unity, justice, tranquility, welfare, and liberty.”
She then administered the oath to OLOF members Deacon Ken Long, Tim Brown, John Morse, Angela Feltz, Baron Johnson, Wil Wellman, Mike Wilson, Dan Hall, George LeCrone, Pat Flanagan, and Carl Muse. Deacon Long will serve as commander of the post, with Mr. Brown serving as first vice commander, Mr. Morse as second vice commander, Ms. Feltz as third vice commander, Mr. Johnson as adjutant, Mr. Wellman as treasurer, Mr. Wilson as historian, Mr. Hall as welfare officer, Mr. LeCrone as officer of the day, and Mr. Flanagan as trustee/director.
They then repeated the words, “On my honor as a Catholic citizen and armed forces veteran I promise, without reservation, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to obey its laws and defend its flag against all its enemies whomsoever. I further promise upon my honor to uphold the constitution and bylaws of Catholic War Veterans of the USA and to fulfill the duties of my office to the best of my ability, that at no time will I introduce for membership any who are not entitled thereto, and that I will not at any time, through word or deed, bring discredit to the organization.”
Deacon Ken Long then delivered his first official remarks to the new post officers, urging them to come together as a unit as they did when they were active military.
“I need all of your help. I can’t do it alone. We’re a unit; we work together. Working together, we’ll make this bigger, better, and stronger. We’re the flagship for Tennessee. I think we’re the flagship for the South, just about. Looking at the list, it’s Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee that did not have a post. We need to work on the other ones. Help us. This will be a great organization with everybody’s help. I am honored to have been elected your commander,” Deacon Long said.
In the military, Commander Crawford served in the Women’s Army Corps in communications from 1966-68 at Fort Gordon, Ga. Mr. Crawford served in the Army in Vietnam from 1966-68. The Crawfords, who are from Columbus, Ohio, said the Catholic War Veterans group, which is based in Alexandria, Va., was founded in 1935 and chartered in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan.
The couple was excited about traveling to Alcoa to install a new post.
“We were invited to come. Ken had been talking to our executive director in Alexandria, Va., where our headquarters currently are. Our director said a new post was being installed and they wanted someone to do the installation. Being the first woman veteran commander, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see so many of our veterans, especially our Catholic veterans, wanting to create new posts, because the mission of the Catholic War Veterans is for God, country, and home. We’re here for our veterans and their families and the children. We have all kinds of programs available for the children – scholarship programs that we hope they take advantage of, especially eighth-graders going to Catholic high schools.
Commander Crawford said among the services the Catholic war veterans will provide are assistance to Veterans Administration facilities like the Mountain Home VA hospital in Johnson City and VA clinics and centers in Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, Morristown, Athens, Harriman, LaFollette, Rogersville, Sevierville, and Knoxville, as well as the Tennessee State Veterans’ Home in Knoxville.
“Most of the veterans’ clinics and hospitals are looking for volunteers all the time. I volunteer, on average, twice a week driving patients from Columbus, Ohio, to Cincinnati or Dayton,” Mr. Crawford said.
Like the Crawfords, Deacon Long also was excited to start the first post in Tennessee. He sees the volunteer service as an important ministry in serving veterans.
“When we took the oath as 18-year-olds or 20-year-olds, we said we will obey and we went. We just said send me where you want me and I will go,” he said, adding that U.S. military personnel always are in harm’s way, whether in Afghanistan or Chattanooga, and the OLOF post’s aim is to assist all veterans.
He said the idea began when a visitor attended an Our Lady of Fatima Mass and asked the pastor, Father Bill McKenzie, if the parish had a Catholic War Veterans of the USA post and handed him a brochure. Father McKenzie passed the idea to Deacon Long, who began doing some research and discovered there wasn’t a single post in five central southern states.
“As dedicated to veterans as I am, that would be a great step, not only for Our Lady of Fatima, but for the Diocese of Knoxville. To have the first post in our diocese here at Our Lady of Fatima, we could be the flagship for all the other parishes,” Deacon Long said.
He noted that the post also plans to be involved in an Adopt a Vet program, where volunteers are partnered with veterans and stay in contact with them. “We thank you for what you do, no matter where you are, stateside or deployed somewhere like Afghanistan.”
“We just want them to know they’re appreciated,” Deacon Long said.
Deacon Long served in the Navy in the waters around Vietnam in three tours of duty from 1967-71.
He said many of the veterans at OLOF are active in the parish already. “Very few of them are bench-warming Catholics. They’re pinch hitters, not bench warmers. Tim here volunteers for everything.”
OLOF parishioner and veteran Tim Brown, who was installed as first vice commander of the OLOF post, sees participation in the Catholic War Veterans group as giving back.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our job as Catholics and former members of the military. We do what we can do for our friends, our family, and people in the community – give back to East Tennessee,” Mr. Brown said.
“We’re a bunch of Catholic men and women who have come together to help all veterans. They don’t have to be Catholics to receive our help. We don’t have labels. To be a member of our group you have to be Catholic and you have to be a veteran – male or female. That’s the only requirement. Other than that we’ll put you to work,” Deacon Long said. ■