"Some of us agree that people like Matt Urban, the former Buffalonian who won the Medal of Honor, did not get enough recognition when he visited Buffalo recently. And we are glad that you plan to write about another veteran who will be honored at the upcoming VFW state convention. This time no one will complain about the use of a superlative when you say it's the closest you have ever been to the subject of a Sunday feature."
The citizen who spoke those words last week knew that as a member of Amherst Township Post 416, Veterans of Foreign Wars, I was well aware of an important change that will be made in one of the post's signs.
Right now the sign that hangs near the front entrance to the building on Spring Street in Williamsville reads, "Post home of Peter Mazzarella, senior vice commander, Department of New York Veterans of Foreign Wars." After a ceremony at the VFW convention in Rochester Saturday, the words "senior" and "vice" will be have to be deleted from the sign on the 53-year-old post.
On Saturday, 66-year-old Pete Mazzarella, a WW II Marine, will become the first state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars from Erie County since 1973. (On a personal level, he is the first of my golf partners to achieve such high rank in a major veterans organization.)
During the times I played golf with Pete in the Post 416 league, I came to know a lot about Marine Corps history and more than a little about how much the VFW means to him. What I learned about the latter made me feel better about the future of all VFW posts in the county. And that knowledge led me to call on Pete whenever I had a question about a VFW activity.
Although I belong to Post 416, the George F. Lamm American Legion post, and Post 150 of the Disabled American Veterans, I spend little time at any of the three, except on Memorial Day. On that day the members of the Lamm post and Post 416 take turn acting as hosts for the other posts that participate in their parade.
But because of frequent visits to different posts in the last 23 years, I found out that most posts stay in existence only because of the efforts of a small group of dedicated members with equally dedicated wives.
Over the years I have admired those who have done so much for their posts and, in so doing, have helped their community and their country. While trying to help their posts, they often run into what they used to call "chicken stuff" and resistance to change.
As I wrote that last sentence, I had to think of the night an official of a large veterans post said, "Only about 12 of our 1,500-plus members fought against the deal that replaced our leaky-roofed post with a great new place and extra money. But that small bunch made us all sweat."
Then I thought of the woman whose husband was a big mover and shaker in another vets organization. During a private conversation at a dinner she said, "You hear about golf widows and football widows. There are also 'veterans group widows.' We find ourselves jealous, not of another woman, but of a veterans post. Even if you decide you're going to join the activities, you have to figure on your husband being at a lot of meetings you're not invited to. Then there are nights when he'll be working the bingo game or doing some other menial job at the post."
Because most of the delegates at the convention in Rochester make up the backbones of their posts, they will appreciate the sacrifices Sue Prince Mazzarella has made while Pete was devoting time to duties as post commander, Erie County commander, state officer and, yes, bingo worker. And they have a good idea of what lies ahead for the couple as they tour the rubber-chicken banquet circuit for a year.
It would be difficult for outsiders to understand what Mazzarella's new acclaim means to the members of Post 416. They would not know how much of an honor Pete's election victory is to the 460-member post that is in a county where two other VFW posts each have 1,600-plus members.
They also would not know about the help some members gave Mazzarella as he moved "through the chairs" on his way to the first position. That sort of aid helped Pete be endorsed by two districts.
There will be a reception for the new New York State commander in the Monroe County Veterans Hall in Rochester Saturday. But it won't be as meaningful to the Mazzarellas as the homecoming party on Spring Street on July 7. The mention of that happy event causes me to see the happy faces of Bill Baumann, Dick Bealer, Jack Mercer, Greg Van Tuyl, Barney Deuter and the other Post 416 members who will be welcoming their comrade back to the post they all love.
And where they succeed in living up to the motto of the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- "We honor the dead by helping the living."