“The VFW and American Legion took off after World War II and built up a big infrastructure they just can’t maintain now,” said Hevron, noting the smaller size of their corner store post was a blessing in disguise.
The post may be down to studs, with an unfinished ceiling and in a limbo of disrepair, but members look past that and see a common ground. Hevron said with current wars winding down, more than 3 million veterans have returned from overseas in the last 10 years.
“I realized there is a community of veterans in New Orleans but no one had brought them together and organized them,” said Hevron, who currently works as an attorney in New Orleans.
Hevron, who spent six months in Iraq with the Marine Corps, took on the task of reviving their post with a few other veterans.“He was strategic and relentless in a good way”, said Matt Spector of Hevron’s recruiting.
The two went to high school together in New Orleans. Spector, who works for the New Orleans Fire Department, was up for the challenge when Hevron encouraged him to join.
Now the vice chair of building committee, Spector is helping to lead rebuilding efforts at the post, which remains an unfinished space. Spector served with the Army in Afghanistan.
“It’s the fastest growing post in the state of Louisiana,” Spector said, “It’s a place for people with common backgrounds to be able to meet.”
Larry Jones served more than 40 years split between the Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard, and even though he is now retired, he spends a great deal of time volunteering. Jones is a service officer with the Disabled American Veterans, and acts as an advocate for veterans working with Veterans Affairs.
“The younger members are the lifeblood of our VFW,” said Jones, who says he’s happy to be one of the older guys in the post.
Jones said while there used to be several posts in the area, there is only one left in New Orleans. But as of the last week, membership has grown to 110, he said.
“Our membership has soared,” said Hevron, now the post’s commander.
“We provide a sense of camaraderie that folks felt while they were in uniform but which they no longer feel in their everyday civilian lives,” said Hevron.
With growing membership, Hevron says the post reaches out to veterans on many different avenues. When construction is complete the post will have an apartment where a veteran in-transition can live.
The post currently hosts resume-writing workshops and legal clinics, and members like Jones can help other members process Veterans Affairs claims. Hevron says navigating VA claims can be an overwhelming process.
“One of the problems we have with guys coming back is they have these tremendous leadership skills but they don’t know how to describe those skills in a way civilian employers will understand,” Hevron said.
The post is also reaching out to the community. Jones said when construction is complete they envision the front room to be a space where Boy Scout troops or community groups could also meet.
“The price of peace is caring for those who fought in the war,” Hevron said, reflecting on a quote from Abraham Lincoln — but the post’s work shows that caring goes both ways.
Marta Jewson is a freelance reporter and photographer based in New Orleans.