Becoming the second-largest VFW post in the world takes a lot of recruiting and some help from bingo.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1503 in Dale City celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The post started meeting in members' homes in 1970. From those humble beginnings, Post 1503 has grown to over 2,100 members today with an active and involved membership. "We have members all over the world," said Quartermaster Jim Spiker.
The post has grown in numbers for 32 consecutive years, earning 17 all-American post commander awards, the highest honor for a post in the VFW.
The post bears the name of Lieutenant General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, the most decorated Marine of all time. Puller was known for quipping in battle, "They're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us...they can't get away this time."
Spiker says veterans from all over the country who served with Puller request to become members of Post 1503 because of Puller's legacy. "We get applications from people in Oregon and Maine who served with him," Spiker said. "They want to be members of the post just because of his name."
Spiker attributes the post's success to its focus on community outreach. Members sponsor an annual Christmas food basket drive, as well as supporting VFW's national programs such as the Voice of Democracy and Patriot's Pen essay contests for students. According to Spiker, Post 1503 gives more money to those programs each year than the state does.
Post 1503 supports a Boy Scout and Cub Scout troop, a Venture Crew, local little leagues, and hosts an annual children's Christmas party.
And don't forget bingo. About 200 people show up each Tuesday and Thursday night to play the game. The post restaurant is also open to the public for daily lunches, Friday night dinners and weekend breakfasts.
But for all the community involvement, the post's primary focus remains "Veterans helping veterans."
The post has also adopted McGuire veterans' hospital in Richmond, donating $50,000 per year to help care for veterans with medical needs. The VFW National Home for Children is another project Post 1503 supports. The post is sending a delegation to the home to present a donation check for $2,500 on December 11.
Service Officer Mark Marth helps members file claims for benefits, including veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Say a veteran has a disability from Iraq, or in my case Vietnam," Spiker said, "he helped me file a claim and helped me get disability through the government."
"He's so good that other organizations send people down here to see him," Spiker said.
Spiker says the post will continue to flourish because of the commitment of the people involved. "Any post is only as good as its membership."