The members of Western Massachusetts Chapter 111 had a very busy 2015.
March: The chapter held the first of two bingo nights at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Paul Chrzan organized the event, with support from the chapter, including donations of prizes donated by chapter members. Western Mass. once again participated in the Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony in Springfield. The chapter’s Color Guard and Rifle Squad presented the colors, and members Larry White and Neil Downey sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
April: Western Mass. conducted its annual poppy sale led by Josh Morin and Chuck Watts. The sale takes place every year on the Saturday before Easter in the cities of Palmer, East Springfield, Chicopee, and Ware. Larry White volunteered at the Daughters of the American Revolution ceremony for Vietnam veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. He presented the residents with flags and pins in honor of their service.
May: The chapter participated in the Veterans Appreciation Dinner at the Ludlow Elks lodge. The chapter’s Color Guard presented and retired the colors at the dinner, and Larry White sang “God Bless America.” The chapter also hosted a large display of Vietnam War memorabilia at the Westover Air Reserve Base Air Show. The exhibit was put together by chapter member Del Barabani from items donated by members and their families.
Western Mass. also held its annual Memorial Candlelight Ceremony at Willimansett Memorial Park in Chicopee on the Monday before Memorial Day. This ceremony, which the chapter has performed every year since 1992, honors the local service members—eleven Army, three Marines, and one Navy—who were killed in action during the Vietnam War.
“There are fifteen brick pillars on site with a plaque memorializing each of the men. The chapter provides candles to be lit for every one of the fifteen men KIA, as well as for chapter members who have passed away, and also to honor veterans of each of our country’s wars, ” said Treasurer Chuck Watts.
In attendance was Chicopee Mayor Richard Koss, city councilmembers, and many family members of the KIAs. During the ceremony, President Delfo Barabani recited the names of every state and the number of KIA/MIA from each state while the candles were lit. The chapter’s Color Guard presented the colors, the Rifle Squad saluted, and “Taps” was played.
On Memorial Day, chapter members attended ceremonies in their town of choice, since the chapter represents thirty-four towns in Massachusetts, twenty-nine in Connecticut, and towns in Florida and other states, as well as in Canada.
July: On Independence Day, Western Mass. members Josh Morin, Rick Picard, Ron Sylvain, and Jack Kelley rode their antique cars in the local parade. Morin rode in his ’30 Chevy with rumble seats, Picard in his ’65 Mustang convertible, Sylvain drove his ’52 Ford sedan, and Kelly entered his ’39 Pontiac and ’69 Dodge Coronet in the parade. The chapter also organized a picnic and barbeque at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke later that month. Ten members attended the barbeque, which was funded by the chapter, private contributors, and the Soldiers’ Home.
October: The chapter was part of a Veterans Expo at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield to help vets in need. Jerry LaValley manned a display on the health effects of Agent Orange and answered questions.
The chapter also hosted its Third Annual Car Show, which was a tremendously successful fundraiser. More than one hundred fifty cars were registered for the show and about three hundred people attended. On October 18 chapter members Josh Morin, Chuck Watts, Larry White, Jim Healey, and Del Barabani attended the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Gala to help raise funds for the veterans who live there. The chapter bought ten tickets to the gala.
November: Many chapter members—and the Color Guard—participated in Veterans Day ceremonies at the Springfield Elks lodge, the Chicopee Elks lodge, and the Baystate Medical Center. On November 18 the chapter sponsored a hepatitis C and Agent Orange information session with the Chicopee Office of Veterans Services and VVA’s Veterans Health Council. Chapter member Jack Kelly spoke on the health effects of Agent Orange; the VA’s Dr. Emily Jones also spoke. The next day the chapter hosted a birthday party at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke to celebrate those residents with November birthdays.
December: Western Mass. once again hosted a Christmas party at the Soldiers’ Home. Jerry LaValley organized the annual event, while Fred Richard and his wife provided cookies for the residents. Chapter members also bought and distributed gifts to residents and helped serve coffee and pastries. Later that night, the chapter hosted its own annual Christmas party, organized by Del Barbarani, Josh Morin, Jim Frenette, Chuck Watts, and Paul Chrzan.
Western Massachusetts’ exceptional involvement in events in local communities has fueled recruitment. Chapter One-Eleven’s membership between 2010 and 2015 increased nearly 30 percent, with an average 5.6 percent increase each year. The chapter had 175 members at the close of 2015. That total, along with the number of events the chapter participates in, continues to increase.
For more information on Western Mass. Chapter One-Eleven, contact its treasurer, Chuck Watts, at email@example.com
B Y JAKE SCHUESSLER & CHUCK WATTS