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VFW has new place to call home
New veterans building is fifth for local group
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Joe T. Wood Sr. was around for the opening of the first Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8452 in Gainesville, and he made a point of showing up for the newest opening -- even if meant being late for a University of Georgia football game.

Since the James E. Willis Post 8452 was chartered at a clubhouse at Chicopee Woods in October 1946, the VFW has had five homes, most recently the brand-new building on Delta Drive off Browns Bridge Road that was christened Saturday when Wood cut the ribbon.

"The mission stays the same," said Wood, a World War II veteran. "To help veterans in need."
The members of VFW Post 8452 chose to move from their old location on Browns Bridge Road after getting an offer for the land they couldn't refuse.

And while Wood said building the new post took longer than he would have liked, "We're clear out of debt and have money in the bank."

Now, the goal is to raise more money for the post's charitable causes and expand a membership that is heavy on veterans of decades-old conflicts.

"We are looking for new members," said Post 8452 Quartermaster Tim Hopton, a 30-year-old Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan. "A lot of service members don't know they're eligible."

For whatever reason, recruiting VFW members like Hopton, who have served in recent conflicts overseas, remains a challenge. "It is difficult," Wood said.

Vietnam veteran and recent Post 8452 transfer Jim "Ski" Strzalkowski said when he was fresh out of the service, he felt he was shunned by the veterans of World War II, who dominated the membership of the VFW at the time. He didn't join until six years ago.

"I didn't know what the organization was about," Strzalkowski said. "I thought it was for older guys."
Besides serving veterans through its government liaisons and contribution campaigns, the VFW, like the American Legion, is a gathering place for camaraderie and fellowship among men and women with the shared experience of military service, Hopton said.
"You're with a band of brothers who served our country and protected our flag," he said.

Hopton and other post leaders hope people will soon see a renewed community involvement from the VFW that will give the post more exposure and hopefully increase the membership rolls for a group that has been semi-inactive since the land sale went through."We're going to be gearing up to better serve the community, because in the last year and a half, we really haven't had a home," he said.