Local VFW serving the community

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG) - VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Members describe Panama City Beach Post 10555 as a family. A little dysfunctional at times, but still a family.

"We take care of one another," explained Post Commander Susan Johnson.

Those who've served in the military have a bond unlike any other. A bond that stays strong even when they're no longer active duty.

"Because once a soldier, always a soldier. Once a Marine, always a Marine," said Assistant Chaplain David Trogdon.

Several members of the Panama City Beach post have been out of the military for decades.

"We need some younger guys in here," said Charter member Jim Phelps. "Some people call us the old soldiers. Well, we are. Most of these guys have been in WWII, Vietnam or Korea. [They're] starting to get old. I mean, I'm not old myself. I'll be 88 before long."

Every member has a story, or two, including Phelps.

"I started out in WWII. I was 15. I lied about my age and I went into the Army, and in 1950 the Korean War broke out and they said they were going to draft me and I didn't want to go back into the Army so I joined the Air Force until I retired in 1969 in Vietnam," he said.

Sharing stories is a big reason many of the members joined the VFW.

"I come here and I feel part of the family and have people that understand," said Trogdon.

"It's camaraderie," explained Phelps. "You come in here and you can talk to guys who've done the same things you've done and been through the same thing you've been through and you can just talk to them."

Post Commander Susan Johnson says because all service members are family, their post is available to assist veterans and active duty in any way they can, even if they're not a member.

"We've adopted three Army Reserve units and we reach out to their families. If they need help when they're overseas we can assist them in that. If someone comes in and says, 'I need help with the V.A.,' we walk them through the V.A. process. We also have homeless veterans who walk in and they need help. If we have family members who come up and say, 'We don't have any money for food,' we take care of them too," she said.

Members aren't only focused on veterans. Their reach is far greater.

"We're here as members of the military or past military, but we're also here for the community," said Commander Johnson.

That includes donating to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, collecting items for several food pantries, and helping high school students earn scholarship money through the "Voice of Democracy" contest.

There is another component to the VFW called the auxiliary.

"You have to be a straight-lined descendant of someone who has fought on foreign soil," explained Auxiliary President Kitty Dye.

The auxiliary supports the post and any veteran in need. Its members are just as busy as those in the VFW.

"We support HOPE project, Paws for Patriots, the Stop 22, we support the Santa Rosa Advocacy House. We support the food bank in Marianna. There's a food bank in Marianna for veterans," said Dye.

The Marianna food bank was the brainchild of VFW member Sharon Justiss who joined the post for a very special reason.

"My husband and I's oldest son is active duty Air Force and I said, 'For every day, Lord, that he does, I'm going to do,'" she explained.

Justiss serves as chaplain, along with assistant David Trogdon.

"If they are interested and willing I will be happy to help them in their faith because to me that's huge as I battle PTSD and TBI myself," Trogdon said.

The building where the VFW holds its meetings is near the Conservation Park in Panama City Beach.

They rent that building out for wedding receptions, birthday parties, and any other community event. For more information on the VFW or to find out how to go about renting the building just call 850-588-7334.