It's an honor

Wallace Checkalski, 98, the sole remaining charter member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5780 in Weyerhaeuser, makes the first cut in a cake during the organization’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.

The Weyerhaeuser Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5780 celebrated its Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Saturday, marking 75 years since it was first mustered just months after the official end of World War II.

More than 50 people assembled for the special event held at the post’s headquarters in the village. The day included remarks from federal, state and local dignitaries as well as the presentation of a special proclamation.

Those in attendance walked the hall, viewing pictures, sharing stories and remembering the past since the post assembled on March 22, 1946.

The post was initiated with 56 charter members. Of that group, 10 served in World War I. Of that group, only one charter member remains. He is Wallace Checkalski.

“We put a lot of effort into it,” said Checkalski, 99.

Post Commander Tom Bush encouraged guests to look over the pictures and memorabilia around the hall. He credited the post’s charter members for their hard work.

“Wow, 75 years,” Post Commander Tom Bush said.

A meeting of veterans having had foreign service in the armed forces in time of war was held in the Weyerhaeuser Village Hall on Jan. 18, 1946. A few local members of the Ladysmith Post 2490 were present and E.A. “Jack” Lewis, VFW Quartermaster of the Department of Wisconsin.

Under their guidance a Post was formed with the application for a charter bearing 24 names. The first commander elected was World War I veteran Gustave A. Anderson and the first Post Quartermaster was Joe Garbacz.

The Post received its charter and was instituted on March 22, 1946, at a meeting held in the old high school gym. E.A. lewis was the installing officer. The Post continued its monthly meetings with the Weyerhaeuser Village Hall offered as a meeting place. 

Paul Suski was elected the next Post Commander followed over the years by commanders; Steve Kawa (5 terms), Al Rozak, Chester Ridout, Ed Baker, Ray Frenchick, Dell O’Brien, Walter Olesiak, Robert Benik, Chester Bush, Stanley Olesiak, Don Christianson, Wallace Checkalski, Dick Elwood, Norm Arndt, Stanley Poplawski, Wayne Stevens, Robert Kolek, Dick Elwood, Steve Olesiak and current Commander Tom Bush.

The post owns 40 acres of woodland in the Blue Hills, 7 miles north of Weyerhaeuser, donated by member LeRoy Swenson. A well-built log cabin used by the Civilian Conservation Corps and located in the Meadow Dam area in the town of Murry was procured from Rusk County. It was dismantled and rebuilt on this site, the spot now very popular for special occasions. A clause was added to the deed prohibiting its sale and thus making it a permanent memorial and recreation spot for  veterans and others.

In 1956, the former Stubbs town hall was sold to the Post for $1. It was in the village of Weyerhaeuser and would be an ideal place for the Post to call home. The building built before 1900 was extensively renovated by dedicated members and friends of the Post who raised money through several seasons of log cutting, sponsoring dances, and other events. These members donated their services in all phases of the remodeling program, making the building hardly recognizable from its prior town hall appearance. The hall became a popular “go-to” place for meetings and celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries and reunions. 

Special recognition must be given to the expert support of woodsmen such as Stanley Olesiak and the Christianson brothers who loaned their trucks and equipment for logging and pulp cutting when funds were badly needed for the hall renovation. Recognition is also deserved for Edward Bush, a contractor whose trucks and equipment were used when the log cabin was moved and the new site prepared for it. Joe Garbacz, Andrew Olesiak, Eddie Kassela and others added their construction and lumbering expertise to make it all a success.

The Post hosted District Conventions in 1955 and 1963, back when it was a 2-3-day event. It played host to the first “Bean Feed” fundraiser in 1971, and the first Saturday of November is looked forward to every year. 

The post has faithfully observed Memorial Day with appropriate ceremonies at local cemeteries and has responded to every request for military rites at funerals of veterans. Its members are active in civic, fraternal, patriotic, school and religious organizations. The post donated to the state VFW building in Madison, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Bruce Ambulance and numerous charities.

Powerlines to the post were downed by trees during a 1999 windstorm. After repairs, power was restored but internal damage to an electric box caused by stretched wires caused the smoldering fire to reignite and cause irreparable damage to the hall.

The Weyerhaeuser community with assistance from other area posts and auxiliary units rallied in support. The fire damaged structure was razed and a new one constructed in time for the post’s 2000 “Bean Feed” fundraiser.

The Post was highly active in the Weyerhaeuser School District, posting of the colors at every spring senior graduation ceremony, football games and at special events throughout the school history when needed. The post also conducted  the Voice of Democracy contest annually and helped instill respect for the flag in every classroom. 

The school unfortunately closed and consolidated with Chetek but the post’s youth scholarships continue to be presented at Bruce High School as many members are from Bruce or surrounding area. The Post also supports the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Scholarship Fund, scouting, and veteran’s programs.

The Post owns a 1923 Ford Model T fire truck that it enters in many local parades in the area and is a favorite of many. It previously was owned by the Cameron and later Weyerhaeuser fire departments

Comrades Dell O’Brien and Dick Elwood rose through the chairs as District 10 Commanders. Auxiliary member Rusty Garbacz was elected Department President in 1997.

Current Commander Tom Bush and Quartermaster Al Hembrook were awarded their “White Hats” in 2005. 

Every year the organization selects Commanders and Quartermasters that have met certain criteria and gives them a White Hat as an award. Only a handful are given each year so it is a significant achievement.

It can be as much an individual award as a tribute for the entire post because without a lot of people doing their jobs correctly the Commander would never get a White Hat.

The post has an active and loyal auxiliary that was chartered in 1947.

The post was given a permanent charter by its national headquarters for having the required number of life members. In 1983, it had 81 life members and 63 continuous members for a total enrollment of 144.

As of today, the Post has a membership roll of 85 individuals.

Rusk County Veterans Service Officer Erik Stoker called the anniversary “quite an accomplishment” at a time when many veterans groups are struggling to retain their enrollment and attract new members.

“Thank you veterans for all that you do,” Stoker said.

VFW 10th District Commander George Cusick, of Shell Lake, remarked 75 years is a long time. He noted the bond that exists within families and between veterans.

He added, “I was in Boy Scouts, and the people who bond are the people who wear uniforms. I want to thank you for your service,” Cusick said.

VFW Past State Commander Gundel Metz commended the post on its reaching a “landmark” with its 75th anniversary.

Metz called it “unique” for a post to reach the 75 year milestone, but noted some are celebrating their centennial this year. She added these military posts often remain a focal point of a small community, but they struggle to attract new members as the older generation of veterans pass on.

Bush recalls growing up and attending local Memorial Day observances and other military functions in the area with his parents. These events first introduced him to the post’s original members and their important role in preserving the nation’s freedom.

These events also taught him about service.

“Starting the Post was no small undertaking, but these men thought it would be best for the veterans and the community that supporting one another is the backbone to success,” Bush said. “The stories told are next to remarkable on how the membership sponsored dances, raffles and worked in the woods to raise money to have their own hall they could call home.”

Bush noted how their many hours of hard work came after completing numerous farming chores or other employment. He added they often worked well into the night for the betterment of the post.

“Take time to read the names of the members on the original Charter and you may have a story or two to pass about those men,” Bush said.” Their work ethic and generally will for continued service was instilled in me and many others in this Post and that is why we continue to support and take care of area veterans and the community.”

Bush called it an honor to serve as the post’s commander and hope for your guidance and help as we go forward. He also encouraged the member’s guidance and help as the post continues forward.

“This hallowed hall and its predecessor are full of memories,” said Bush in listing many familiar family  names throughout the proud past of Weyerhaeuser.

He praised their proud service and hard work for the betterment of the community.

Longtime post member Frank Boczyk, a Korean War Army Artlillary veteran, called the anniversary a significant achievement.

“I’m glad we got here,” said Boczyk, whose father, Andrew Boczyk, served in the cavalry during World War I.

A statement from VFW Commander-in-Chief Harold “Hal” Roesch II was presented during the event. It commends the post and its service to the community and country, calling it a pillar of support for the area

Roesch notes the public service the post provides.

“You provide an invaluable network of service to those that have borne the battle as well as to their families. You also advance the help and well-being of those who bear the burden of defending our nation and our way of life,” Roesch states

Roesch adds the post is an inspiration for all to follow, saying it is a testament to the VFW motto of “No one does more for veterans.” He offered his heartfelt congratulations to the post.

“I send my sincere thanks and gratitude to all members of VFW Post 5780 for your outstanding record of service to the community, to veterans, service member and their families and our nation for so many years,” Roesch states.

Honorary longevity pins and patches were presented to numerous post members, marking years of membership in the post.

The last one went to Chekalski for his 75 years.  Checkalski flew with the U.S. Navy Dive Bombers during World War II. He credits a Rusk County World War I veteran from Ladysmith as the motivating force in helping make the Weyerhaeuser post possible.

“When the boys started coming back, he said, ‘We’ve got to have a post in Weyerhaeuser,’” Checkalski said.

Checkalski also praises the community for supporting the post, citing the local help that went into the post’s headquarters after its previous building was hit by lightning and destroyed by the fire that followed in 1999.

As a charter member, Checkalski  and a few dozen other armed forces veterans helped start the post in 1946. They and all the members who followed made the local organization what it is today with a great amount of support from the community in which they continue to serve.

The meal was provided by Burdy’s Bar & Grill and served by Boy Scout Troop 56 from Bruce. Bartenders were Caleb and Ashley Balts. Donations were provided by Rusty Garbacz and John and Mary Rogowski.

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