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At the Madison VFW Post 2096, Larry Brundrett serves veterans and their families as commander, the highest officer in a local post. “It’s given me a sense of service to my fellow veterans,” he says about helping his military comrades. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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We hear the lyrics every time the United States anthem is sung: the land of the free and the home of the brave. But the U.S. is the land of the free precisely because of the service and sacrifice of the brave.
When the brave men and women of the military return from battles on foreign land or hostile waters, they need the relief services offered by organizations for veterans, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
At Madison Post 2096, Larry Brundrett continues to serve his fellow Americans, particularly veterans and their families. He holds the position of post commander, the highest officer at a local VFW post.
“I served as commander from 2000 to 2005. Then I got out of commander,” he says.
Upon his retirement from his professional career in 2013, he returned to the position and continues to serve as commander.
“It’s given me a sense of service to my fellow veterans,” he says, such as “helping people sometimes in dire situations like funerals and those types of things.”
With its roots dating back to 1899, the VFW is the nation’s oldest major war veterans’ organization. It helps military veterans with claims for Veterans Administration disability compensation and pension benefits, scholarships for veterans, troop support programs, youth activities, legislative advocacy for veterans’ rights, and other services.
Larry himself served in the Army for three years, including a year in Vietnam. Although he expected to be assigned to the north on the frontline, his B.S. in industrial management from the Lowell Technological Institute (now University of Massachusetts Lowell or UMass Lowell) and his background in maintenance from Fort Belvoir got him assigned as the maintenance officer of the 46th Engineering Battalion at the Long Binh Post, not far from Saigon. There, he worked on battalion maintenance and was in charge of two shops, one for engineering equipment and another for ordinance such as jeeps, trucks, and trailers.
He also quickly climbed the ranks in the three years he was with the military. He rose to first lieutenant after he completed the Officer Candidate School (OCS), a program that teaches military courses, leadership skills, and physical training to prepare recruits for the ordeals of officer life.
His weeks at OCS were a time of grueling mental and physical challenge.
“We used to do peer reviews. In one week, I was pretty well near the bottom and I got called in,” he says.
The instructing officer challenged him by giving him responsibility over a platoon to see how he would perform, and Larry recalls, “I straightened up. I moved up.”
He says he is grateful for the virtues he learned in the Army: honor, patriotism, service, discipline, and concern for his comrades.
Life After the Military
Upon completion of his military service, he returned home to Patricia, his then-fiancée.
“She stayed home and planned the wedding and everything while I was over in Vietnam,” Larry says.
Within weeks, they were married.
On Friday, Feb. 7, Larry and Patricia celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Naturally, they will hold a celebration at the recently renovated VFW hall in neighboring Guilford.
Together, Larry and Patricia now have four grown children, Kevin, Julie, Matthew, and Mark, and two—soon to be three—grandchildren.
Larry’s first civilian job came very quickly after he left the military.
Shortly before his wedding, he found a job at the Milton Bradley Company—famous maker of board games such as The Game of Life, Twister, and Battleship—but because of the timing of his hiring, he had to request for a week off as soon as he was offered the job.
Not surprisingly, the hiring manager snapped, “What? You haven’t even started work yet!”
But Larry was granted his week off. He worked for Milton Bradley for six years in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Because the war in Vietnam was unpopular, Larry says that the management at Milton Bradley advised him to remain quiet about his foreign military service.
“I was told to keep my mouth shut. Don’t mention the fact that I was in Vietnam. Don’t wear any uniform or anything from your service. You know, I just put them away and forgot about them,” he says.
Although it was a bitter pill to swallow, he followed the advice, knowing the company wanted to protect him from criticism.
In 1981, Larry moved his family to Madison. The organizations he worked for included Sikorsky, first in Bridgeport then later in Stratford, from 1980 to 1994, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as an engineering evaluation specialist from 1994 to 2013.
In Madison, he began getting involved with the school system, serving on the Parent Teacher Organization at Island Avenue School for three years, which has since closed, and at the Board of Education for six years.
But it has been at the VFW where Larry has devoted most of his volunteer work.
Chartered in May 1957, the post now has some 75 members who pay their $35 annual dues, but Larry expresses concern that a mere six members remain active with the activities and meetings.
Despite serious health problems from which he has recently recovered and the lack of active members, Larry plods on with a handful of committed members keeping VFW Post 2096 alive.
“We are actively looking for new veterans,” Larry says.
The search for new members, he notes, may be hampered by such issues as veterans’ health and age and the requirement that veterans have foreign service to qualify for membership.
He adds that the post is also interested in recruiting women veterans as members.
“We don’t have a woman veteran member,” he says. “We had from time to time, but not for several years.
“I could expand our activities if I had more people to do it. We used to have dinners here every month. We can’t do that anymore. We don’t have the people and the money to buy the food and all that. And we could get more involved with the schools,” he says.
He is determined to continue with the VFW even as he searches for new members, including the next post commander to take the helm.
“As long as I can do it, I will, but somebody’s got to take my place someday,” he says. “I haven’t found that person yet and I’m looking for him or her.”
He has no regrets serving in the military and at the VFW. He has even noticed that his service in Vietnam has been better received.
At a military reunion in Branson, Missouri, a few years back, Larry experienced that change in perception. Now in the habit of bringing or wearing his military hat that clearly says, “Vietnam Veteran,” he thought nothing about taking it with him to dinner.
“I put it on the table and ordered my dinner,” he recalls. “A guy walks up—a young fella with his wife. He said, ‘I have to apologize to you. If I had known before that you were a veteran, I would have paid for your dinner.’”
He knows veterans share his sentiment when he says, “We’re very appreciative of the public’s now perception of veterans.”
For more information about joining the VFW, call 203-245-9938 or visit www.vfw.org.
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