Friday, April 19, 2024

Behind the Scenes at the Coronado VFW

VFW Post 2422 is located at 557 Orange Avenue. Post 2422 operates out of a converted WAVES barracks. The Post was able to acquire one of those unfinished pine buildings, and it was slowly moved to its current location in the early 1960s. Photo by Joe Ditler.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars traces its roots back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection created local support organizations to secure rights and benefits for service to their country. As might be expected, many of those veterans arrived home wounded or sick.

In 1932, during the Great Depression, more than 100 members of the Coronado community signed a petition to be granted their own chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Coronado Post 2422.

Those founding members included pilots stationed at Rockwell Field on North Island (a former US Army Air Corps field), sailors off the four-stack destroyers, and even veterans of the Glenn Curtiss School of Aviation.

The purpose of the VFW is to aid in rehabilitation of this country’s disabled and needy veterans while promoting Americanism through education, patriotism and constructive service to local communities.

What many don’t realize, is that the Coronado VFW Ladies Auxiliary was founded a month later, and continues to serve as the backbone of our VFW, both locally and nationally. They share similar missions and goals, with the Auxiliary focusing more on fundraising and events.

As we grow closer to Memorial Day (Monday, May 29, 2023) it is only fitting the spotlight turn towards the Coronado chapter of the VFW Auxiliary.

Audrey Pearl Smock is 94 years old. She is the oldest living member of the Coronado VFW Auxiliary. There were 93 members when she joined in 1968. Today there are 167 members. Photo by Joe Ditler.

Audrey Pearl Smock is 94 years old. She was born in 1929 and hails from Decorah, Iowa. She met her husband, Donald Wesley Smock, in Decorah in 1946 and they married in 1947. They came to Coronado for her husband’s first Navy duty station in the late 1950s.

In 1966, they made the decision to stay in Coronado. They purchased their home the following year and she has lived there ever since. They raised two young boys in Coronado, who went through the school system here. She has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Her oldest grandson is Brian Smock, the Coronado Municipal Golf Course professional. Audrey’s husband Donald died in 1999.

Audrey worked 23 years at US Navy Exchanges as a civilian employee. She worked at the Navy Exchange in Guam in 1955, the Long Beach Navy Exchange, the Great Lakes Navy Exchange, and then worked at North Island Navy Exchange from 1966-1981.

Audrey was active in the VFW Auxiliary when they lived in Iowa. After her husband retired from the Navy (1973), she signed up at the Coronado Auxiliary and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, doing whatever she could to help make the world better.

The VFW Auxiliary was established in 1914 to serve the veterans of this country and honor the sacrifices and commitment of every man and woman who has served in uniform. They are one of the nation’s oldest veteran service organizations. Members are relatives of those who served in a location of foreign conflict. There are nearly 470,000 members in more than 350 Auxiliaries nationwide.

This group of VFW Auxiliary members was crucial to the formation and success of the VFW-Coronado over the decades. They turned out in force to help our soldiers and sailors. The Auxiliary quickly became the backbone of the organization, both locally and nationally. This photo was taken in 1938. Photo courtesy of VFW Post 2422.

The Coronado branch of the VFW Auxiliary began in 1932. Audrey joined in 1968. There were 93 members then. Today there are 167. Audrey is the oldest living member and serves as VFW Auxiliary president (and has served as president for seven years in total).

Even in those early years, the Coronado VFW Auxiliary staged a myriad of events throughout the year to raise money. They hosted teas, card parties, music exhibitions, socials, dinner dances, sewing bees, essay contests with patriotic themes, the annual Buddy Poppy fundraisers, and even hosted an Armistice Day parade in Coronado in 1940. They had a weekly column in the Coronado Journal.

In the 1930s-40s the VFW and VFW Auxiliary repaired broken toys to give to those in need. They hosted Christmas services and Thanksgiving dinners for our servicemen and women who were away from their families. That tradition continues to this day.

“We have many programs we promote,” said Audrey. “The VA Hospital is one of them. We volunteer at the VA and do whatever we can to help our veterans and their families. We donate a lot of money to National Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 600-acre farm where orphaned children and military widows receive crucial aid.”

Audrey works annually on the Buddy Poppy program, and helps create ditty bags and backpacks that contain clothing, bedding, books and puzzles, and personal care items to help veterans and their families.

“I’ve witnessed a profound change in the people we’ve helped through the Auxiliary. When I began, it was mostly men we helped. Today there are many, many lady veterans, and that has been very rewarding to see.”

Audrey’s home is filled with citations and awards, thanking her for many thousands of hours dedicated to helping our veterans and their families. Her experiences in working through the Auxiliary would fill a book, but she is most proud of her efforts to volunteer at the VA and the money she has helped raise to assist those in need.

“We do a good job of honoring those who have served,” said Audrey. “The VFW and VFW Auxiliary give me a place to go, and provide a way to help our veterans. It’s a friendly group, and has been since my first day. At my age, I feel very fortunate to still be able to help others.”

Auxiliary members originally were made up of either mothers, daughters, or widows related to a veteran who had seen wartime conflict for at least 30 days. In 2015 the national headquarters for Veterans of Foreign Wars changed their name to “VFW Auxiliary,” with the announcement that men would be invited to join as well.

Today, Post 2422 boasts 613 members, and operates out of their facility on Orange Ave near the corner of Sixth Street, on what was initially two lots of property deeded to the VFW in 1952 by the family of General Henry D. Styer. The Post carries his name to this day, and is home to both the VFW and the VFW Auxiliary.

At that time, the old US Naval Reserve WAVES barracks (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) sat on the recessed side of First Street, alongside San Diego Bay. The VFW was able to acquire one of those unfinished pine buildings, and it was slowly moved to its current location at 557 Orange Avenue, where it became, and remains, General Henry D. Styer VFW Post 2422.

“It’s nearly impossible to list all the wonderful things the VFW Auxiliary, and in particular Audrey, have brought to our cause,” said John Nolan, Senior Vice Commander of Post 2422.

“Of course, there is the Memorial Day lunch at the Post, and the VFW Auxiliary takes the lead on that annual event. They do an incredible job with set up, clean up and providing a delicious meal that is open to all.

“They also host the VFW Summer Concert Steak Dinners, doing a lot of prep work and a fantastic job making sure that the steak dinners, with all the fixings, are tasty and a great value for only $20. Again, this event is open to the public, which goes a long way in our introducing who we are and what we do to the general Coronado public.”

Nolan also credits the success of the annual VFW Fourth of July party to the VFW Auxiliary. “We quite simply couldn’t do what we do without Audrey and the Auxiliary,” he said.

Memorial Day Services will be held Monday, May 29, at 10 am. The hour-long service will be held at Coronado’s Star Park, and is open to the public. Nearly 300 seats will be provided on a first come basis. Visitors are encouraged to bring beach chairs.

More information is available at www.vfwpost2422.org or by calling 619-435-6917.



RELATED:

Coronado Memorial Day Tribute in Star Park – May 29



Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.

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