In 2007 when Thomas Ames was Post Commander, he compiled a written history based upon research of the post minutes, other historical documents, and his own personal knowledge including his childhood days when his father, a Post 845 member, took him to the Post for various family events. In January, 2020, he edited the history to bring it up to date.
A Brief History of the
Henry J. Thomas Memorial Post 845,
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Genesis, In The Beginning
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was organized in the year 1899 as a national assembly of veterans who had served their country honorably in military service on foreign soil. Upon the founding principles of loyalty to their nation and to themselves, with an undivided allegiance to the flag and a desire to secure the blessings of liberty for posterity, VFW Post 845 of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was mustered into service and incorporated as, Brandywine Post 845, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, on 8 Oct 1932. The original roster of twenty-seven members was comprised of area veterans of foreign service who had served in the armed forces of the United States during the Spanish American War (1898) and WWI (1917-1918). Howard Harvey was duly elected and installed to serve as the first Post Commander to represent the following veterans as founders of Brandywine Post 845, Veterans of Foreign Wars:
The year 1932 found America in dire financial straits as the Great Depression of 1929 continued its course of devastation and financial ruin for many Americans. It seemed that many ex-servicemen were down on their luck in 1932. They had fought bravely for their country’s ideals on foreign soil. They had seen the ruination of nations and what the vices of war had wrought upon Europe. They returned home, young men suddenly grown old, many with horrible wounds from the shot, shell and gas from the Argonne Forest to Flanders Fields. Upon return, they tried to put the war behind them and reacquaint themselves with civilian life. But they were forever changed by their foreign service, and by the comradeship they had found on foreign fields of battle. As a minority in their respective communities, there was little understanding to be found for the returning veterans who had served in the Philippines and in Cuba during the Spanish American War, and on the French and Belgian fronts during the Great War of 1914 -- 1918.
Across the nation proud veterans were banding together, united in a brotherhood of comradeship and a common understanding of the sacrifice they had witnessed. Government benefits promised to veterans upon discharge from service would help many ex-servicemen regain their financial footing. They understood that a united front and their strong voice could be heard throughout the halls of diplomacy in Washington.
In June of 1932, over 15,000 veterans marched on Washington demanding a premature payment of their allotted service bonus based on the current value. The funding would help feed their families, help keep their homes and keep financial ruin at bay. The veterans set up a tent city across the river from Washington on the Anacostia Flats. It was dubbed Hooverville and history would record this mass of veterans as The Bonus Army of 1932.
President Hoover dispatched military forces under the command of General MacArthur to disband this rag-tag army in need of relief. By undue force of arms, the veterans were routed and their ‘village’ was burned. The veterans’ requests for the payment of their bonuses was rejected by Hoover but the voice of America’s veterans was heard loud and clear beyond Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Bonus Army of 1932 may have been a failure in Washington, but their cause rallied and unified veterans across the nation. A mere four months after the Bonus Army was routed from the ‘Flats,’ the Charter for Brandywine Post 845, VFW, was duly granted by National Headquarters, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. The voice of the veteran was becoming stronger.
As the Axis forces swept across Europe, Asia and the Pacific, America’s young men once again found themselves in uniform fighting on various fronts in 1942. The GI BI! Of Rights would grant them a most comprehensive benefit package. Certainly, the united front provided by veterans’ organizations such as the VFW helped secure these benefits for the GI’s returning from WWII.
In the latter months of 1945, when victory was finally proclaimed in Europe and in the Pacific, the membership of Brandywine Post 845, VFW, was meeting in the Italian Social Club on Church Street and in the social hall of the Minquas Fire Company on the Lincoln Highway in Downingtown. Area veterans returning from service in the Pacific and European theaters of WWII did not hesitate to support their regional Post.
Brandywine Post 845, VFW, Begins To Grow
Thirteen years after mustering the Charter into service, the Minutes of 14 Oct. 1945, reports that fifteen candidates took their obligation during October and that only four of the Charter Membership were present at that meeting. November and December meetings would see another twenty candidates approved with eleven applications pending.
Although operating on a limited budget, membership was now growing and the young returning veterans brought with them the ways and means to start looking to purchase property for a Post Home of their own. A Building Committee had been formed and the Minutes of 5 Dec. 1945, record that a motion to form a Ladies Auxiliary was made, duly seconded, and it was "so ordered” to attend to this matter. Also, in December of 1945, discussions were being held on selecting a new name for the Post. Decisions were pending. With a growing membership, new ideas were being brought to the floor. Change was on the wind.
The year 1946 saw the installation of Henry J. Thomas as Post Commander. Post business for 1946 continued to discuss the formation of a Ladies Auxiliary, hosting a Military Ball, Turkey Fair and other ways and means for fund raising and future growth. The distribution of Poppies, Memorial Day and Armistice Day (11 November) activities and recruiting new memberships were all topics of discussion. Aid to the needy, nursing the sick and providing medical equipment to the veteran community was ‘so ordered’ by Commander ‘Slim’ Thomas. The Building Committee reported investigating several properties for securing a future location for a Post Home. Regular meetings of the membership were held twice a month.
The year 1947 saw the purchase of twenty parade uniforms to outfit a Post Color Guard, Rifle Squad and a parade detail. The uniforms were typical of the era: White leggings, khaki gabardine trousers accented with a green stripe and a matching "Ike” jacket. A white helmet liner with the VFW emblem with Post identification completed the outfit. The uniformed members of Post 845 marching in ranks ten-fold, taking part in annual Memorial Day Observances and other ceremonies, lent an air of respectability to the Post and to the community they had so dutifully served.
The Brandywine Home Association adopted Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws at a special meeting on 28 Oct. 1947, "for the purpose of encouraging Social and Intellectual Activities Among Its Members by maintaining Club rooms or a common place of meeting.” (sic).
Brandywine Post 845, VFW, Acquires its Post Home
With Commander James Fennelly in office and with representatives of realtors Smedly and Aumiller present, it was resolved at an open meeting held at the Minquas Fire Company on 4 November 1947, that the Post officers be authorized to make settlement, on or before 23 Nov. 1947, for the purchase of the Mento property known as, The Colonial Inn, consisting of the inn, barn and springhouse on adjacent ground situated between Beaver Creek and the Lincoln Highway, Downingtown.
It seemed that Brandywine Post 845, Veterans of Foreign Wars, would finally have a Post Home of its own. The minutes of 21 November 1947, record that the Building Committee had made settlement on the purchase of this property for a Post Home.
The building was a substantial farmhouse of fieldstone, typical of many stone homes built throughout Chester County, Pennsylvania in the early to mid-1800’s. The house was built on the site of a pre-contact Lenni Lenape village along the southern floodplain of Beaver Creek. When visiting the Post with his father in the 1950’s, this writer remembers finding numerous arrowheads and shards of earthen pottery in the freshly plowed fields adjacent to the Post. The rooms of the upper story were reserved for private residence and by the 1960's, a Mr. Ed Charles and his wife were tenants.
Mr. Charles became the Post caretaker and for a time he would prepare special meals for weekend patrons of the club's Canteen. Ed was quite the cook and he also gathered spring greens, wild mushrooms, nuts and berries as additions to his culinary delights. From the slough of the property's stone springhouse, Ed gathered fresh, crisp, watercress while poke and mushrooms came from the nearby meadows. However, his real claim to fame were the wild game dinners he provided as fare for the offering to anyone in the Canteen who wished to partake. A favorite game of Ed’s to play was--"Guess What It Is?” One never knew what might be served and most patrons knew better than to ask. As I recall, at about age ten, I tasted the succulent meat of young raccoon and groundhog for the first time, served in the Post Canteen, compliments of Mr. Charles.
An expansive parade ground fronts the property along the Lincoln Highway, adding charm and character to the Post Home. A large stone fireplace with its original wrought-iron crane with attendant kettle and bake oven spans the east wall of the meeting room. An addition was built along the west end of the original stone house in the late 1950's, providing an ample banquet room and social hall for the use of the membership as well as to host community activities. The floor of the banquet room was tiled with the colorful emblem of the Veterans of Foreign Wars centermost.
When active interests were strongest due to the great numbers of young WWII veterans holding membership in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, a regulation Trap house was installed and many members took an active interest in shooting Trap on the grounds on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Under the direction of Mr. Charles, regulation quoits pits were also placed between the home and springhouse and drew considerable interest from members. But, with changing interests of the membership, the quoit pits and Trap house are gone now.
The Ladies Auxiliary, Post 845 Veterans of Foreign Wars, was chartered on 6 Feb., 1947. Twenty-two members comprised the membership with Mrs. Lillian Thomas respectfully holding the office of Madam President.
`The Ladies Auxiliary ran the kitchen and catering service for the Post and helped with fund raising projects. At the time, community gatherings and dances were quite a popular attraction and thus, a regular Post activity. Throughout the ‘fifties and ‘sixties the Post held family picnics and clam bakes quite often. Dress Balls were another popular community attraction. While dressing down is now popular, it seemed that the ladies and gentlemen of that era had no aversion to dressing up for a night out---even if it was only to attend a Post activity. Veterans and their families were a tight-knit community within the greater community and Post 845 was a center of activity in those post-WWII years.
Post 845 falls within the jurisdiction of District 9, Department of Pennsylvania, VFW. With the increase of activities following WWII, Brandywine Post 845 was also active in the leadership of the now defunct, Chester County Council, VFW. Post 845 continues to provide leadership at the District level.
In 1999, with Commander B. Lackro officiating, the name of Brandywine Post 845, VFW, was changed to the Henry J. Thomas Memorial Post 845, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in honor of the late Comrade Thomas’ long and faithful service to the Post and to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on the District, Department and National levels. Comrade Henry ‘Slim’ Thomas had not only served Brandywine Post 845 as Commander, Chaplain and Trustee, but had served many years as District 9 Chaplain.
With Commander R. Broody at the helm, the bar, kitchen and clubroom of the Post Canteen underwent renovations in 1996-97. The result was a greater seating capacity and a more "homey” atmosphere; an atmosphere that has come to characterize the essence and personality of what Post 845 has been recognized for throughout District 9.
Into the Future, Post 845 Stands Proudly in Support of Veterans
As a child, I well remember attending Memorial Day services with my father.
After the uniformed Rifle Squad from the Post fired their Salute to the Dead and TAPS was played, the kids would scramble to collect the empty brass cases ejected from the old bolt-action service rifles. I grew up observing our nation’s fervor for patriotism with some small understanding of the unique bond veterans felt and respectfully observed whenever and wherever they gathered. But time and events change and through the decades following the controversy surrounding the war in Vietnam and the upheaval of the turbulent ‘sixties, community support of Memorial and Veteran’s Day activities seemed to wither and then, all but die. Few attended or supported Memorial and Veterans Day services in the borough. As low as the community support was, however, it did not deter the members of Post 845 in paying their respectful tribute in honor of the veteran’s sacrifice. It seems that there is always a core group willing to observe and respect traditional values. And, as it has often been said, "Given enough time the pendulum always swings back”. I suppose, we can thank the veterans of Post 845 for keeping the clockwork wound and that pendulum swinging.
In the year 2000, Post 845 had been a major contributor to the Downingtown Area Veterans Memorial project as well as Chester County's Flags Across America program. Both of these regional projects have put the veteran, as well as patriotism and respect for the flag back on the community's agenda. With the county's support for the Flags Across America program as well as Downingtown’s veteran’s memorial project, the community began to stir into action. Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day activities are now quite well-attended and all are very well represented by community support.
In recent years there has been a most favorable turnout of non-service support willing to assist in placing flags on the graves of veterans throughout five cemeteries for which Post 845 is responsible under the direction of the Chester County Office of Veteran's Affairs. This is commendable and our VFW Post is proud to be a part of this renewed community interest and spirit in support of our veterans. In addition to noontime services at the Post and participation in a community parade, Post 845 holds Memorial Day services at two community parks, six cemeteries and a fraternal lodge in honor and remembrance of American men and women killed in service to their nation.
We would be remiss if we were not to mention the long and faithful service of past Post Commander, Thomas Wise. Comrade Wise is a Vietnam veteran; besides having held the office of Post Commander on three occasions, his years of devoted service as Post Caretaker In Residence have been remarkable. Additionally, he has held the office of Commander of the Chester County Chapter of the Purple Heart Association and his support and devotion to veteran affairs and veteran’s organizations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania are well established. The work of Comrade Wise is the heart and soul of that which is readily seen when one steps on the grounds and through the door of the Post Home.
As a center of attraction in the meeting room, the large colonial fireplace was renovated under Comrade Wise's direction and lest a weed grow or a blossom die, the parade field and surrounding gardens have been under his ever-watchful eye for over 30 years. No man in recent years has served the Post with such commitment and devotion to its principles than has Past Commander Wise.
In recognition of having reached the milestone of celebrating its 75th Anniversary of being "mustered in” in October of 1932, 9th District Commander, Richard Adams, presented the Diamond Jubilee Award from the office of the Commander-in-Chief, National Headquarters, Veterans of Foreign Wars, to Post 845 Commander, T.E. Ames, in ceremony at the Post Home at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, 2007. Quite a fitting tribute in honor of the service of all veterans, both living and dead.
Present membership of Post 845 now exceeds 500 veterans of foreign wartime service spanning the generations from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, various expeditionary deployments, Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf. As numerous young veterans now return from recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, these veterans are taking an active role in Post affairs.
To meet the challenge of changing times and expectations of a younger membership, in 2010 the Post underwent extensive renovations under the leadership of Commander M. Hernandez. What had been the banquet and meeting room was renovated as a new Post Canteen. Expanded seating, modern bar and kitchen facilities and a complete renovation of electrical systems changed the face of the old facility resulting in an increase of membership and business opportunities.
The Post membership is well aware that the future of maintaining our veteran’s strength in Washington lies in actively recruiting these young veterans as they return home and make their adjustments to civilian life. Without their numbers adding to the ranks of our aging membership the voice of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will become but a whisper, a mere insignificant distraction to be disregarded by those cogs in a vast political machine.
‘Wherever a Comrade Lies, There the Ground Is Hallowed.’
In recent years when called upon, members of Post 845 have taken an active role to field ceremonial details to honor the passing of any veteran regardless of era of service. Post 845 has been recognized as one of the few organizations in southeast Pennsylvania to fulfill these obligations with utmost honor and respect.
If you are a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States having served through combat campaigns on foreign soil, help us maintain our history and those ideals and principles for which our organization was established. If you happen to be a veteran of foreign war residing in the environs of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, please consider our personal invitation to enlist in the ranks of your fellow veterans at the Henry J. Thomas Memorial Post 845, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
We thank you for your honorable service to our nation and to you we say: Welcome Home, Comrade.
Thomas E. Ames Commander, Post 845 VFW, 2006/2008
EULOGY FOR A VETERAN
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the Gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.