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Rogue River VFW shuttered

Post was closed down last month by state VFW officials after 77 years
Emil “Butch” Merusi, a member of Rogue River VFW Post 4116, stands outside the post, which has been closed down by state VFW officials. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
WWII vet Larry Wills, 99, looks at old photos with fellow VFW member Emil “Butch” Merusi, 73. [Buffy Pollock/Mail Tribune]

After 77 years serving as a meeting place for veterans and their spouses, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4116 in Rogue River has been folded into the history books.

Post members received an official letter last week from Timothy Borland, the organization’s national commander-in-chief. State leadership moved to revoke the charter for the post, mustered July 6, 1945, due to membership “not following protocol.”

Member and a one-time quartermaster Emil “Butch” Merusi, 73, said members were disappointed to learn the post would cease to exist, sending members to find a new place to be together and auxiliary members looking to serve their community in a different capacity. Boasting 293 members on its roster, the post had four-dozen active members.

“Rogue River VFW Post 4116 is officially dead,” Merusi posted to social media last week. “I hope those responsible are happy.”

Contacted by the Mail Tribune, Merusi declined to “get into the politics” but said Post 4116, after a handful of 90-day closures and several warnings, had its charter officially revoked July 22.

The post had been a busy community hub, with a slew of outreach projects and a busy canteen that had evolved into a town bar with food and lottery machines.

The letter, ordered by Borland and signed by Adjutant General Dan West, cited “failure to elect required officers” as reason for revocation of the group’s charter. Merusi said many issues led to the closure, not the least of which was that the canteen-turned-successful-bar made potential leaders more reluctant to step up.

Merusi, who served four decades between the Air Force and the Army National Guard, and served from 1968 to 1969 in Vietnam, said he would have served as quartermaster of the post but was not willing to manage the bar and lottery operations. He noted, “Unfortunately, one of the things that made us so successful contributed to our demise.”

Merusi sat last week with charter member Larry Wills along the Rogue River voicing frustrations about the loss of their space.

A former ball turret gunner, Wills, 99, said losing the post he helped start in the cinderblock building along East Main Street in 1945 was difficult to accept.

Perusing old photos of his B-17, “Better Duck,” which featured a bomb-tossing duck for nose art, Wills said the post was a place veterans could commiserate and share stories with “the only other people who can understand what you’ve been through.”

“I hate it. I just … I can’t believe it, really. It’s really sad,” said Wills. “I went to the last election, and they couldn’t get someone to step up as quartermaster. I never imagined they’d shut us down. I just can’t believe it.”

State and national officials for the VFW did not return multiple phone calls by the Mail Tribune, but copies of the state letter were provided by post members. In an email, state quartermaster Cheryl Campos confirmed closure of Post 4116 — the post was also removed from state and national directories by Friday — but declined to provide a copy.

Via email Campos called the closure “unfortunate,” adding, “Officially, they were shut down for lack of election report. They got into trouble when they forgot VFW programs and the purpose of the VFW. It used to be a very amazing post. It’s very sad for the Department of Oregon as well as the community.”

With closure of the post, members are considered “at large” or can transfer to another VFW post. The building and all assets become property of the state VFW.

A second letter was delivered July 24 disbanding the post auxiliary, a group for spouses and family members who help post members and serve the greater community. The group in Rogue River was one of the region’s more active, hosting everything from Halloween parties and school supply giveaways to charity motorcycle runs and adopting families for Christmas.

This past year, auxiliary member Paul Hay said, the group awarded $17,000 in scholarships to seniors at Rogue River High. Hay, who served in the Army — though not during conflict — and whose grandfathers and sons all served or are serving, was disappointed but not surprised by the closure.

“Leadership has failed, but the auxiliary never missed a beat. We continued to do all the programs we’ve done for the community and for our veterans. We just had to find different places to do them,” said Hay.

“The state should’ve stepped in. If they really wanted to keep the post, they could’ve come in and mentored and helped them work through the things they shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

“It was an important place for our vets, not just for the events they supported, but a place for those who had deployed to go and talk to each other as one way to treat their PTSD,” Hay said.

Wills said he was sad for fellow veterans who wouldn’t have a place to go and hoped they transferred to other posts.

“I helped start 4116 when I got home from the war. It hurts me to know that it’s gone,” Wills said.

“You’re probably the only guy in the country,” Merusi told Wills, “who has seen the beginning and the end of his VFW post.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.