by Terry Rogers
Peggy Haake, National President of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary’s motto is “Serving Our Veterans with Aloha.” Each member of the auxiliary leadership has a motto that they use as part of their service to veterans and this one is very special to Haake.
“Many people believe that “aloha” simply means hello or goodbye in Hawaiian, but it actually means much more than that,” Haake said. “It means kindness, respectfulness, taking care of each other. It means a lot to me and I have been speaking a lot about it as the national president.”
Haake joined the VFW under her husband’s eligibility. She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but as a self-proclaimed Army brat and Army wife, she has lived in many locations. Haake worked for the Bank of Hawaii for 34 years before retiring. While she worked at the bank, she was known for her service to veterans.
“When I worked at the bank I was a notary,” Haake said. “We would get a call that a veteran needed something notarized but could not come into the bank for whatever reason. I would go to my boss and say I would be back in a bit, that I needed to go notarize something and he would say “let me guess, a vet?” Everyone knew that I had a strong desire to help veterans.”
Haake spent a year campaigning against two others to become the Auxiliary President. Since she lived in Hawaii, she spent a lot of time travelling to the mainland to campaign. She was humbled and amazed at how much was done at each VFW she visited. Haake does not believe this was her first trip to Delaware as her father was stationed in New Jersey when she was young and she recalls traveling through the state on occasion.
“While we were here, we traveled around the state for a bit,” Haake said. “I live on an island that is fairly small, so it was interesting to see how different this state was from where I live.”
In addition to Haake, the Department President of the Delaware VFW, Faye Caldwell also visited the Milford location. Caldwell calls herself a “Maryland transplant.” She used to have a home in Ocean City and would take back roads to get to and from her home for vacations. One day she saw a house for sale that would be perfect for her to retire.
“At the time, I was a paralegal in a law firm in DC,” Caldwell said. “I didn’t want to leave my job and was close to my mother where I lived in Hyattsville. My mother passed away and then 9/11 happened. I had no more ties to Hyattsville, so I purchased a house here. I commuted from Greenwood to DC for 12 years because I was not at an age to retire.”
Caldwell, like Haake joined the VFW because she felt a strong need to serve veterans. Her husband was a Vietnam veteran who passed away five years ago from Agent Orange. Her motto, which she feels ties in well with Haake’s, is “Supporting our vets through hidden heroes,” a nod to the caregivers who are often forgotten when a veteran is suffering. Haake agreed, explaining that her husband, too, was a Vietnam vet dealing with Agent Orange illnesses and who is 100 percent disabled.
Both Caldwell and Haake say that there are still many Vietnam vets out there that need assistance but many will not ask for it. The women are also concerned about the veterans returning from the desert as it is unknown what issues they may have as a result of their service.
“I honestly think the Vietnam vets blazed the way for today’s veterans,” Caldwell said. “They came home from fighting a war and had to continue fighting. No one listened when they said something was wrong. They dealt with a lot of negativity. Today, when veterans come home, people believe them when they say they need help.” Haake also pointed out that World War II and Korean War veterans did not talk about the war much because they were of an era when men were told to “suck it up and deal with it.” Vietnam veterans were the first to speak out that something was wrong but they were called names and vilified, so many of them sank into silence. Caldwell said that because those veterans did not get what they needed, many are still reluctant to go the VA for help.
Both Haake and Caldwell want to see more focus on assistance for caregivers who suffer along with the veteran. Caregivers travel to doctor’s appointments, sit with them when they are ill and hold their hand during treatments or just to keep them company.
“I feel like one of the things I need to do is to provide assistance to caregivers,” Haake said. “My father served in the Army and was at the site of two atomic bomb testings. He died in 1990 with cancer and my mother in 2006. Not long after my mother passed away, I saw an article about someone who filed documents after someone in her family passed away of cancer who was part of the atomic bomb tests. I researched the information, filed the paperwork, which was significant and, in the end, my siblings and I were awarded $75,000. I was attending a conference not too long ago and one of the speakers talked about her father who had died of cancer who was present at atomic bomb tests. I went up to afterwards and told her about this fund. These are the type of things we need to share with others.”
Both women feel that communication is the most challenging part of what they do. Haake explained that getting information out to members can be difficult.
“You want to be sure everyone knows about changes,” Haake said. “You need national to get information to the department and the department to the local auxiliaries. It can be hard, especially in today’s world where we rely so much on email and Smartphones. Not everyone in the auxiliary uses computers which means we need to continue to use multiple methods to get our information out.”
Haake and Caldwell both plan to continue supporting veterans and the people who care for them, using their platforms in the VFW auxiliary to inform and educate others.
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