Veterans lead Black Mountain VFW post on a new mission
Just below Lake Tomahawk, on Cragmont Road, the sights and sounds inside the Purple Heart Pub resemble what most would expect to find in a neighborhood tavern. Billiard balls crash into each other, beer bottles clank and music from the speakers above reduce conversations to a murmur.
It’s here, in Black Mountain Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9157, where men and women who served their country share stories and form bonds, while a new generation of leadership begins writing the organization's next chapter.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, as the national organization is formally known, was founded in 1899 with a mission to assist military veterans and their families. Today, there are more than 6,000 VFW posts around the world and more than 1.6 million members.
The Black Mountain post was founded by local Veterans in 1948.
Marine Corps Veteran David Hana discovered the post after moving to the area three years ago.
“I had been living in Black Mountain for a month or so and I walked down to Lake Tomahawk with my 3-year-old,” Hana said. “I looked down and saw a VFW right there.”
Upon entering, he was greeted warmly by fellow Marine Veteran Justin Rice.
“It was really cool and I was immediately interested in getting involved,” Hana continued.
As a new member, Hana discovered that Post 9157, like many around the country, was facing a challenge.
“They were struggling to find members,” he said. “You’re required to have five functioning officers to comply with the national organization’s bylaws. Each post has to follow those bylaws, turn in its audits, and, because they were stretched pretty thin here, a lot of that wasn’t being done correctly.”
Shortly after Hana joined, the Black Mountain post was closed by the N.C. VFW.
“They began auditing us, and things weren't being taken care of so they shut us down,” he said. “The State Commander at the time relieved the commander of our post and told the five of us that were in the room that if we couldn’t straighten things out, they would shut the place down for good.”
Hana became the post’s quartermaster, the officer responsible for maintaining its finances.
“We had money in the bank, but there were a lot of things that weren’t getting paid,” he said. “I was able to get us out of a hole, and we’ve been caught up since, but we really needed to start reaching out to the community.”
Two years ago, Hana met another Marine Veteran, Michael Neder, and encouraged him to get involved in the Black Mountain post.
“Every year we do elections, and here in the past year we voted Michael on as our new commander,” Hana said.
The new leader set out to rebrand the post.
“Part of that effort is doing more in the community,” Neder said. “We want to shift our focus from being more of a social club to operating a successful nonprofit business. Ideally, people will see that and a new group of local veterans will get involved.”
While the organization remains Black Mountain VFW Post 9157, Neder and his team are marketing the Purple Heart Pub name and new logo.
The name was introduced in 2016 by Vietnam War Veteran Bob Golden, who passed away last January. Golden, a former Captain and U.S. Army Ranger, was himself a recipient of the decoration, which is awarded by the president to those killed or wounded while serving.
Some of the founding members of the post were Purple Heart recipients, as well, according to Rice.
Representatives from the post have worked to increase the organization’s visibility in recent months, according to Neder.
“We recently volunteered with PubCorps to serve food at the Veterans Restoration Quarters, and we had booths at the Sourwood Festival and the town’s Monster Mash event,” he said. “We will also be participating in the Black Mountain Salutes Veterans Parade on Veterans Day (Monday, Nov. 11). So we’re really focusing on strengthening our relationship with the community.”
The post is teaming up with a pair of veteran-focused nonprofits Paws & Effect and DownRange Excursions for the inaugural Veterans Day Golf Tournament at the Black Mountain Golf Course.
“The tournament is being sponsored by local businesses, and all three nonprofits will split the proceeds,” Neder said. “We would like to see this become an annual event because it gives us an opportunity to get out of the post and talk to people about what we do.”
The Purple Heart Pub is open to the public, and Neder encourages anyone to stop in and meet local veterans. Community outreach will be key to the survival of the post, which serves a valuable role, according to Hana.
“VFW posts are closing all over the country. A lot of the Vietnam Veterans are getting older or losing interest and many of the younger guys aren’t stepping in,” he said. “A lot of Veterans get out and they never talk about that experience. For some guys, that’s OK, but some of us miss it every day of our lives. For a lot of us, this is one of the few places we can go and know we can run into someone who understands a little about us.”