South Valley is fortunate it has a VFW Post located in a hall in downtown Gilroy.

Gilroy Veterans Hall

Editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life

Al Gagliardi grew up in the South Valley prune orchards and joined the U.S. Army to fight in the Pacific during World War II. He was a part of the infantry that landed on Kiska Island in the Aleutian chain to retake it from Japan in August 1943. He was later reassigned to the 147th Infantry as a 50-caliber machine gunner. The infantry was attached to the 5th Marine Division in Iwo Jima and later went to Okinawa.

“When people ask me what I did, I tell them I dug a lot of latrines, and I did a good job with them,” he says with a chuckle. But he did so much more. For his heroic efforts he was awarded the Bronze Star. He returned to his hometown of Gilroy in 1946 and became a charter member of both the American Legion Post 669 and Veterans of Foreign War Post 6309. He served as commander of the VFW from 1946-47 and the American Legion from 1954-55. To celebrate the 75th year of the VFW Post — now called John A. Berri Post 6309 — March 15, World War II veteran Gagliardi was honored as founding commander.

We’re fortunate the South Valley has a VFW Post located in a hall in downtown Gilroy. For seven and a half decades, it has served as a place for those who served in the armed forces to come together for socialization as well as to receive assistance to make their lives better. The post helps foster camaraderie among veterans of overseas conflicts while also serving as an advocate on behalf of all U.S. military men and women.

During this time of pandemic, we must face the reality that many veteran halls across the nation are struggling financially to stay open. From Boston to Los Angeles, halls have been hit hard as a result of the economic shutdown of COVID-19. They were barely hanging on before the virus with years of declining memberships. Many, including the Gilroy Veterans Hall, had to close their bars due to government restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. These bars run by VFW and American Legion posts allowed veterans to enjoy a friendly chat over beers, but with their closure, that source of revenue was gone. Rentals of the halls for weddings and anniversary celebrations also were stopped because of the COVID-19 shutdowns, resulting in another revenue stream drying up.

Many facilities across the country have been forced to permanently shutter during the pandemic. Others still risk closure. This loss can impact not just veterans but an entire community. These halls allow vets an emotional outlet for those who must deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and other war-caused traumas. The loss of a crucial safe place where they can meet during the isolation caused by stay-in-shelter orders can be difficult for them. In the halls, these veterans have the freedom to talk about incidents that happened to them in the war that they  might never tell a mental health professionals or even their wives or children. The burden of this stress can have a ripple effect on family and friends as the veterans must find other ways to deal with the effects of PTSD and painful memories.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars was formed in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936. It is dedicated to veterans’ service, legislative advocacy, and military and community service programs. Worldwide there are more than two million VFW members. To be eligible for the VFW, a veteran must have served in the armed forces of the United States on foreign soil or hostile seas, and be issued a campaign bar issued by the United States Congress. With its mission of service in mind, VFW Post 6309 does much to serve our local veterans. It provides financial assistance for homeless veterans, supports the Gavilan College Student Veterans Club, and hosts events to celebrate veterans, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorations. With nearly 300 members locally, the VFW also does a lot for the civilian community by providing toys and dinner for an annual children’s Christmas party, scholarships for local students, donations to local school programs, charities and much more.

“It’s an honor to serve our country and community,” said VFW Post 6309 Commander Al Alciati, who was presented with the Diamond Anniversary Award Citation from the state VFW commander at a small ceremony on March 15. “It’s a testament to all of our veterans that through the VFW we have continued to serve for 75 years . . . Regardless of what branch of the military you served in, service becomes a way of life. So we’ve continued to serve our community, though in a quiet manner.”

In turn, let us serve our veterans by working to keep the Gilroy Veterans Hall open.

Morgan Hill Life Editorial
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