Craig’s veterans demonstrate lifetime commitment to community | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig’s veterans demonstrate lifetime commitment to community

Janelle O'Dea

Bennie Otero, Jim Meineke, Bob Neher, David Walters and Mark Wick keep Craig's Veterans of Foreign Wars community alive with brunch and bingo every Sunday. All served in the Vietnam War except for Meineke, who fought in the Korean War.

A desire to serve and a call from the draft led Craig resident and Vietnam veteran Bob Neher into an unexpected but welcome career twist.

Neher's career with the Army began when he was drafted for Vietnam on May 1, 1968. He said he enjoyed his time in the service and even though he was drafted, it felt more like a choice to serve.

He decided to leave college early because he wanted to join the military.

Neher went to Fort Lewis in Washington for basic training and thought he was going to be a pilot because he'd learned to fly in college. Instead, he ended up falling in love with a different career path because of a delay in pilot school.

"So one of the choices was air traffic control school," Neher said. "So I went to air traffic control school and decided not to be a pilot." The Army didn’t have an air traffic control institution at the time, so he went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi to learn his new craft.

He worked in Savannah, Georgia, as a controller for about three months before heading off to Vietnam in June of 1969. He was stationed at a control tower at Phu Hiep, Vietnam until March of 1970.

Recommended Stories For You

He helped deploy, direct and land helicopters and jet fighters for the Army during his time in Vietnam.

When he got out of the army, Neher applied at the FAA where he worked for 36 years. He said a lot of the stress associated with being an air traffic controller can be perceived.

"There's a little bit of stress, but you know I think people that suffer from stress, it really doesn't matter what you do," he said. "A truck driver, or a school teacher, anybody can get stressed out."

He came to Craig after retiring in Hawaii for more than 10 years, where his daughter and her husband lived at the time. Even though he was retired, Neher worked at an airport in Hawaii part-time.

"I enjoyed it the whole time. I loved it the whole time," he said. "I hated to retire."

He and his wife took an RV and toured America for a year and then decided they wanted to be close to their grandchildren.

"We like it here," Neher said. "It's different than Hawaii, but it's easier to see (the grandchildren). And that's a big deal."

Four of Neher's five grandchildren live in Craig with his daughter and her husband.

He just transferred his membership to Craig's Veterans of Foreign Wars and has enjoyed the association's benefits, including providing education about the service to area schools, socializing with other veterans and a weekly brunch.

All proceeds from the brunch fund VFW activities for the community, such as the Patriot's Pen and Voice of Democracy contests, the Fourth of July picnic and parade and the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.

The VFW also provides important services for veterans in the community, some of whom are also Craig natives.

VFW member David Walters is from Craig originally and served in Vietnam as a communications specialist.

"I made sure all messages were sent and received where they were supposed to go," Walters said. He was in the army security agency, a four-year commitment.

Walters was stationed in Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive. After, he worked at a sawmill for a little while before being hired at Craig Station as a coal board operator, where he worked until he retired.

"I mainly just made sure the coal got to the plant," Walters said.

Besides providing a place for veterans to hang out and socialize with one another, the VFW organizes other essential services.

About 10 of Craig's VFW members take turns driving fellow veterans to the Veteran's Affairs hospital in Grand Junction.

Bennie Otero, commander of Craig's VFW and a Vietnam veteran, said it's an important part of what the VFW does.

"These older guys probably can't drive by themselves, so we provide a service," Otero said.

Otero served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968 and continued in the service for more than a decade. He said another important component of the VFW is their flag-disposal service.

The VFW also has a post office box painted red outside of their building on Victory Way for anyone to drop old, tattered flags into.

"We retire the flags with dignity," said Mark Wick, quartermaster of the VFW.

Wick served in Vietnam with the Navy for three years. He helped maintain and launch FA crusaders during his time overseas. Now he oversees the financial well being of Craig's VFW.

The VFW keeps honor and community alive for Craig veterans by providing a place for veterans to hang out, cook and eat together.

Jim Meineke, sergeant of the guard and Korean War veteran, calls all 138 members of the VFW from time to time to let them know about community events, such as the upcoming Veteran's Day assembly at Moffat County High School. He also calls bingo for the VFW on Sundays.

"Our post cannot survive without the help of all," Meineke said.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday