To a young Dan Parker growing up in Sonoma, men in uniform were larger than life. Veterans, including his father, were figures of pride and respect, and the vets dances – announced with huge canvas banners hanging over the street – were the social events.
“As a kid, soldiers were my heroes,” said Parker. “I remember it was a big thing, how proud they were and the difference they made.”
Some 45 years later, and two decades after his own Navy duty, Parker is passionate about bringing the vets community back into prominence. He became president of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post about a year ago.
“The goal is to the VFW back to a position of visibility and make a positive difference in the community,” he said.
The post, in existence since 1929, was in danger of being closed down when Parker heard the call. “It was in trouble,” he said, but since, “it’s been revitalized.”
The new energy has stabilized the membership roster and increased recruitment efforts. There are 116 members now in the ranks, including volunteers willing to take an active role as committee chairs.
“I feel good about it,” Parker said. “The aim is to rebuild the post from within, to give it some identity.”
Parker felt the connection from home while serving in a Navy construction battalion during Operation Desert Storm. He remembers getting a care package, thanks to the local VFW. “It was a taste of home,” he recalled. “I know the impact something like that can have.”
Now a carpenter at Sonoma State University, Parker joined the Naval reserves at the age of 34. He was sent to Bahrain in September of 1990, and was stationed there for six months. “I’m very proud of my service.”
It was that stint in a combat zone that made him eligible for the VFW. The organization has very specific membership criteria, limited basically to men and women who have served in action.
Another local veterans group, The American Legion Jack London Post 489, is also very active locally. The two groups have not always been on the same page, but things are changing. “We want to tear down that wall,” Parker said. “It’s all about supporting active duty personnel, veterans and their families.”
Gary Magnani, commander of the Legion post, welcomes the partnership. “We’re committed to working together. Everything we do going forward, we’ll be working as one.”
“Dan is doing a great job,” Magnani continued. “I’m impressed how he’s really getting the (VFW) post back on its feet.”
Parker counts among recent accomplishments the sponsorship of a fun run for troops on Tallil, Iraq. Locally the group sponsored the Voice of Democracy contest, a speech competition for high school students. In the works are an essay contest, and a Scout of the Year award.
He’d liked to see annual awards for firefighters, law enforcement and teachers, even a patriotic citizen of the year. “I believe in the honor principle. People should be recognized for what they do.”
Just as he was motivated by his father, a WW II vet, Parker has inspired his daughter to join the cause. Sarah Parker, 29, now heads the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
For Dan Parker, even with all the responsibilities of the position, the volunteer service “fulfills a passion. You join an organization you believe in, that’s how I feel.”