92 and Unstoppable: WWII Vet Stays Active in Service to Others

Jun 28, 2018

VFW Post 3404 at 1136 N Atlantic in Springfield Missouri
Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM

As the KSMU Sense Of Community Series continues, a continued look at social interaction opportunities for area Veterans, this time through membership in Springfield’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3404, located at Atlantic and National, in Springfield Missouri.

Navy Veteran Al Wagner is VFW 3404 Post Commander:  “Saturday night is Bingo Night here at the post.  It’s open to the public and anyone is welcome to come in.  We start at 5:30 and play 20 games.  The café is open to buy food and enjoy company with everybody, the clubroom is open.  We have 2 separate rooms people can play Bingo in. We call one The Blue Room; the other is the Main Room.”

VFW Post 3404 has a membership of around 300.  Post Commander Al Wagner says he considers around 80 to be “Active Members”.  Meetings are held the first Thursday of every month, and Al Wagner says, at every meeting, its members are asked the same question: “Does anyone know of a Veteran or his or her family, who is in distress?”

Al Wagner is Commander of VFW Post 3404 Which Meets the First Thursday of Every Month
Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM

Once that person or family is identified, Al Wagner says the VFW Post 3404 Veterans Relief Fund can help:  “We hand out Poppies for donations at Bass Pro, on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. Every dime we collect from the handing out Poppies goes into our Veterans Relief Fund.  If there is a Veteran or Veteran’s family that needs money for rent or utilities, or any kind of financial need, if they bring in proof they are a Veteran, and an invoice or bill proving the need, we will try to help those Veterans, with our Veterans Relief Fund.”

Al Wagner says another way VFW Post 3404 reaches out to Veterans and the community, is its participation in athletic events, public programs and parades, to P resent the Colors:  “We have a Color Guard here at the post, presenting the American Flag.  We go to Mount Vernon periodically to the Veterans Court graduation ceremony for Veterans who have finished a 2-3 year rehab program.  We Post the Colors at different Nursing Homes, and recently at JFK Stadium in Springfield, for the Area All Star Football Game.”

A VFW Post 3404 Color Guard led the 2018 Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in March.  Members of the post also serve on Memorial Honor Guards at Veteran funerals; firing rifle volleys, presenting the colors, along with folding and presenting the American Flag to the deceased Veteran’s family. Among them is WWII Veteran Levi Barnts: “I used to help fold the Flag and present it, but now all I do is fire on the Firing party.”

WWII Veteran Levi Barnts, 4th From Left, Has Served With a Veteran's Memorial Honor Guard "Between 4,000-5,000 Times"
Credit VFW Post 3404

Levi Barnts leaves it to others to count how many times he has served at a Veteran’s funeral: “For the length of time I’ve been on the team, other people have estimated it’s been between 4,000-5,000 services.  I don’t know.  I never kept track.  It isn’t important.”

Levi Barnts was 18 when he enlisted in the Army, in 1943.  After Basic Training he was sent to the South Pacific where he would receive a Purple Heart when US forces were Island Hopping in their fight against Japan. He says he feels a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose at VFW Post 3404: “I don’t have any mental problems, and I think it has a lot to do with that.  I enjoy being around people.  I have friends here who understand me and I understand them. It also keeps me occupied, and I enjoy what I do.”

"It Keeps Me Occupied, I Enjoy Being Around People" says 92 Year Old WWII Veteran Levi Barnts, Who Enjoys Working Saturday Night Bingo at VFW Post 3404
Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM

For the record, we should note; Levi Barnts works Bingo Night almost every Saturday at VFW Post 3404, according to Post Commander Al Wagner: “Levi Comes about every Saturday night to help out.  He loves it.  He enjoys meeting people and talking with the regulars that come here.  They have a thing going.  He does it all, 92 years old, you won’t hold him back.”

In just a few days Al Wagner will be able to say “Levi Barnts does it all, at age 93!”, as on 1 July 2018, Levi will turn 93.

For KSMU, I’m Mike Smith.