Red Level VFW celebrates opening of new facility

Published 4:30 pm Friday, May 12, 2023

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Red Level Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4388 celebrated the grand opening of its new facility last Saturday.

The Covington Veterans Foundation helped the VFW begin to rebuild its memorabilia collection with a framed print. Shown from left are Tom Stephens, Commander Red Level VFW Post 4388; John Vick, founder of Covington Veterans Foundation; Randy Robinson, Red Level VFW member; and Judge Ben Bowden, president of Covington Veterans Foundation. Also present was CVF Board Member Sue Wilson. (CVF PHOTO)

The VFW’s original building burned on Thanksgiving Day in 2019, and the rebuild had been ongoing since January of 2021. The building was a complete loss, and heartbreakingly included memorabilia collected from area veterans.

Rebuilding the facility was a labor of love for Post Commander Tom Stephens, who along with other members did much of the work. The group collected approximately $114,000 in insurance proceeds from the fire, and without the facility, was limited in how it could raise money. In January of this year, VFW members were in the homestretch, and still had to raise $25,000 to cover the final supplies. Members grilled hamburgers at Marvin’s and had a turkey shoot to help get them through the home stretch. With the determination of the 151 members, and the help from some community members, they were able to officially reopen last weekend with a ribbon cutting and fish fry.

Commander Stephens told members of the Andalusia Lions Club last week that after serving in the Army from 1977 to 1984, he found that he missed military life and joined the Army National Guard. During his service, he did tours in Korea, Germany and Iraq. It was in 2008 that he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and found it a great way to help veterans.

The VFW was formed so that veterans could share their experiences, and to advocate for veterans services. The national group was chartered in 1913 when several veterans groups joined together.

There are about 6,000 VFW Posts in the United States. There were originally three posts in Covington County, but the Red Level group is the “last one standing,” Stephens said.

“We support veterans, take care of families, and preserve our heritage,” Stephens said.

Their work is funded by donations, proceeds from their canteen (“Most people call it a bar,” he said), and with fundraisers. They have an annual Fourth of July fireworks display, provide scholarships to local high school students, serve meals to veterans, and help families when they can.

Membership in the VFW is restricted to any active or honorably discharged officer or enlisted person who is a citizen of the United States and has served in its armed forces in any foreign war.

Members of the Covington Veterans Foundation were on hand Saturday for the grand opening. Founder John Vick and President Ben Bowden presented a framed print of “A soldier comes home,” which was inspired by Vick’s memories of seeing soldiers’ bodies on trains that passed through the Red Level depot when he was a child, along with an explanation of the painting.

“I thought it was appropriate, since the painting is about my memories from Red Level,” Vick said.

VFW Post 4388 is located at 6841 Oglesby Road in Red Level. It is open from noon until 8 p.m. daily, according to its social media page.