DAVI’m going to start this piece with a fun look at why Claremore is a neat place to live. It has a small-town feel, and you can’t go to Walmart without running into someone you know, but it’s also easy to lose track of folks, which means it’s not TOO small.

I got a message early this week from one of my employers, Robert, who said that he had talked to someone at the DAV, and that I needed to go meet with them. The gentleman’s name I was to meet sounded a little familiar, but I was sure I didn’t know him. After a moment, it clicked. His wife, whom I haven’t seen since I was knee high to a grasshopper, was my kindergarten teacher. See what I mean? I’ve lived in this town most of my life, and haven’t seen her since elementary school. And here I was, off to meet her husband for a completely chance work meeting.

I’ve driven past the Disabled American Veterans building countless times. It’s a large metal building with a tank out front, located on the curve on Dupont, just south of Pixley Lumber. How could I miss it? But I’ve never been inside. Today, I had that opportunity.

I didn’t know what to expect. But I walked in to the DAV building and was met with a pleasant surprise, which was Retired Lieutenant Colonel CJ Masters. Masters (the husband of the previously mentioned kindergarten teacher) is a tall fellow with a  friendly smile and a limp that comes from having an artificial knee and ankle, thanks to a run-in with some nasty explosives in Iraq. He seems to be the face of the DAV, the welcoming committee, if you will. His official title is Commander and Chapter Services Officer. He’s a lot more than just a friendly face at the door.

We began the interview with me showing my ignorance and asking point-blank what the DAV organization does, because even though I’m a veteran that is married to a disabled veteran, I honestly didn’t know. What they do is nothing short of amazing.

If you’re a veteran (of any conflict), and you’ve fallen on hard times, you can contact the DAV. If your electricity is about to get turned off because you can’t afford the bill, contact the DAV. In the words of Masters, “We don’t want our vets to be hot when it’s hot outside or cold when it’s cold outside.” He then told me a story that broke my heart: Recently, a veteran and his wife had fallen on some hard times. They moved in with the wife’s mother. Then the house burned down, and the mother-in-law didn’t make it. The vet and his wife were then faced with a choice. They decided to head west to Denver, and en route, got stranded in Claremore due to lack of funds. They found the kind group at the DAV, who provided them with enough cash to pay for gas and travel expenses to get to Colorado. Last year alone, the Rogers County DAV paid out $13,000 in emergency grants to needy veterans. This keeps with the group’s motto, which is “Help us help more veterans.” Simple. Straightforward. A mission that seems so easy, yet is met with continuous roadblocks, namely money.

photoTo raise the money to help vets in need, the DAV hosts a number of fundraisers. Their main source of income is their hat sales. They have a variety of sharp-looking ball caps, embroidered with “Vietnam Vet” or “Vietnam Era Vet” or any other wars that are applicable. They have a monthly date to sell the hats at the Claremore Atwoods. They also attend local shows, such as the Rod & Tackle Show in Bixby, or various Claremore Expo events, to sell the hats.

The DAV members also encourage their wives to join in the effort, thus the existence of the Ladies Auxiliary. They help out with the fundraising by selling hot dogs, chips and fixins’ on a regular basis at Atwoods. The ladies are also responsible for providing dinner for the monthly chapter meetings.

The only requirements to join this fantastic nonprofit are to be disabled and a veteran. The national membership sits at a staggering 1.3 million, and the Rogers County group, based in Claremore, has just over 300 members. The group meets once a month, on the third Monday evening. A guest speaker is often invited to give a program.

If you are interested in becoming a member, stop by the DAV building at 801 W. Dupont any Tuesday or Thursday from 1300-1500. The chapter will pay the first $40 toward any lifetime membership. You can also call the chapter at 918.342.8990 or send an email to okdav44@yahoo.com.

I asked Lt. Col. Masters what we, as the public, could do to assist in their efforts. He said that word-of-mouth is the best possible thing. If you know a veteran, please tell them about the group. They can help with all kinds of questions and problems, connecting ill and injured veterans with the benefits, service and resources they need. If you are a veteran and you have questions, please contact the DAV. They can definitely help point you in the right direction.

Of course, donations are always welcome, as they are to any nonprofit. If you would like to make a contribution to Rogers County Chapter #44, a tax-deductible donation can be sent to:

Disabled American Veterans

Rogers County Chapter #44

PO Box 2446, Claremore, OK 74018

Donations will be kept and used in Rogers County and will provide needy veterans with emergency grants.

I was honored to spend some time with Lt. Col. Masters and the other DAV members that I had the pleasure to meet. I was impressed by their upbeat attitudes and humility, especially Masters. He was rarely without a smile (and that’s because we talked about some depressing issues) and it’s obvious that he loves the work he does with the organization. The mission of the DAV is a noble and important one, and it’s through donations, word-of-mouth, and hopefully news stories like this one that enable them to complete their goals. Hats off to the ladies and gentlemen of the DAV.

And next time you see them out and about, buy yourself a hat!

-MCM Staffer Ashley,

who, as a veteran, fully supports the mission of the DAV

ashley