First in an Occasional Series about Carmel War Veterans
by Ray Compton
The slogan on the baseball cap summarizes where Tom Blandford is with his life after 65 years.
Life Is Good, reads the script.
For Blandford, life is good now days. Especially after personally coming to grips with his combat duty in the Vietnam War several years ago. Particularly after winning a battle against leukemia a few years past. And life has taken another swing upward as he continues his most recent tour of duty as the Post Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 10003 in Carmel.
“All of us associated with the VFW believe we are making a difference in the community and with our military families,” said Blandford. “It makes you feel good about life when you are doing positive things for deserving people.”
And making a difference inside community and with former military members is a top priority for the VFW, which globally has over 2 million members and more than 10,000 posts. The VFW mission statement believes in enhancing pride in service; supporting efforts to find the causes of treating illnesses afflicting veterans; perpetuating core American values; improving the quality of life in community; bolstering national defense and enjoying the company of other veterans.
Blandford and the 525 members of Post 10003 have tackled those objectives.
“We have a bond,” said Blandford, a former manager at the Gene Glick Company. “You identify with veterans. You know what they have been through and you are able to share stories or just listen. We are here to help.”
Blandford’s journey to the Carmel post started in 1967 when he joined the Indiana National Guard.
“I thought I would be helping out with tornados and floods,” he remembered.
Instead the 151st Infantry, Company D was soon dispatched to the Panama Canal for two weeks of jungle training. A brief time later, the 220 guardsmen were sent to Vietnam, becoming the only National Guard unit in America to serve in infantry duty in the southeast Asian war.
The unit suffered the loss of four soldiers to military action and two others in a helicopter accident. For Blandford, there was another internal defeat after he returned to Indianapolis.
“I wanted to forget the past,” Blandford recalled. “I had no interest in remembering the war or what all of us went through. I didn’t need to be associated with a veterans group. But eventually I began to gain appreciation and I wanted to help other veterans.”
The first step of acceptance of his Vietnam experience came at age 55. He got a tattoo on his right arm, honoring the Ranger Airborne 151st Infantry, Company D. “I am very glad that the country is so supportive of us now,” said Blandford, a graduate of IUPUI.
Three years ago, the members of Post 10003 took a major leap. They moved from the downtown location to the Carmel site on Old Meridian Street. The commander admits there are challenges ahead. With each passing year, more World War II veterans depart. And all service organizations are struggling in connecting with younger generations.
“You want to stay relevant,” he admitted.
The post and its leader are meeting the challenges head on. They continue to become involved with community activities (parade appearances, donations to police and fire organizations, etc.) and recruit new members, provide advice and support to veterans and their families and are willing to pursue financial assistance for soldiers from all wars, including Iraqi and Afghanistan.
“You feel compassion when you see veterans having difficulties after war, no matter what their age is. What you get in war applies to all warriors. We are here to help.”