By Crystal Burns
Members of the Hicks Phelan Taylor Post 4798 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) gathered Saturday afternoon in Trenton to celebrate the vital institution’s 75th anniversary.
Hannah Blurton, quartermaster of the local post, gave a brief overview of the VFW, which
traces its roots to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations that would become known as the VFW.
By 1915, the VFW had a membership of 5,000, which grew to nearly 200,000 by 1936. Since then, the VFW has been instrumental in virtually every major legislative victory for veterans in the 20th and 21st centuries, helping to establish the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th Century and later for the 21st Century, developing the national cemetery system, and fighting for the compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.
The VFW helped fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II, and Women in Military Service memorials, and in 2005, the group became the first veterans’ organization to contribute to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which opened in 2010. In 2015, the VFW became the first supporter of the National Desert Storm War Memorial, which is planned for construction in Washington, D.C.
The VFW and its auxiliaries include 1.5 million members in 6,100 posts worldwide. Annually, members contribute more than $4 million and over 9.4 million hours of volunteer work in the community. The VFW provides scholarships to middle and high school students as well as veterans and service members and provides grants to military families facing financial hardship.
“Everywhere, the VFW is honoring the dead by helping the living,” Blurton said.
The Trenton post was established Nov. 15, 1945 and was named in memory of Trenton natives PFC John Burchard Phelan and Sgt. John Daniel Hicks. Phelan enlisted in the Army in June 1943 and served with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 242nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division. He was killed in action Jan. 6, 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge.
Hicks enlisted in the Army in November 1942. He served with Charlie Company, 3rd Replacement Depot and was assigned to the Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, under 1st Army Corps when he died in Belgium on Oct. 3, 1944. Blurton said she was unable to find details of his death, but it seems likely that he was injured in battle and died in a Belgium hospital.
Both Phelan and Hicks are buried at Oakland Cemetery in Trenton.
The post was originally located in downtown Trenton but burned in the 1960s. Members purchased the old Pet Milk property and met there for a couple of years until the current post home was built on Manufacturers Row in 1965 or 1966.
The Trenton VFW merged with the Humboldt Post 4728, named in memory of Humboldt brothers Harry and James Taylor, in 2016. Harry joined the Navy in September 1942 and was stationed on the Liscome Bay, an aircraft carrier. During her only combat deployment, Liscome Bay carried 28 aircraft and was assigned to the naval forces supporting the invasion of Makin. Liscome Bay’s aircraft played a vital role in the capture of Makin, providing close air support and bombing Japanese positions.
With the islands secured, U.S. naval forces began retiring, however, Liscome Bay stayed with the rest of her task force. At about 5 a.m. on Nov. 24, 1943, a Japanese submarine fired torpedoes at the task group of which Liscome Bay was in the center. One of the torpedoes entered the after-engine room of the Liscome Bay and detonated the bomb magazine, setting off a massive explosion that rocked the entire task force. The carrier burned and sank within 23 minutes from the moment of impact. Fifty-three officers and 591 enlisted men were killed, making the loss of the Liscome Bay the deadliest sinking of a carrier in the history of the U.S. Navy. Harry Taylor’s body was never recovered.
James Taylor joined the Navy Air Wing in 1943 and was a top turret gunner on a B-24 assigned to the 380th Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force based in Leyte and Mindoro. On April 25, 1945, on the crew’s last mission before going home, they were attacked by three Japanese fighter planes. James shot down two of the planes before the third one struck the top of his aircraft. He was the only crew member killed on the flight. He is buried in Manilla, Philippines.
The Hicks Phelan Taylor Post currently has 149 members who have served in operations during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and other operations around the world.
“Many of them joined the VFW as young men when they returned from their military service,” Blurton said. “Even as they went back to their regular jobs and raised families, they met for camaraderie and worked to help their fellow service members and their communities. Our members continue to serve our veterans and our community daily.”
Blurton said the VFW planned to honor Frank James, a member for more than 70 years, but he was unable to attend the ceremony. Post leaders will present him with a plaque at a later date.