Alliance for Retired Americans celebrates 84th anniversary of Social Security with bingo and cake at area veterans’ homes

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By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Correspondent

ST. JAMES, MO — The Missouri chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans recently helped residents of the Missouri Veterans’ Home in St. James celebrate Social Security’s 84th anniversary by hosting an annual bingo game and providing a special sheet cake for the occasion. Two U.S. Army veterans (seated, from left) Richard Koester, 83, who served stateside during the Cold War, and Clyde Erxleben, 97, a machine gunner who was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe during World War II, are joined by (standing from left) Dave Meinell, president of the Missouri chapter of the ARA; Julia Burton, activities supervisor at the veterans home, and Kevin Madden, a member of the Missouri chapter of the ARA and retired Labor Tribune staffer. – MoARA photo

The Missouri Chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans recently celebrated the 84th anniversary of Social Security at veterans’ homes in St. Louis and St. James, bringing bingo and big prizes to the men and women who have served our country.

The ARA, a national organization with chapters in more than 30 states and comprised of both retirees and working people, fights for issues directly affecting seniors such as drug prices, Medicare and Social Security.

The Missouri chapter has hosted annual bingo games celebrating the anniversaries of Social Security at the Missouri Veterans Home in North St. Louis County since 2013 and in St. James for the past five years.

The 100 or more guests won cash prizes, a commodity for most who rarely have cash in their pockets.

“I didn’t win, but I got $5 when I left,” said one veteran as he steered his wheelchair out to the vestibule. “I’m really proud of that. I really appreciate it.”

The Alliance collects donations throughout the year to support their volunteer efforts. This year’s collections grew well past the funds needed for winners, so each of the residents were given $5 as a consolation prize.

REMEMBERING THEIR SERVICE
Up in age, they may not remember everything in their life, but every one of the veterans talked with remembered well their military experiences.

KOREAN WAR VETERAN Clarence Blechle, 91, (seated) has a winner on his bingo card as Veterans’ Home staff member checks his numbers. – Labor Tribune photo

Korean War Veteran Clarence Blechle, 91, said he was drafted in 1952, sent to Fort Leonard Wood and then taken to Korea. His most vivid memory is how cold it was —70-below-zero at times.

Willie Warner served in Germany from 1978-1981.

“Remember when President Reagan said, ‘Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev,’” Warner said. “I fought to have that wall torn down.”

Dwayne Savo has lived at the St. Louis Veteran’s Home for 12 years. He served in the Air Force Strategic Air Command during the Vietnam War.

“They told me they were sending me to “the black pearl” of the Pacific. It turned out to be a desolate island,” Savo said. “A C-141 Starlifter parachuted us out. The commander told us when you land, dig a fox hole and stay there three days, and if you don’t see the enemy, leave and search for Americans. He was 19 years old at the time.

Savo said he always remembers his Staff Sergeant James Clark.

“He was my superior. He helped me a lot. When President Nixon went on the radio and said ‘The Vietnam War is over,’ Sgt. Clark told me, ‘Some way we’ll see each other again,’” Savo said. “Then when I got my job at the Postal Service, it turned out my Staff Sergeant was working at the same place.”

He didn’t fare as well with the sweetheart he left behind.

“We agreed to wait for each other,” Savo said. “She married my best friend.”

Savo was honorably discharged on May 25, 1974.

“I remember the dates perfectly. In fact, my bingo cards have my admission and honorable discharge dates on them,” Savo said. “I guess they’re lucky.”

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