A Closer Look: Veterans thumb nose at ban

MANSFIELD — Canteen manager Jerry Cline says he doesn’t mind if folks light up inside AMVETS Post No. 31 in Ontario.

“As long as it’s not the wacky tobaccy, I’m cool with it,” Cline said.

He is one of the many veterans club leaders across the county living in fear of health department inspectors. Not as aggressively opposed to the ban as some bar owners, veterans club operators are merely trying to survive on slim profit margins. They say that without smoking, that is impossible.

“Ninety percent of my members smoke,” said Bill Chapman, former Commander at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Local 9943 in Madison Township. “We’ll go under if we can’t allow it.”

Members only are admitted at local AMVETS and VFW clubs. Doors are locked and visitors must ring a bell, speakeasy-style.

Inside, men with Seabees and Flying Tigers mesh caps drink Budweiser from the bottle, Busch from the can or water in plastic cups. Chapman’s VFW has bingo seven nights a week, several large ventilation fans and two bartenders.

Many of the men who go there were given their first packs of smokes by the military — some in Guam, some in Korea, others in Vietnam. Even those who don’t partake grew up accustomed to the habit, and have little or no problem with those that do.

“They fought in World War II and you’re going to tell them not to smoke?” Chapman asked.

Gene Frontz served in Guam during World War II and remembers when cartons of Camels were 50 cents at the Army Post Exchange.

The 81-year-old said that when he heard about the ban, he “thought the law was crazy.”

When he joined the service at age 17, his commanding officer gave him a cigarette cheap— “and I went out and bought a carton,” he said.

Thus began a 64-year, pack-a-day habit.

“If you don’t want to smoke, don’t smoke,” Frontz said.

Jerry Cline said health department investigators are a constant worry.

“They were peeking through the windows the last time they came in here,” he said. “That’s why we keep the blinds closed now. We used to keep them open to watch traffic.”

Ten complaints in two years have been lodged against the AMVETS, while the Grace Street VFW has faced 14, the latest coming May 17.

“If the bartenders were volunteer we wouldn’t have a problem, but people don’t tend bar for free,” Cline said.

Maybe the biggest insult for the clubs is because one must be a member or the guest of a member to come in, no one’s sure who’s doing all the reporting.

“You can’t face your accuser,” Chapman said. “We have no idea who it is.”

source: www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com

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