Arthur "Doc" Sheehan is proud of recognition he received this month but speaks uneasily of the honor, worried others are more deserving.
Sheehan was named August's veteran of the month by the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs as someone who has gone above and beyond in service to the veteran community and the Elgin area. He served three years as commander of the Watch City VFW Post 1307, a period of special growth and activity for the organization.
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"It's not what an individual does," Sheehan said. "It's what their team does. Because of the team I had here, we looked good. We took care of business when we had to."
The post was mentioned in the national magazine VFW twice during Sheehan's tenure -- once for organizing construction of an addition for Randall "Skeeter" Kucharski, a VFW member who had a stroke and couldn't make it up the stairs to his second floor bedroom. The post helped get Kucharski a new bedroom and wheelchair-accessible bathroom in 2009.
They also helped the family of Elgin staff Sgt. Miguel Valdivia after he was wounded in the shootings at Fort Hood in 2010 by organizing a remodel of Valdivia's basement. The work allowed Valdivia to heal with less stress, knowing his family was taken care of.
Sheehan said in both cases he got the ball rolling on the projects that ultimately received overwhelming support from throughout the community.
As post commander from 2009-2012, Sheehan was an easy target as the face of the local VFW's success. The post was given All-State rank in the 2009-2010 year and in 2011-2012, when it also was named all-American for the first time since its inception in 1929. The highest award came in part because of increasing membership.
But Sheehan insists the all-American honor -- and the veteran of the month title -- is not his alone, focusing instead on a team effort he only became a part of more than a decade after his return from war.
Sheehan served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972 with a tour in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971. He joined the reserves after his service ended before leaving the military in 1975. Sheehan experienced much of the rejection other Vietnam veterans did upon their return, complete with protesters in the airport when he landed. He said his fellow military men were not even welcomed in VFW halls by World War II vets who had similar prejudices against the war.
Not until 1986 did he reconnect with the VFW following Chicago's welcome home parade for Vietnam veterans. He joined a post in Glendale Heights -- where he served as commander from 1989-1990 -- then moved to Elgin after getting married. Ever since the parade Sheehan has put his heart and soul into the local club and the VFW's commitment to honor the dead by helping the living.
"Every one of us veterans that's back here right now is a survivor," Sheehan said. "Some feel guilty about that, others maybe less so. In order to honor the guys and girls that didn't come home, it's our job to help the younger veterans and do what we can for the communities."
The post has grown its membership by reaching out to young veterans, offering services and support for those fighting the more recent wars and referrals when more is needed.
"I'm in awe of today's veterans who are serving two and three tours in combat zones," Sheehan said. "One year, believe me, is plenty."
VFW members don't just sit in their club telling war stories, Sheehan said -- though Elgin members are especially comfortable in their club now, thanks to a $258,000 addition completed last summer. The VFW, along with its counterparts in the American Legion and other veterans organizations, are active in Washington and tireless in communities offering support.
Looking back at more than 25 years with the organization, Sheehan said the VFW has given him a chance to be part of a group effort to improve something -- individual's lives included.
"Being a member here gives me a chance to work side by side with my heroes," Sheehan said. "Guys that have done a lot more than I have and have done fantastic work for veterans."