Constable: VFW honors dead, but Mount Prospect post's focus is on serving living veterans

  • Cmdr. Les Durov, left, and Dutch DeGroot have worked hard to make VFW 1337 of Mount Prospect one of the highest-ranked posts in the world.

      Cmdr. Les Durov, left, and Dutch DeGroot have worked hard to make VFW 1337 of Mount Prospect one of the highest-ranked posts in the world. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Having earned many awards during his service in the Army during the Vietnam War and the Air Force until his retirement in 2007, Dutch DeGroot leads many operations now for the Mount Prospect VFW Post 1337, and the state and national VFW.

      Having earned many awards during his service in the Army during the Vietnam War and the Air Force until his retirement in 2007, Dutch DeGroot leads many operations now for the Mount Prospect VFW Post 1337, and the state and national VFW. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Mount Prospect VFW Post 1337 has been compiling an impressive list of state and national awards, says Commander Les Durov. While the number of veterans nationwide is shrinking, Post 1337 has added members.

      Mount Prospect VFW Post 1337 has been compiling an impressive list of state and national awards, says Commander Les Durov. While the number of veterans nationwide is shrinking, Post 1337 has added members. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Serving with the military police and manning a gun on a helicopter during his years with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Dutch DeGroot later enlisted in the Air Force before his retirement in 2007, and now serves veterans in his duties with the VFW.

    Serving with the military police and manning a gun on a helicopter during his years with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Dutch DeGroot later enlisted in the Air Force before his retirement in 2007, and now serves veterans in his duties with the VFW. Courtesy of Dutch DeGroot

 
 
Updated 5/30/2022 12:11 PM

In 1980, the United States was home to 28.6 million military veterans. With less than 0.5% of our population currently serving in the military, the number of veterans is expected to drop to 12.9 million by 2040, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1337 in Mount Prospect has grown from 70 members to 117 in the past few years, and says it has the biggest and best Memorial Day event in village history planned for Monday.

 

"I don't like to brag," says Dutch DeGroot, 72, a post member who also serves as service officer for the VFW 4th District of Illinois. "But we are basically one of the top posts in the world, not just the country."

The Mount Prospect post has been awarded All American status the past three years and is counting on grabbing the VFW's highest honor again this year. It does that by honoring "yesterday's defenders of freedom" while focusing on the challenges veterans face today.

"Are you getting your benefits?" asks Les Durov, 70, commander of Post 1337, repeating the question that has become a mantra for the VFW.

"I use Zoom, email, everything I can to get the word out," says DeGroot, who spent his civilian career as a printer, graphic artist and media manager.

Of course, the annual Memorial Day events are a popular way to get the word out about what the VFW does. Post 1337's holiday begins about 9:25 a.m. Monday with the parade honoring those military men and women killed while serving our nation. It will feature the Prospect High School Marching Band, the Mount Prospect Community Band, Boy Scout Troop 23 and the traditional presentation of the flag, the placement of the wreath and the 21-gun salute. But the festivities also include a keynote speech from U.S. Army veteran Allen J. Lynch of Gurnee, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Vietnam War, and the firing of a cannon from the Civil War.

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Lynch was just 22 years old when his unit fell into a deadly firefight near the village of My An, Vietnam. Lynch "dashed across 50 meters of open ground through a withering hail of enemy fire to administer aid" to three wounded soldiers, reads his Medal of Honor Citation.

Not only did he carry those soldiers to safety, but Lynch stayed with the wounded as his company withdrew. He then carried the wounded to a safer location before single-handedly fighting off the enemy for hours until rescue forces arrived.

The Civil War cannon will be manned and fired by re-enactors representing the Union 1st Illinois Light Artillery Taylor's Battery. The cannon played a key role in thwarting the enemy at the Battle of Shiloh. Later captured by the Confederate Army, the cannon was recaptured by Union forces at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.

"War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting," author Mark Twain once said.

Durov served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Midway, a massive aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin that provided air support for troops on the ground during the Vietnam War. After the war, he became a salesman for Wonder Bread. He and his wife of 47 years, Victoria, live in Des Plaines and have three grown children and five grandchildren.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the Army during the Vietnam War, DeGroot was a door gunner in a OH-6 helicopter that flew low and generally was under fire. A military police officer, he later served in the Air Force during the Persian Gulf War and the war on terror before retiring in 2007 as a master sergeant. He and his wife of 50 years, Jan, live in Mount Prospect, and have three grown sons and six grandchildren.

Due to financial woes years ago, VFW Post 1337 sold its meeting hall to the Mount Prospect Moose Lodge. Now, the Moose Lodge lets the VFW host monthly meetings there. Vietnam veterans make up the bulk of the local leaders, but Durov says the post is attracting younger members.

Durov's senior vice commander is Kyle Brooks, a Rolling Meadows resident who has served in the Army and the Army Reserves since 2006 and was deployed to Iraq. Tony Cuellar, the senior vice commander pro tem from Mount Prospect, served with the U.S. Army in Kosovo in 2001, and in Iraq in 2004. For information about meetings, memberships or questions about benefits for veterans and their families, visit vfw1337.com.

"I get calls every day from veterans or families needing help," says DeGroot. He knows how to move through the bureaucracy to find the benefits they've earned.

DeGroot tells of the time he met a widow of a Vietnam veteran who simply wanted to thank DeGroot for his service. As they talked, DeGroot realized she was eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They walked her through the paperwork, making her eligible for $1,400 a month in benefits.

"A couple of months later, she was getting her check and she emails me: 'Dutch, I can finally retire,'" DeGroot says. "This is what we do to change people's lives."

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