‘The real mission is to help veterans where we can’ | Community profile

A new commander has taken the helm of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5760 on Mercer Island.

A new commander has taken the helm of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5760 on Mercer Island.

South end resident Frank Sorba replaces Gary Winterstein, a former Marine, who is relocating to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., this month after obtaining a master’s degree.

“I tease him about the Navy taking over,” Sorba said of Winterstein. Sorba was a Naval officer during the Vietnam War. He served on active duty from 1970 to 1973, and was in the active reserves from 1974 to 1976.

Sorba owns Innovative Solutions, a food manufacturing business in Kent, Wash. He joined Post 5760 in 2006. The post has around 70 members and expects to add up to 10 this fall. New, young members are joining from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Some want to be active and participate, and others come a few times a year — not too active, but they’re still members,” Sorba said.

An auxiliary group is also in the works: Friends of the VFW Post. Sorba said it is in the very early stages.

“It’s still conceptual; the leadership of the post is discussing it,” he said. “The idea generally is to create an entity that would allow us to include veterans that were not in foreign wars and community members who want to help support the activities of the VFW and the community.”

Under Winterstein’s leadership, Post 5760 raised more than $100,000 for Operation Restoration: revamping the Keewaydin Clubhouse with new siding and a new roof. The post has applied for a grant in order to repaint the building and restore the windows — keeping the original glass, but updating the window frames.

“The exterior is in pretty good shape,” Sorba said. “I’d like to do a little more landscaping and [have] a more formal area in the front where the flagpole is, to include bricks with veterans’ names on them.”

The Keewaydin Clubhouse is available to the public to be rented for events. The cost is $400, Monday through Thursday; and $550, Friday through Sunday. Discounts are available for veterans, nonprofit organizations and youth groups on a case-by-case basis. The clubhouse can hold up to 150 guests.

The Reporter sat down with Sorba for a chat.

Tell me about your service in the Navy.

I went to the University of California, Berkley, from 1966 to 1970. I went through the NROTC (Naval ROTC). Upon graduating, I was commissioned, became an officer and [was assigned] to the USS Newport News, a cruiser.

Our home port was Norfolk, Va., but we traveled to the North Atlantic, Caribbean, through the Panama Canal twice, and all throughout the Pacific. We were in Vietnam from April 1972 through December. And the Gulf of Tonkin and all up and down the coast … We were one of the last ships that had big guns that could fire from the sea. Our mission was to support our Marines and the Army, if they needed gunfire support. If they needed us, we would fire on targets [and] go from South to North Vietnam — [fire on a] missile site, or fuel storage points, or whatever target we were given. I read a history of what we did, and apparently we fired 90,000 rounds in 10 months.

I was honorably discharged as a lieutenant.

How do you define the role of the VFW Post in the Mercer Island community?

Our first mission is to help veterans who need help, financially, to do what we can for those veterans. We have veterans who go to the USO, the veterans’ hospital — we visit veterans. The real mission of the VFW is to help veterans where we can and how we can. Any veteran.

I’m happy and proud to have been elected the commander, but I’ve got big shoes to fill with Gary Winterstein leaving. All the work that he’s done and the time spent and doing what all of us didn’t think would be possible — getting that money raised and restoring that building as it has been done. He has done a fabulous job, and I would like to recognize that.

Will you increase Post 5760’s presence in the community?

Having read the Operation Restoration booklet, I realized that building [Keewaydin Clubhouse], it was built in 1922 by members of the community. They were volunteers. It was a community center … the VFW didn’t take it over until the early 1960s.

There are many folks that I know who are veterans or even non-veterans who would like to be included and participate in these functions. I’d like to be more inclusive. There are a couple ways; one would be to reactivate the auxiliaries. There are provisions for men and women auxiliaries to participate.

Officers of VFW Post 5760 include Bob Harper, senior vice commander; Mike Cero, junior vice commander; Mike Gazarek, quartermaster/bookkeeper; Kevin Jackson, adjutant; Brian MacKinnon, chaplain; and John Solem, judge advocate.

Meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month from September through May.