Person of the Week
Tom Kehoe Keeps Finding Ways to Serve
A U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era, Tom Kehoe is an active member of both VFW Post 9918 and the American Legion. (Photo courtesy of Tom Kehoe)
More than 10 years ago, Tom Kehoe was asked to join VFW Post 9918 in Clinton.
“The commander lived right next to my parents. He asked me to join one day and I agreed,” Tom remembers.
Now, Tom is the post’s chaplain and adjutant.
The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) is the oldest veterans group in the country and was founded in 1899 to help secure rights and benefits for veterans of the Spanish American War who were returning home. Since then, the organization has worked to support veterans of all foreign wars in a myriad of ways from charity drives to memorial services to lobbying for the passage of the G.I. Bill.
As adjutant, Tom says, “I do the minutes of the meetings, all correspondences, make sure everyone is on the page with our calendar. I’m responsible for doing some of the outreach.”
As chaplain, Tom opens meetings or dedications, such as the one coming up on Memorial Day, with a brief prayer.
Asked what he likes most about the VFW, Tom replies, “The comradeship, the common experiences. All understand the lingo and can talk to one another.”
That hasn’t always been the case however.
Tom served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972 during the Vietnam War. During his time in the service Tom spent time stationed in Sacramento, Southeast Asia, and Guam. Due to the controversy and unpopularity of that war, not every veteran was treated with respect once they got home.
“The Vietnam veteran was not looked on [as] well esteemed, but now it’s 100 percent better, and we have learned from our mistakes,” Tom says.
Now, Tom says people are more understanding and respectful of veterans from conflicts including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
While his time in the Air Force was wrapping up, Tom began working with construction crews and eventually electrical groups where he found a new passion: being an electrician.
“That’s how I got my life’s work. I kept in my mind, ‘Boy I really like this,’” says Tom.
When he was out of the service, Tom eventually became an apprentice in New Haven, then worked for Connecticut Light & Power and on other electrician jobs for close to 30 years.
In Clinton, VFW Post 9918 meets at 7:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the post at 82 West Main Street in Clinton. Tom says the post is a great way for veterans to find camaraderie and to express themselves. Tom said that new members who wish to join just need their DD214—the form that states where they served.
To be a VFW member, one must have been in a theater of combat, however the American Legion, of which Tom is also a member, accepts members who were active duty no matter where they served.
“When in doubt, just call me, it can all be very complicated and we’ll help sort it out,” Tom advises, steering callers to 860-669-6979.
Throughout the year, the VFW holds a number of different events from blood drives to partnerships with the American Legion aimed at helping veterans to fundraisers. Tom’s favorite project is the Veteran’s Walkway in Post Office Square. The walkway is made from bricks, each bearing the rank, military branch, country of conflict, and years of service of a U.S. veteran.
The bricks are for anyone who wants to honor a friend or family member that has served whether they are a Clinton resident or not. New bricks are added twice a year, usually around Memorial and Veterans days. They are designed by Shelley Brothers Monuments and installed for free by Grove Gardens in Clinton.
Tom credits Post 9918 members Ray Apel and Ray Szewezyk with helping to start the project. The men had seen a similar idea in Madison and decided to bring it to Clinton in 2013. Since then, the walkway has been decorated with 324 bricks.
“I think that’s the big accomplishment to see that all the way through,” Tom says.
Pitching in and helping others is something that Tom says he has tried to do since he got out of the service.
“When I became a Christian [in the ‘70s] is when I really felt that it’s a good thing to try and give back when you can,” Tom says. “You’re not looking for recognition or anything, it’s just a good thing to do.”
Tom was born in Flushing in Queens, New York, but has called Clinton home for almost 50 years.
“My father was a New York City firefighter and he retired and moved up here and when I got out of the service, he showed me how to get here because I had no idea!” Tom jokes.
Now retired himself, Tom says he likes to spend his time golfing, wood working, or keeping busy with church activities. Tom says he likes the small-town atmosphere and enjoys being near the water, though he concedes that it took time for the town to grow on him.
“It took a couple years—you go from the heightened atmosphere to this,” he says. “It doesn’t go overnight from being used to Flushing to Clinton!”