V.F.W. Member Brenda Cruickshank, left, is presented with the title of Commander of the State of Vermont during the Vermont V.F.W.’s Annual Meeting on Sunday at the Holiday Inn in Rutland.
RUTLAND — In a formal ceremony Sunday afternoon at their statewide convention in Rutland Town, the Department of Vermont Veterans of Foreign Wars installed 14 new officers, including the second woman commander in the department’s history.
Commander Brenda Cruickshank, who served 22 years of active duty as a nurse in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, was the senior vice commander from 2013 through 2014, and currently sits on Veterans Advisory Councils for Gov. Peter Shumlin and Sen. Bernard Sanders.
“I felt very humble,” she said, talking about waking up on Sunday morning, “and I still remain humble.”
Cruickshank, 59, of Northfield, is also the department’s legislative liaison to the State House, serves on the board of trustees for the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, and helped establish women’s health care at the Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction.
During her installment speech, she quoted John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech, before saying: “We’ve all served our country. We’ve all given to our country ... We live that statement from Kennedy. It’s a shame that more don’t.”
Cruickshank made a point to be brief, to talk about volunteerism, and to tell the story of Maj. Isabelle McKenzie, a woman who served in the Normandy “D-Day” Landings on June 6, 1944, and wasn’t in the history books.
“She gave her life for this country,” she said. “Until I worked with Maj. McKenzie, I did not realize that women were in D-Day. We did not see it in history that women were on those beaches.”
Keeping with tradition from the national VFW nonprofit organization, Cruickshank will serve a single one-year term.
The weekend-long convention also brought together more than 250 people, including hundreds of veterans and many ladies auxiliary members, who are eligible to join if someone in their immediate family served in any branch of the U.S. military on foreign soil.
“This is the ceremony, but throughout the year we do a lot of good,” said Catherine DeMarco, the newly installed chief of staff to the Department of Vermont Veterans of Foreign Wars.
DeMarco, of Springfield, was a commander in the U.S. Navy, and served in Korea.
“I wasn’t in combat, but a lot of my peers were,” she said. “When they come back, they usually won’t talk about their experience, but that doesn’t mean they don’t carry it with them.”
Deborah Gilmond, the outgoing department president of the Ladies Auxiliary VFW, said the state’s 18 posts across the state perform extensive community service.
The members donate to the veterans home in Bennington, engage the state’s youth in art and essay competitions, and raise money to donate to cancer research in Burlington. Volunteers also send phone cards to troops stationed overseas, and help equip soldiers with digital technology so they can have face-to-face conversations with their families.
“We’re looking for people all the time,” Gilmond said. “The supporting could be anything from making a bag of brownies to helping get the tables set up at the convention.”
“It’s a group of veterans and ladies auxiliary who care for the United States and the community,” said Jane Laviletta, 68, of Highgate Center.
“I joined under my father, who was a prisoner of war for World War II, and I married a husband who was a Vietnam veteran,” Laviletta said. “Although, my dad never liked to talk about being a prisoner of war.”
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