“People around the community think were the old farts that tell old stories,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars District Commander Kenneth Pike. “Well, we’re looking for some new stories.” Overseeing five VFW Posts across Southwestern Oklahoma, Pike says the organization is looking to younger veterans to share their experiences and put their fresh ideas into action at the Jackson County VFW in Altus.
“We’ve got many guys who are just coming back that are eligible for this organization,” said Pike, who believes most returning combat vets aren’t motivated to get involved at the local Post. “In their mind-sight they think, ‘What do we need it for?’ ”
New membership is a vital element for the organization to advocate for American Veterans. “You may not need us now, but we need you because you’re our number,” said Pike. “Once we have a number we can go to the Capitol and say, “Hey, I’m representing 8 million veterans. What are you gonna do for us?” Having 8 million members has a much greater impact on members of Congress than only having 5 million, he explained.
“The VFW is one of the premier organizations to lobby in congress when you are ready to receive those benefits,” Pike explained. “When you’re ready to get out, or if you’re injured and want to get help that is needed, we’re the ones that will fight in congress for you.”
One reason, Pike states, new veterans are not inclined to join is because of a stigma the VFW has with the general public of being “a bunch of old drunks.” However, he challenges that reputation.
“I’m one of the old drunks but I’ll tell you what, this Post, with it’s community activities and what we do, put back $105,000 into the community. I challenge you to go to any other bar in the community and see what they give back to the community.”
The VFW is not all about booze and liqueur Pike said. “We’re here for camaraderie. And when it comes down to working, you ask us to do it, and we’re gonna work.”
The VFW is in involved in other programs nation-wide. Pike highlighted a couple contests that are held for students to win scholarship money on a post level, district level, and state level. Ninth through 12th grade students can win a $30,000 scholarship by giving a three to five minute speech for a contest called “The Voice of Democracy.” Seventh and 8th graders can enter a 300 word essay into the “Patriots Pen” for a$15,000 scholarship. Topics are chosen by the VFW National Commander-in-Chief.
A New Generation
For the past three years Pike was the Quarter Master and keeper of funds, but as of this year handed the job over to VFW member Jon Rogers from the “younger generation.”
“Bingo is declining, and were set in our ways,” Pike explained. “So were having someone else take the reigns and let them run with it to get new ideas in there and get the post going. They spawned the recent Armed Forces Day Parade,” he stated. “These guys are saying, go for it! And so far have succeeded.”
The current top three chairs at the VFW post, who were instrumental in organizing the Armed Forces Day Parade this past May, are Post Commander John Coles, Senior Vice Commander Rick Willey, and Junior Vice Commander Josh Wilburg. Pike informed they are currently working to organize a Veterans’ Day Parade.
In 1974, Pike joined the organization at the VFW Post #555 in Yokata, Japan, while stationed at McChord Air Force Base in the state of Washington. McChord AFB was the hub where he flew out on regular support and refueling missions all over the world as a C-141 Flight Engineer.
It wasn’t until he came to Altus in 1985 that he became very active with the Jackson County VFW Post #4876. From Chaplain to Junior Vice Commander then Senior Vice Commander, Pike became the Post Commander in 1994, and has served in that chair a total of five times.
Then in 2001 Pike became the State Commander, being the 3rd from Post #4876.
“This post is unique in that we have six State Commanders from this Post,” Pike said. “As far as Oklahoma goes, it is hard to believe.” This was possible because the Jackson County Post has been very active, and is the second largest post in the state for membership, exceeded by Fort Sill VFW Post #5263 in Lawton.
In 2004, Pike was a National Council Member for the VFW representing Oklahoma and Arkansas at the national level.
Now as the District Commander, Pike recently learned that he is on a list of candidates to serve on the War Veterans Commission, since receiving a call from Governor Mary Fallin’s Office. If selected he would help oversee some aspects of Veterans Affairs and the seven veteran hospitals in Oklahoma.
In 1966 Pike joined the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era. He was already overseas when he received his draft notice.
Upon returning from Vietnam, Pike was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, less than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle. There he worked as a Crew Chief on the KC-135 Stratotanker for a year and a half until receiving orders to work with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome N.Y. for refueling and support missions.
After a year at Griffiss, Pike’s four year commitment had ended, and he decided he’d had enough “fun and games” and left the Air Force.
Pike worked for Butler Aviation at LaGuardia Airport in NYC. When he was there he met his wife Donna at the Airport, and they got married in 1970. Soon, Donna talked him into going returning to the Air Force.
Pike and his wife Donna moved to Tucson, Arizona and were stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. He states that there he was part of an “elite” unit where he “flew out” on missions many times on the drone carrying DC-130, with the Strategic Air Command.
His daughter Candice was born in 1974, and soon after moved to Altus where Pike was cross-trained as a student Flight Engineer for the C-141 Starlifter.
After completing school in Altus he was assigned to the 4th Military Airlift Squadron (MAS) at McChord Air Force Base in Washington. From there he traveled all over the world delivering crew and missiles to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and supplies to Thailand, Vietnam, and areas surrounding the Indian Ocean up until around 1985.
“I had 13 down range trips to Tehran when the Shah was still in power,” Pike stated. “I was also there when the U.S. Embassy was taken.”
Over this time, Pike progressively moved up to be a flight examiner for C-141 Flight Engineers.
Eventually Pike received orders to provide his expertise in Altus, so they moved here and worked as a C-141 Flight Engineer Instructor. After twenty-three and a half years of military service, he retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1989.
Around that time, Pike began working for Hughes Aircrafts where he continued to work on the C-141 for about four years. Hughes eventually lost their contract with the Air Force and was out bid by Flight safety. Pike worked under Flight Saftey for five years. Eventually that contract was outbid by another company, at which that time he decided to get out of the aircraft training business.
In 2000 Pike went to work for the City of Altus as a Computer Technician where he currently works.