Arma “Ham” Andon, now 94, still can vividly recall nearly every detail of his days spent fighting during World War II—and, in particular, the worst day of his life.
With a slightly distant look in his eye, the Army veteran remembers taking cover in his foxhole in Serrig, Germany, in March 1945, near the end of the war. An error had left members of the 2nd Battalion’s H Company of the 26th Infantry Division—for which Mr. Andon was acting commander—stranded and without anyone on its left flank to help fend off the Nazis.
As the bombs dropped and the bullets flew, it was hard for Mr. Andon to believe that he would ever make it back to his home in Westhampton Beach—and he almost didn’t.
When the fighting stopped, Mr. Andon had suffered a shattered leg, his abdomen ripped open and several pieces of shrapnel lodged throughout his body. Mr. Andon, who earned two Purple Hearts and other medals during his year-long tour of duty, spent the next few weeks recovering from his wounds in a European Army hospital before flying back to the United States and being honorably discharged that June.
“It all seems to work all right now,” he casually joked, referring to his injuries suffered nearly 70 years earlier.
In the days after World War II, Mr. Andon said he found comfort by talking to other soldiers who were also returning home and had their own stories to share. That is why in 1949, four years after it was founded, Mr. Andon joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5350 in Quogue.
And for 19 years—starting on January 24, 1994, to be exact—Mr. Andon had served as commander of the 160-member strong group. The longtime VFW member officially stepped down on April 1, handing over the reins to 80-year-old Frank Golder of Quogue.
When asked this week about his recent retirement, Mr. Andon said it seems like a good time to step down, noting that the organization is in solid financial shape and the Montauk Highway hall is in good condition. The former Westhampton Beach Village mayor will, however, remain an active member of the group.
Mr. Golder, who goes by Dave, was named the new post commander following a vote by the approximately 25 active members who participated in the selection process in March. Mr. Golder, who joined the VFW seven years ago and has served as the quartermaster—a position similar to treasurer—for the past six years, said in an interview this week that he is excited to take over the helm and move the organization forward.
“I just cannot say enough good things about him,” Mr. Andon said of his successor. “I am fond of him not only as a human being but as a leader.
“Before I even knew him he was willing to step up and be quartermaster,” he continued. “I can’t say this enough, but once he volunteered, my morale went straight up.”
Mr. Golder is a retired English teacher from the Lawrence School District in Nassau County, where he taught middle and high school students for 33 years. In 2006, he moved to Quogue with Delores, his wife of 53 years. They have five children and nine grandchildren.
Mr. Golder served as an Airman First Class Buck Sergeant for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, serving as an intelligence specialist for the branch’s security service division. At the beginning of the conflict, he was sent to Yale University in Connecticut, where he was taught Mandarin. Between March 1954 and March 1955, he was stationed on a small island off the west coast of Korea, where he spent his time interpreting radio transmissions and messages into English for his country.
“I fear neither heaven nor hell,” he said, reciting in Chinese a common enemy phrase overhead during his deployment. “I fear only a foreign devil trying to speak Chinese.”
As commander for the Quogue VFW, Mr. Golder has several things he wants to work toward, including raising money to install a larger canon in front of the hall and to recruit new, younger members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Another goal, which he shares with Mr. Andon, is to relaunch the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary. Mr. Andon explained that the group had an auxiliary when it was founded in 1945, but it has since died out. He added that in order to make that goal a reality, the group must recruit the wives of younger members, so it can be sustainable for years to come.
“What those women were able to do was a miracle,” Mr. Andon said, referring to the original members of the Ladies Auxiliary. “It was hard work. The older women would step in and help if it got started, but you need some younger women to keep it going.”
Other than that, Mr. Golder said he hopes to maintain financial stability for the organization, adding that the key lies in supporting what they already have. In addition to renting out the hall and bar, Mr. Golder said the VFW is supported through the sale of poppies, an annual golf outing, an arts and craft sale held on hall grounds each summer, and by hosting softball tournaments on its field.
This week, Mr. Golder said he is excited about his new role, but admitted that he has some big shoes to fill.
“I got to wish Ham the best for the rest of his time,” he said. “I want to thank him for his service to our country and here. I also want to thank him for his ongoing help in the time to come. He is a good man and it will be hard to follow in his footsteps.”