We pass it every day. For nearly 100 years, it’s sat proudly at one of Westport’s busiest intersections.
Yet VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 is also one of our town’s best-kept secrets.
It’s not for veterans only. It’s not a private club. It’s not smoke-filled (anymore).
It is a place where “guests” are welcome (just sign the book!). It is a place you can rent for your next reunion, birthday or anniversary party, shower or club meeting.
It does boast some of the best-priced food and drinks in town.
Oh yeah: There’s also a dock in back, with low-cost moorings, and slots for anyone to tie up before enjoying a great lunch or dinner.
The VFW has been a Westport institution since 1920. Named for a World War I veteran, it occupied a couple of different sites in Saugatuck. It moved to its present Riverside Avenue location — at the junction of Saugatuck Avenue, across from Treadwell — in 1973.
The property was donated to the chapter, which is part of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. Westport veterans like the Kowalsky and Veno brothers, and Buck Iannacone, helped construct the current, spacious and welcoming brick building.
Out in front — seldom noticed — is one of the original cannons made in 1799, placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate the 1777 battle against the British.
It was vandalized in 1957. The Rotary Club restored it, and presented it to the VFW. The cannons at the beach today are replicas.
In the 1980s, there were 150 or so active Post 399 members. Most were in their 60s or older, veterans of World War II and Korea.
That’s the traditional pattern of the post. Younger vets are busy raising families, and with careers. Once they retire, they have the time — and desire — to join.
Westport’s VFW counts over 180 members now, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But most are inactive. Leaders include Phil Delgado (Bosnia), and Tom Dubrosky and Bob Tirreno (both Vietnam). Viet vet Frank Veno is vice commander.
Joe Gallo runs the excellent food service. Lunch is 6 days a week in the summer, 7 in fall and winter. Dinner is served Friday nights; Saturday is usually private parties.
Though many Westporters don’t know it, Post 399 is available to rent. The lower level fits 150 people; the 2 rooms upstairs seats 60 and 45. Sports fans love the 9 flat-screen TVs throughout the 2 levels.
An open deck in back — with a stunning view of the river — was enclosed a while back.
Beyond the parking lot, the post has a dock with 24 slips. Most are rented (2 are donated to volunteer organizations). A few are available for anyone passing by, who wants to go in and enjoy lunch.
The Westport Fire and Police Departments hold regular events at the VFW. So do the Y’s Men, Kiwanis and other civic groups. VFW officials would love to host more.
But the VFW is not just about meeting, eating and drinking. Every Memorial Day they help provide the flags the Scouts place on veterans’ graves, and comprise the honor guard at the ceremony after the parade.
They collect flags so they can be disposed of properly; furnish buglers for vets’ funerals, and are a resource for veterans with questions of any kind (whether VFW members or not).
There’s an active auxiliary too. Once limited to service members’ wives, it’s now open to their children and parents too.
Fairfield County is not fertile ground for veterans’ organizations. The Norwalk VFW post closed a while back, and Fairfield’s is inactive.
But — nearly 100 years old — Westport’s Joseph Clinton Post 399 is going strong.
They want to be even stronger.
As the post’s century anniversary approaches, they’ve got big plans. They hope to raise $100,000 from the community. Funds will retire the mortgage, and help dredge the river.
“We hope to be around for the next 100 years,” says Tom Dubrosky. “We want to be here, so people who serve now and in the future will have a place to go.
“We’re here for veterans — and the entire town.”
(For more information on Westport’s VFW Post 399, click here or call 203-227-6796.)