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Eric Beers of Saegertown has been installed as commander of the 28th District of the Veterans Foreign Wars, which includes VFW posts across Crawford, Erie and Mercer counties.

SAEGERTOWN — When Eric Beers was installed as commander of the 28th District of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on May 6, it was the first time in five years the torch of leadership has passed out of the hands of a Mercer County veteran.

The 28th District encompasses the 25 VFW posts across Crawford, Erie and Mercer counties.

For Beers, the honor caps a lifetime of service to country and community that began almost as soon as he received his diploma from Saegertown High School in 1989.

Though Beers stepped from the classroom directly into the U.S. Navy, the spark that guided him onto this path was lit at a Memorial Day Parade in Meadville over 30 years ago.

Beers and his dad were enjoying the parade when a contingent of World War II veterans marched by. Beers turned around in time to catch a glimpse of a tear rolling down his father’s cheek.

When the future sailor asked why his father was crying, he was given the reply, “It’s because of those men that we’re free.”

The moment has stuck with Beers his entire life.

Growing up near Woodcock Dam, Beers was exposed to several men who had served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Jim Burke, his next-door neighbor, was a Pearl Harbor survivor. The neighbor on the other side was a Navy veteran, an Army veteran lived across the street.

Both of Beers grandfathers had fought in World War II, and his father was an Air Force veteran.

“I came from a pretty solid military background,” said Beers.

By the time he was a student attending Crawford County Area Vocational-Technical School, Beers’ mind was pretty well made up about his future plans. “I had full intentions of going to the service,” he said.

Beers credits his vo-tech teacher, Jim Smith, with the inspiration for the branch of service he would choose. Smith had been a Seabee in Vietnam.

By the time Desert Storm rolled around, Beers was machinery repairman 2 assigned to Operation Provide Comfort. The mission was to offer aid and comfort to Turkish Serbs coming out of the mountains of northern Iraq. Beers said 90 percent of those aided were relocated to Israel.

Following his discharge in 1993, Beers returned to Saegertown and made the assimilation into civilian life. He got a job, married, had children and pursued the American dream.

Fifteen years ago, Beers joined VFW Post 169 in Venango. For the last 11 years, he has served as an officer in some capacity.

“Something that keeps me going in the VFW is not the price you paid to belong, but the price you paid to be eligible,” he said.

Beers enjoys the camaraderie and what the VFW stands for. Beers believes the purpose of the VFW’s hasn’t changed since the first post building went up in 1899 as a place for Spanish-American War veterans to gather to sit down and talk with other combat veterans.

The pride is evident in Beers’ voice as he describes the services the VFW give back to the community.

The VFW is very active in promoting Americanism such as proper flag etiquette. Millions of dollars are raised every year by the VFW to combat Type II Diabetes.

Youth programs are very integral to the VFW. Boy and Girl Scout troops, baseball teams, citizenship education and several safety programs are operated by or directly benefit from local VFW posts.

One of the youth programs Beers gets excited about is the Voices of Democracy/Patriots Pen essay contests. Thousands of scholarship dollars have aided area students in their college dreams due to their efforts in the contests.

On May 7, Beers received word he had been honored as an all-state commander for his work with Post 169. In order to receive this distinction, a post must score 100 percent in all its programs, including membership.

Outgoing District Commander Ernie Huffine of Jamestown has left Beers in position to duplicate this feat on the district level. The 28th District currently scores 98 percent, lacking only 153 members as of April 30 to achieve a perfect score.

Those who want to see the fighting side of Eric Beers only have to mention eroding veterans’ benefits. As a veterans advocate, Beers gets upset when any veterans funding is cut by legislation.

“They’re taking more stuff away from us every day,” he said.

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