New Canaan’s John McLane, a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, joined a local VFW post soon after getting out of the military in 1969.
But it was many years before McLane started attending VFW meetings or involving himself in other events of the organization.
“Because I didn’t want to really think about it,” he said Wednesday morning.
Then in 2012, he became active in the New Canaan-based Howard M. Bossa and Peter C. Langenus Post 653 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
He took up yoga that same year, and within a few years befriended fellow yogi and New Canaanite Margaret Roscoe. Daughter of a Civil War buff who spent family car trips visiting battle sites and feels strongly about the military and veterans, Roscoe was already an active volunteer for the VFW, which hands out poppies on two weekends each spring to honor the nation’s war dead. At that time, the VFW also accepts donations to support the organization, which needs about $15,000 to $17,000 annually to purchase the flags and wreaths that are placed twice each year on the gravestones of veterans interred in New Canaan cemeteries.
Yet like many nonprofit organizations, the VFW’s fundraising efforts have been severely hampered for two years running by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a very difficult time,” McLane said, standing beside Roscoe in the lobby of his go-to local studio, Kaia Yoga on Park Street.
When Roscoe heard about the VFW’s need, she came up with a way that the local yoga community may help.
“We were doing yoga in that very yoga room,” she said, pointing, “and I just mentioned that I just missed giving out poppies and collecting donations and he said that they were really short on funds and that it was going to hurt them this year. And I thought, right then and there, we thought, let’s get the yoga community—because it’s such a loving, giving community of young energy and just a great group of often women—and I thought let’s get us included in what the VFW needs and does and it made total sense because he’s a yogi.”
And so “Yogis Support Our VFW” day was born. On Monday, Oct. 11., all proceeds from the 9:30 a.m. class at Kaia Yoga, as well as classes at Hot Hatha and Beyond and from instructors Lindsay Durfee and Julie Deery, will go to VFW Post 653. The donation box that typically is used during the poppies giveaway also will be out to accept those seeking to support the organization. (Those unable to come in person also can send a check made out to “VFW Post 653” to PO Box 653, New Canaan CT 06840.)
“I think that she is fantastic,” McLane said of Roscoe. “We have to make her an honorary veteran.”
Asked how he felt about the day of support coming together, McLane said, “It’s tremendous because we are very dedicated to getting the wreaths and the flags out there. And in the past when we have had some issues, we have ponied up ourselves. We would pass the hat. That gets a little tough. I would say two-thirds of our guys are retired that are active and the guys that aren’t active are very retired.”
Roscoe, who first became involved with the VFW through U.S. Army veteran Chris Cogswell, said that all of the yoga instructors and studio operators she reached out to said “absolutely, no problem” when asked to participate.
“And even some yogis that I know that aren’t going to be in town —I said to them, and this is just so in the spirit of yoga, I said how about you guys just dedicate your practice that day to the VFW? It’s also about bringing awareness to this amazing group of people.”
McLane, who had been a high school soccer and wrestling referee up until about six years ago, said he first met Roscoe when both of them were members of Saraswati Yoga in Norwalk. The local VFW, which turns 100 this year, is an all-volunteer organization that is supported by several civic groups in town, including the Boy Scouts, SLOBs, Daughters of the American Revolution and local Masonic Lodge, which lends Post 653 use of its Main Street building for monthly meetings.
The VFW is the lead organizer of the annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, as well as the Memorial Day Parade, picking the grand marshal and ensuring that the color guard and various bands can attend. In addition, the VFW gives back to the community through an annual scholarship awarded to New Canaan High School’s top history student.
A major gift of Post 653, an effort led by a former commander, the late Peter Langenus, are the new plaques honoring all New Canaan veterans placed in 2017 on the walls of the northern entrance to Town Hall. They cost upwards of $40,000, McLane said.
Speaking of Langenus, a fellow U.S. Army captain in Vietnam who also served as a colonel during Operation Desert Storm, McLane said, “Peter’s big thing—and most guys who are leaders in combat—the kids ask, ‘Am I going to die? And if I do, will anybody remember me?’ So as a leader, you feel badly if anybody dies anyway. But you damn well want to make sure that people remember them.”
Part of doing that is distributing the poppies. As another VFW member and local veteran, New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski, noted in a column published around Memorial Day this year, “The significance of the poppy in honoring our nation’s war dead is traced to World War I. From the battlefields of World War I, weary soldiers brought home the memory of a barren landscape transformed by wild poppies, red as the blood that had soaked the soil. By that miracle poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war and represented the hope that none had died in vain. The poppy has continued to bloom for the casualties wars, its petals of paper bound together for veterans by veterans, reminding America each year that the men and women who have served and died for their country deserve to be remembered.”
For McLane, this inaugural “Yogis Support Our VFW” day—it’s being held on Oct. 11 because that’s exactly one month before Veterans Day—isn’t really about Post 653 itself.
“This is about the guys in the ground who can’t be here, OK?” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”