Walens served with the United States Air Force and the New Jersey Army National Guard before joining VFW Post 3620 in Gloucester City. Now in its 99th year, the veterans' organization is home to one of the best-kept secrets in town.
"About 17 years ago, all this was, was somebody's attic," said Walens. "It was mentioned that, boy, this would really make a good museum."
Thus, the Donald "Doc" Doherty Veterans Museum was born. Located on the second floor of the VFW post at 27 Burlington Street, the hidden gem celebrates every era of United States military history. They are open from 11:00am to 4:00pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. However, with the current lack of foot traffic, the VFW is willing to welcome visitors any time that works for them.
"It's been tough two years," said VFW Post 3620 Commander John Gillespie. "During the pandemic, we lost three of our team members that support the building."
The crushing loss set back the ever-shrinking group of volunteers and nearly closed their doors for good.
"We got to shut down for a year," said Gillespie. "We still had to pay your bills, but we had nothing coming back in."
That's why Gillespie, a veteran of the United States Army, and Daniel Monk, a veteran of the United States Navy, rallied a group of less than 10 people to donate their time to keep the lights on.
"How do you tell someone to step up and do something for free, just to get this place up and running," Monk asked.
They are still looking for answers. Repairs are needed to the ceilings, bathrooms, and chair lift used to access the museum. The VFW has relied on donations from organizations and individuals in the community, but even those are running thin.
Older veterans like Gillespie say there's only so much their generation can do before they're gone.
"What we need is the younger veterans to come in. That's all I ask for," he said. "You guys did the work, so come enjoy this place. Come and shoot the breeze, play some pool. This is your house."
VFW Post 3620 also hopes to connect with area schools to start military education at a young age. Students should be prepared to see fascinating memorabilia representing the good, bad, and ugly elements of the United States and foreign militaries. Everything from replica planes, vintage coins, archival photographs, and rugged uniforms tell many stories worth hearing.
All group tours are by appointment only. To learn more, call 856 456 7135.
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