Ray Conlin, a 98-year-old World War II veteran, celebrated 70 years on June 3, 2017, as a founding member of the Cooties within the VFW Post 1069 in Fairfield. The Hamilton native will celebrate 75 years as a member of the post in 2018. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
Photo: Michael D. Pitman
Photo: Michael D. Pitman

World War II veteran honored by Fairfield VFW

Ray Conlin will be a 75-year member of VFW Post 1069 next year, but his fellow veterans honored him this month as a charter member of the post’s Cooties service group. He is also the son of William Conlin, a founder of the post and former long-time Hamilton fire chief.

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The 98-year-old World War II veteran was part of the group that started the Cooties at Post 1069 in March 1947, and in a ceremony at the hall on Patterson Boulevard he was recognized. The Cooties does charity work, mainly visiting veterans in the hospital, Conlin said.

“It was an honor,” he said. “I really appreciated what they done for me, and they appreciated all of the hard work we’ve done over the past 70 years.”

Conlin, who enlisted in the Army at 21 years old in February 1942, served in Europe as a cook, starting in July 1943 until he returned home to his native Hamilton in November 1945. He served in England, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and among his honors, which includes the WWII Victory Medal, he received this past February the French Legion of Honor Medal and Citation for his service in France.

Conlin didn’t see any action during his time, except for a brief stint after he served in Paris.

“They took 18 men in our company and put us in the infantry for about six weeks,” said Conlin.

He said the spring of 1945, some 80,000 troops were being trained to cross the River Rhine. About a month later the war ended.

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After the war, he worked 17 years for the Diebolt Safe Company and then 13 years for Southwestern Steel.

VFW Post 1069 is the same post his father, William Conlin, helped to found in May 1929 and his mother, Helena Conlin, was part of the group that founded the post’s auxiliary in August 1937. William Conlin was Hamilton’s fire chief from 1929 until 1943, according to city records. He joined the department as a firefighter in May 1911.

“In fact, when he joined the fire department, he drove the horses,” Conlin said of his dad, a Spanish-American War veteran.

Conlin said he couldn’t wait to be assigned overseas so he could join the VFW, the same post that started over on B Street in Hamilton before moving a few times through the years south toward Fairfield. Veterans have to serve overseas during a military conflict in order to be eligible for membership.

“I couldn’t wait (to join),” said Conlin. “My mom and dad always went to the VFW meetings and conventions, and I wanted to do the same.”

Conlin, and his wife Mary of 69 years, have been active members of the post and its auxiliary.

The membership of the Fairfield post, as well as nationwide, has drooped over the years. There are around 1.7 million members nationwide, which is down from its highest point in the early 1990s when it was around 2.5 million.

Conlin called the decline of VFWs “sad.” A big part of membership declines are the deaths of World War II veterans.

“The guys coming back from over in Iraq and different places like that, they’re not interested in the VFW or the Cooties,” he said. “They have a different outlook. They’re picking up some, but not many.”

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