Derry VFW Calls Bingo, Spreads Cheer for Veterans

Albert Kashulines, 84, accepted a package of snack crackers from Tony Bruno, a member of the Derry Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1617. “I used to go to the casino at Beaver Lake,” Kashulines said. “They had a slot machine. We only got nickels and dimes, but it was fun.”

The stakes became bigger when Kashulines joined the Air Force, served in Korea, and came back disabled. He is currently a resident of the VA Medical Center in Manchester. Kashulines enjoys the biweekly Bingo games hosted by the Derry VFW, which help him to forget – or remember, if he chooses to. And when he wants to remember, there’s someone to listen.

Kashulines owned a large farm in Hudson, across from the Presentation of Mary convent. He was a Nashua High School football star in 1946, and helped bring the team to the Gator Bowl in Florida.

Korea changed him physically, and changed some of his buddies for good. “There were guys we buried there, they weren’t brought back,” Kashulines said. “But that’s life.”

A full-time resident of the VA, he focuses on the positive, including his friends from Derry. “These games are fulfilling,” he said. “If I can play a good game before bed, I sleep better. They take good care of us.”

The games take place in a large recreation room, furnished with comfortable couches, a flat-screen TV, and tables high enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Residents chatted softly, read, or stared at the TV as the Derry vets set up for a recent game. Caller Maureen “Mo” Donovan, a member of the VFW Auxiliary, checked her equipment as Bill Lane, coordinator of the program, set out snacks on rolling carts and got an update on dietary needs from a staff member. The snacks are healthy, bananas and packaged crackers, but they still needed to be warned that one man couldn’t have any liquids.

“I have been doing this for three or four years, but the Post has been doing it longer,” Lane said. “We invited ourselves.”

The prizes are crisp new dollar bills, but the prizes are not the point, Lane said, noting, “It gets them out of their rooms.”

He usually gets a half dozen volunteers, and the Bingo players average 15 to 20.

VFW member and Town Councilor Richard Tripp strolled around the room, greeting older vets who have become friends. “I’ve been doing it for at least eight years,” Tripp said. He likes the older veterans, though he admitted some can be “ornery.”

“They are competitive and like to win,” Tripp said. “One night we almost had a fight.”

Ron Durgin wore an American flag hat embellished with pins denoting his service. “I was in the Army in Vietnam,” he said as he rolled himself up to a table. “I went from September 1968 to September 1969.”

Durgin, formerly of the Franklin-Tilton area, remembers too much. “One of our trucks hit a land mine, and six men from Manchester were killed,” he said.

He also saw his battery commander killed in a mortar attack. “He was a good commander,” Durgin said. “Captain Labonte, from Dover. You know any Labontes? He was a good man.”

Durgin said he enjoys Bingo night. “It breaks up the monotony,” he said. “And their Bingo (the Derry group) is one of the better ones. You get to win money, you get to see people.”

The World Series played quietly on the flat-screen, but the veterans preferred to chat and to wait for the start of the game. When the light-up Bingo board wouldn’t light up, Lane and some other members huddled around it, while Tripp asked jokingly, “Anyone want to do karaoke?”

“They forgot to pay the electric bill,” one of the residents quipped.

The problem was soon fixed, and the game began, with Lane thanking the residents for letting the VFW come in.

Connie Gilbert, one of the three women in attendance, deftly moved her hands over her Bingo cards. “I was in the Army in the early ‘70s, early ‘80s,” Gilbert said. “They medically-retired me. I fought that for a year and a half.”

She served for seven years, and had the paperwork to advance to the E-7 rank. “The doctor ripped it up in front of me,” Gilbert said. “He said, ‘You can’t receive a promotion when you’re getting a medical discharge.’”

Gilbert was born in Nashua and raised in Suncook. She moved to Pennsylvania and entered the Army from there, she said.

She’s a regular at the Derry group’s Bingo games and those run by other groups. “I study my cards before we play,” she said. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“One day the caller called seven numbers in a row that I didn’t have,” she said. “I said, ‘I wish you’d called them ahead of time. Then I could have taken a short nap.’”

But sometimes the cards align in her favor. She moved her G-46 tile and crowed, “Bingo!”

Though the money isn’t the point, Gilbert can always find a use for it. “Last month I won $12,” she said. “It was $2 a game.” She uses the money for snacks and treats, chiefly cappuccino, from the VA canteen.

Another resident made Bingo, and his fellow vets responded with a “Whoop! Whoop!”

Gilbert made Bingo two more times, and she entreated Auxiliary member Cathyjo Girgus to stand next to her. “You are my good-luck charm,” she said jokingly.

Derry VFW and Auxiliary members hovered near the residents, helping the nearsighted find numbers on their boards, bringing snacks and talking about life in general. They leaned closer to hear soft older voices. Volunteer Lucy Fayle circled the room with her “Minipin,” a miniature Doberman Pinscher named Chloe. Tripp read off the winning numbers for a man who does not speak and told him, “You did good.”

And when Gilbert missed Bingo in the final round, she shrugged and fanned out the dollar bills she already had. “There is always next time,” she said.

The Derry VFW will make sure of that.