Emotions sweep over Eugene "Gene" Ogozalek when he talks about designing buildings for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world, honestly and truly," the Purple Heart recipient said. "It goes right to my heart."
Ogozalek, an Olyphant, Pennsylvania, native, suffered significant shrapnel wounds Jan. 25, 1968, in Vietnam when he was 18. Only 46 days into his tour of duty as an infantryman with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, a mortar exploded 6 feet away from him. The explosion launched shrapnel into his arm, leg and head. His flak jacket saved his life, he said.
After recovering from his injuries, he enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans to study architecture.
Now semiretired and living in Scranton, Ogozalek, 69, made it his mission to design one new VFW or Disabled American Veterans post each year, beginning with VFW Post No. 7251 in Throop.
Although the career architect has undertaken sizable projects, like working as the project manager and designer for the Mall at Steamtown, Ogozalek said he enjoys simple projects like the post.
Sitting at the horseshoe-shaped bar in the aging Post 7251 building and sipping a glass of Jack Daniels on the rocks, Ogozalek explained that he offered his services to the VFW at a heavily discounted rate, designing preliminary plans and spending 150 hours to construct a scale model of the post. He priced the model at $4,000 but said he only charged the VFW $500 for materials.
The post has seen better days, said Commander John Tomasovitch. After fending off termites twice and dealing with a deteriorating foundation, the more than 50-year-old building is facing a "countless number of issues" that Tomasovitch is "glad we won't have to address" if they build a new post within the next year and half. Post 7251 will wait until its new building is complete before tearing down the current post, he said.
The new, 2,800-square-foot post will sit behind the current VFW post at 179 Boulevard Ave., near the bank of the Lackawanna River. Ogozalek designed the post with a row of large windows and a porch at the back of the building that overlook the river. He recommended making the post one story to cut down on costs and complexity for things like fire safety regulations.
The new post will be disabled accessible, and Tomasovitch expects it will increase membership to the VFW, along with giving them more fundraising opportunities.
"I think it's going to be a good asset for everybody, not just the veterans," he said. "I strongly believe that every VFW in the state that has built a new building has increased their membership."
Post 7251 has already grown to 102 members, with veterans spanning the Korean War to present day, Tomasovitch said.
"There's a lot of positivity with this happening among the members," he said, explaining they're already looking forward to watching fishermen, canoes and events on the river.
Tomasovitch anticipates the entire project costing between $400,000 and $500,000, and the VFW post is reaching out to businesses for volunteers and donations to help defer the cost. They will kick off their fundraising May 11 with a chicken barbecue.
A Persian Gulf War veteran himself, Tomasovitch called Ogozalek's help an asset to the post.
Ogozalek is happy to help a group of men who he considers patriots.
"Here's a VFW. I'm a service-disabled veteran donating most of my services to other veterans who are really wonderful people," he said. "They really are."
This article is written by Frank Wilkes Lesnefsky from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.