Tending Bar with Billy Moore


William Moore, called Bill or Billy by most, is the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7765 in Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York. He tends the bar at the club’s headquarters, at the corner of Fisk and Elizabeth streets in Red Hook, where he serves members and their guests drinks for prices from an earlier era. We spoke on two separate occasions back in early November as he was opening the bar on Friday afternoons and as he served me mugs of Budweiser for a dollar each.

WS: Could you describe your childhood?

BM: Yeah, I guess I can. I was born in Yonkers, New York. And moved to Red Hook, basically right around the Kindergarten age. And, went to Red Hook Central. Graduated from Red Hook Central in 1967. At the time, I was going to go to Dutchess. But I didn’t have the funds at the time. Uncle Sam sent me a letter. So, a friend of mine, Teddy, and myself went up to the Marine Corps to join. 

And, I had a heart murmur and they rejected me. 

And, then, shortly thereafter I got my letter saying Uncle Sam needed me to fulfill my duties in the service. So, at that point when I went up there—it was up in Albany—and we spent the night in a motel up there. And the next morning we took the oath and at that time in the draft they lined us up; they had the Marine Corps, the Army and the Navy. Just kind of, one-two-three one-two-three. 

And we went on in.

And I ended up going to Great Lakes Boot Camp. And, from Great Lakes—. When I graduated from boot camp, which was a twelve-week period—and it was extremely cold ’cause I went in in January. It was a quick and difficult time. 

And from there, I went to Memphis, Tennessee. I was in Memphis when Doctor King was killed. 

Not that I knew that much about Doctor King at the time. But I was there at that time.

And, I went through A-School. And, upon graduation from A-school, I was sent to Meridian, Mississippi. Which was another southern area. And that was another interesting time, I guess, from being up north here and going down south. With the civil rights and the civil rights movements. It was a very interesting time in Mississippi. And Meridian was where the Grand Knight was at that time. 

WS: What’s the Grand Knight?

BM: The Grand Knight is the head of the KKK. So, that was a very active area at the time. 

WS: So, were you ever on any type of patrol duty down there? 

BM: Well, the first couple weeks I got there before I started getting into my squadron and doing work that I was going to be doing—yeah, you did patrol around the base. And there were some people who—I don’t really want to say what they were doing—were found on the base property on the outside area. And the Navy had jurisdiction in trying to find out who did what and take care of those people. Where it wasn’t anything to do with the local police or sheriff’s department down there. It was on the base, so they washed their hands of the whole thing. 

And then, from Meridian, Mississippi, I went to Jacksonville, Florida, and that’s where I detached with an attack squadron. A-7 planes. And then, from there, we went to sea. And then went over throughout the North Atlantic and then to the Pacific. 

And then to the Vietnam area. 

And my main job was working the flight deck on carriers. Oxygen. Troubleshooting planes that didn’t have oxygen or had some sort of malfunction. Pressurization. 

And we did ejection seats and the packing of the parachute. And making sure everything was proper. And then you’d help with the ordinance. 

We had the A-7s and a couple F-8s. And fly different missions. Not that I flew missions. But, during flight operations, you’re up there doing your duties and work and keeping the ship moving. 

WS: How long were you around Vietnam?

BM: I had a little over two years of sea time. So, I was in and out. I was an air crewman on a ship, so sometimes you would be helicoptered off—if we were going to rescue some people. But that wasn’t a main job. You’d fill a lot of different responsibilities. 

WS: Can you remember your hardest moment, or hardest time, while enlisted?

BM: Some of the harder times was when friends or people you knew—. Like aboard the carrier a couple times we had accidents. We had a couple accidents with planes in recovery. Breaking the cable. A couple of them going off the side of the ship. One plane—one of the guys I knew in my squadron was on the A-3 and it went off. It was a cold cat. And a cold cat is when they jettison you off the carrier and there’s not enough steam to get that plane airborne. 

Didn’t have enough thrust and they’d go down into the drink. And the carriers at that time, and even today, you don’t have enough time to maneuver. And a lot of times they just go right over—.

So, that was, kind of devastating. 

And we had a few planes, the pilots were coming in to land and missed and went through the cables.

I would say, with my two different crews, we had six planes that crashed. 

And some, when they came in they’d spin off into another plane.

It was just nasty and you had to make sure sure you get out of the area quickly. 

But it was better I guess being an airdale than being in the jungles of Vietnam. 

But, just being on the flight deck sometimes with all the movement and planes. I know once I was going across the flight deck and a Phantom caught me—the exhaust of a Phantom. 

And just shot me bouncing. I was bouncing on the flight deck, just trying to grab one of the ties. ’Cause throughout the carrier on the top, are spots where they tie the planes down. 

I was just grabbing for anything. But around the whole entire ship is a three-foot fence area that catches you if you go—. You know, hopefully it catches you. 

And, but you just grab so you don’t get to that point. 

But the most difficult times, mainly, were just different friends that I had at that time not making it back. 

Without getting into the gory area. 

A couple of the members we have here were airborne, landing in Vietnam. And then there were guys with the agent orange that dealt with destroying foliage and they had intake into their system, which causes cancer. And some of their kids who were born have different little inflictions or problems because of that stuff. 

And, at the time they did the agent orange to destroy the foliage so you could see the enemy better. It killed things. The bad part is it started infecting people. Some of the blue Navy—Congress is just recognizing that some of those guys with the air movement and shifting of pollutants was doing damage and hurting them. 

WS: Were you in for four years?

BM: Yes, a little shorter because I was on for sea time and they extended my time. Which upset me because we all had these calendars that you were checking off and filling in as you got closer to the end date. And I remember because myself and this other guy, they extended him, we were just upset. 

I remember just taking the calendar off—. 

And then a couple weeks later, I got a letter from the captain of the ship and his orders were that I’d probably be leaving earlier. So I got home the day before Thanksgiving. 

So, that was good.

But, you don’t know sometimes if your relief is going to get there in time. And if it doesn’t then you stay longer. 

WS: What was life like when you came back from the war?

BM: When I first got here basically I did a lot of partying. I mean, I probably spent the first year going out and having a good time, enjoying things. Back at that time, when I first came home, we used to have a place—Bard College owns it now—which was called Adolph’s. 

And I spent many, many nights there. You always had the young Bard kids there. So there was always action going on. 

And Adolph, who owned the place, if anybody got rowdy and carried on—they were out. 

So I spent time there. And in that timeframe, we would sometimes go to the bowling alley and Shirley there, who is deceased now—but Shirley and her husband owned the bowling alley. And we would go in there sometimes, have a couple drinks, and she’d give us ice and we’d put it in a cooler and either buy some beer there or buy some beer at Adolph’s, put it in the ice, and then we used to sit down by the river. And a lot of people that I had gone to school with, some of my friends at that time, we would all go down there. It was just fun. 

And back then if the troopers or the sheriffs would come down to check on what was going on, as long as you kept everything clean, didn’t make a mess, they didn’t bother you. 

And then I went to the Postal Service and started working. And what happened there is I started in Poughkeepsie and they had done away with my position there. And ended up they sent me, ended up going to Hyde Park to work there. So, that was about the first year of my freedom. 

And then a number of years after that—. Probably a little more than ten years, then I end up joining the V.F.W. here. And then a few years after that they were having some functions and needed help. I came to help, volunteered my time. 

And you could say I’ve kind of been doing that since.

WS: Are you still with the Postal Service?

BM: Nope, I retired. I had forty-one years, eleven months. And then I had a little over three years of annual time that I sold back to them. And then I had sick time that added on to my retirement. Which I think I had a little over three years of sick time. 

And you don’t get the money that you’d get, but it adds on to your retirement so it does help out.

WS: And you’re the commander here, right?

BM: I’ve been the commander nineteen years here. And I was the county commander when we had a county V.F.W.—we no longer have a county V.F.W.

And then I was district commander when 9/11 happened—when they bombed down in New York the Trade Center, I was district commander then. And it’s ten counties that compromises the district. It’s Manhattan, Staten Island, Orange County, Putnam County, Westchester, Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess. 

And, as we talk now, out of the ten county councils, now we’re down to five county councils. 

Lack of having people take positions and lack of interest in those things. 

So, as the organization has gone over all these years, the numbers are getting less. 

In the district, Yonkers V.F.W. 375 is the largest post within the district. And then Kingston is second. And then Red Hook, we’re third. 

WS: By membership?

BM: By numbers, yeah. And at one time, just to let you know, at one time Kingston had over a thousand members. And now they’re down to, I think it’s a little over three hundred. And for us, we used to have 512 members. And now we’re down to 249. So the numbers are just going down. And that’s the World War II guys, as they pass on, or even the Korean or Vietnam guys, there’s not enough—. Well, the wars that we have today, you have the poor guys going back and forth more times to Iraq or Afghan. And I say more times meaning three or four times they’re going back and forth. Plus, the National Guard are more involved, where back in Vietnam in those timeframes, you didn’t go as often. Or as many times as people do today. 

And I’ve been an American Legion member for about fifteen years. But no commitment there. 

It can be a lot of work. 

Like today, I was out doing poppies. I usually do poppies ten days before Memorial Day and then ten days before Veterans Day. And when I say ten days it’s not every day sometimes. Today, I went to Tops, and Tops doesn’t allow any type of people doing fundraisers out in front of the place. They allowed me to do it because we’re a veterans’ organization. And a lot of places don’t do it, like Hannaford's doesn’t let you do it. 

And it’s not local. It’s a corporate thing. And I think a lot of it has to do with they don’t want people being bothered when they come to spend money. 

And you have people who donate and you have those that don’t. You have those that don’t understand what you’re doing there when you’re doing the poppies. Some people know to come over—and, mainly, some of the older people are more aware of what you’re doing. And some people today don’t know what this guy’s doing. 

And the money we get from the poppies—we can buy the flags that we put on the gravestones for Memorial Day, fruit baskets for veterans that are sick or even a family member that’s sick. We can use that fund for that. To help somebody in need for medication or somebody that needs fuel money. We’ve done that a number of times. 

And, at the end of the year, that poppy money can go into the general fund if there’s any left.

And I’ve got to say, over my years of doing it, we’ve done, here at the V.F.W., very well. A lot of people are very generous. 

And on Memorial Day we honor the thirty-one comrades who passed away during wars from this post. And usually we have a nice turnout here from the locals in town who come and thank those comrades that gave the ultimate sacrifice. 

WS: How long have you tended bar here?

BM: Oh, long time. I would say probably close to twenty years. Nineteen, twenty years. Originally, how it started, the bar chairman at the time, he asked if I would help and volunteer. Which I had done. And then when he had gone to some of the meetings, some of the comrades were pretty tough. You know, about this and that. 

He got tired of listening to it. So he quit. And that’s kind of how I got involved in it. It’s just easier for me to take their guff—I think that’s a Postal Service thing. 

WS: How are things in general with the post at the moment?

BM: As the V.F.W.’s numbers nationwide are lowering down, less and less—and, for us in the V.F.W. you also got the American Legion, the Elks, the Masons, even the churches today, the numbers are going down. And less people are volunteering. 

So, things are—. The future of it doesn’t look good. 

Like doing the poppies today, it’s only a couple of us who go out and do it now. And at one time, when some of the World War II guys were here, we would have ten, fifteen guys going out. But you don’t have that today. 

And it’s, for younger guys, like yourself—from the economy, it’s hard. And a lot of them are doing two jobs, three jobs. I know we got some of the younger members who are Iraqi-Afghan vets, they’re doing two jobs. And so they don’t have time. And some of them have young families. And there’s always something to do, so they don’t have time to come and help volunteer time.

So, that’s where the organization is going down. The other thing is, when I was district commander, there was 125 V.F.W. posts in the district and now we’re down to 82, 83. 

The numbers are going down. 

So, it’s just a matter, I think, of time. 

You know at the end of the Civil War, the clubs and the party groupings that they had back then all faded away. So it’s like history is repeating itself. Which it seems it does. 

WS: So a lot of those clubs were revitalized or started anew after the World Wars?

BM: Well, World War I is the start of the V.F.W. And Poughkeepsie, the post down there, they were formed at the end of World War I. To give you other knowledge, one time Poughkeepsie had three V.F.W.s. They had the 170 V.F.W. post that’s there today. They had the colored V.F.W. post that would only—. ’Cause you got to realize, Poughkeepsie at one time wouldn’t take any colored veterans. They'd only take the whites. 

And then they had the Vietnam group. Because certain V.F.W.s wouldn’t allow a Vietnam veteran to join ’cause it wasn’t a war. 

When I was the county commander, Fishkill—because when you’re county commander you try to cover throughout the year all the places and go to meetings—I’d gone to Fishkill with a couple other guys, my senior and my junior vice, to one of their meetings. They would not allow us into the hall, ’cause we were Vietnam vets. And they did not recognize the Vietnam veteran era, as a war. So they would not allow us into their meeting. 

And this is in the nineties. 

You would think, wait a minute, what are we talking here. So what happened with some of these different V.F.W.s that did that, even though you fought, they’re not recognized. And some of them, the youngest guys were Korean vets and they had nobody younger. 

And then a number of years later when some of the ones that held true to this passed away, then they were trying to get some young guys in. And it’s hard sometimes. It’s like Korean vets sometimes were treated poorly when they came home, and did not want to do anything with these organizations. Vietnam vets did more for the most vets and Imean more than even some of the World War II guys. But World War II there was such a large number of veterans. 

Like here, we had Bob McGrath and Jim Foley and Mel Fella—these guys worked hard and volunteered. Anything they could do to help. Like Bill Lewis. He’d be out there picking up cigarette butts or papers in the parking lot. Just to keep everything neat and orderly. But you don’t have that today. 

You got me going out there picking up that junk. 

We’re a dying thing. 

And I only say that from talking to Legionnaires and the Elks and Masons. It’s across the board. And the churches have a hard time. You got Sylvia’s in Tivoli closed ’cause they couldn’t meet the demands. And even Christ Church here and that. They’re all—. The Lutheran church. Financially, it’s getting harder. 

WS: What’ve you learned about human nature by being a bartender here?

BM: Oh, we could be a here a month. 

Well, you get all sorts of people. 

Those that are bitter about the world. Or happy with everything. Or not happy. Ones that’re cheating on their wives or vice versa. Guys that I know shouldn’t get married to someone that do and then they realize it too late. Members that’ll come in and have flashbacks or that type of thing. They’ll come in, they’ll have a couple drinks and kind of get it out of their system. Then there’s ones that I would say are a little on the wacky side. Mean well. Big hearts. Come out and say things they shouldn’t say, that they don’t mean to, they’re just not thinking. They just open their mouths—. 

I guess I can only say, there’s times I wish I wasn’t here and other times I enjoy it. 

It’s like anything, I think.

It’s like doing the poppies. You see people coming toward you and you got to decide, well, do you think they’re gonna give or not. And some will and some won’t. Over at Walmart, there was a girl there—I mean she's covered with tattoos, covered with the piercings. I mean a lot—and she’ll come over and give you a buck or two. And I don’t mean one time. She’ll come by and then next time do the same thing. Just a sweet girl. But, by looking at her, you wouldn’t know she’s that kind-hearted. And the same goes for some guys I’ve seen. You don’t think they would but they do. 

And then I have the ones that you think might and don’t. 

It’s all sorts of people.

And there’s ones they’ll come here and they don’t have enough money. Can you spot me money? Some you don’t mind doing it. And there’s others, after they burn you once—sorry. 

But I think it’s a lot different being here than being at a regular type bar. 

But, I guess you want to be social and talk with people. Some nights I’m into it. Some nights I’m not into it. And it’s worse as it gets slower. It gets harder because it becomes boring. 

I’ll go in the back and sweep or pick up stuff. Just to do something. At one time, on a Friday or Saturday night I couldn’t get outta here till two or two-thirty. Because by our insurance we have to be out of here by two o’clock. And it’d be a crowd here. But that’s before you had the Charlie O’s and the Sidelines. And when we had the grill over here, a lot of guys would come back and forth. They’d come here and have a few drinks ’cause it’s cheaper, then go back over there where the excitement was. 

So for us for a period of time it was good because they were drinking quick and leaving. 

And taking their troubles back over there. 

WS: What advice might you give to a teenager on how to get the most from life?

BM: In my opinion, you want to be happy. You want to enjoy your life. I think what’s sad for me, over my years here, a number of people I’ve known have gone home and committed suicide. And this is after, like you and I talking—and it baffles me. ’Cause we’re having a good conversation—.

I know the one gentleman, he had gotten a job. He liked his job. He was just upbeat. And he went home that night and put an end to everything. 

And, why would you do that, when you and I were just talking? 

And then there was another one. That hung himself. And he shook my hand. Right over here. We shook hands. I’ll see you tomorrow, he says.

And he went home that night and hung himself. 

And, I mean, these are young people that I like and I would never imagine them doing that. And they went and did it. 

So, to me, be happy with the skin you’re in. 

When I was in the service I know I didn’t want to die. 

Most of the people I knew didn’t want to die. 

To me, it’s a hit and miss. Like I did a number of times, I’d just be standing next to somebody who gets popped with something that come off one of the planes. And it’s just pure luck. You’re fine and they’re not. That’s luck.

Yeah, I would just want to be happy in what I do. And, if you have the education and if you can do it, get the best job you can. 

But those that don’t have that kind of education or that smarts, find something you like and keep with it. 

That’s my thought pattern on it.

Because not everybody can be rich and not everybody can be a doctor. 

But we need all kinds of people to keep the world moving. 

I know when I was working, I had this one guy—he had taught at Marist. Smart guy. But he couldn’t deliver mail. 

He would be on the wrong street with the wrong mail at the wrong houses. 

I’d have to say, you got to go back out there ’cause you missed all the houses. And he’d say, What’d’ya mean?  

And he’s a smart guy.

This guy could dissect something without a problem. 

I’d just say be happy with what you have in life. 

Obviously you want more money because we all do. 

But enjoy what you’re doing or at least try to enjoy what you’re doing. 

Because like the one guy I knew—him and his girlfriend were having problems and he went home and blew his head out. Why do you—? It’s a girl. There’s a lot of girls. There’s more girls than guys out there so don’t do that. You know, but they do.

I know a comrade right now going through a nasty divorce. And he seems pretty level-headed, but—. It makes me nervous that he would do something foolish. 

In this day and age if you don’t have—. The way it’s set up, you should be able to eat and have some sort of comfort, even the homeless people who are in the city and the veterans that we have. We were trying to do a veteran thing with homes set up for the homeless. 

But so many of them don’t want that. They want to be in the woods. And, just leave me alone. And that’s where you want to try to reach to them and—. 

We got a stray cat that’s been a stray cat for four or five years now. And I went to Walmart and bought one of those little beds for the cat and put it in the barn and then I got a nice blanket and put it on top of an old table. So it has a place, ’cause it lays in the back during the winter. 

And we feed it.

WS: So it uses the bed?

BM: Yup. Yeah, it makes me feel good.