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Heart and Soul

Chapter 803’s Vietnam War Museum: Keeping the History Alive in Elmira, New York

In Elmira, New York, history is not in short supply, a fact that is not lost on the members of Chapter 803, who make their home in the comfortable and often surprising city just north of the Pennsylvania line.

The chapter’s library contains some 800 books about the Vietnam War, including first-person accounts of veterans just waiting to be documented by historians. Across the street from this library is the burial place of Mark Twain and Hal Roach, along with the Civil War era Woodlawn National Cemetery.

Courtesy Chapter 803
Chapter 803 members gather around the American flag drop box in front of their Vietnam Veterans War Museum in Elmira.

But what is most important to chapter members, is their Vietnam War Museum of Elmira, founded by member Dennis Wolfe, Sr. According to chapter member Robert Brill, chapter members “get together there once a week for a meeting for veterans to discuss issues: personal, PTSD, and other things that bother them and things that can go forward and help them.” The museum, Brill says, “is quite a collection of artifacts that have been donated and brought in. There’s a lot of work, and a lot of tours.”

President Larry Sherman concurs, adding that the chapter has about 250 members, but that only about 20-25 of them are deeply committed to active involvement and keeping the chapter alive. This includes the museum, which used to be open five days a week but is now down to three-to-four days a week with tours by appointment only.

Courtesy Chapter 803
A replica of a guard watchtower, added to the chapter’s museum last year in honor of all POWs and MIAs in the Vietnam War.

“We have entertained grade school children, fifth or below,” Sherman said. “We try to put the message out that the museum is open, free of charge.” He adds with pride that “the museum is the heart of the chapter.”

Courtesy Chapter 803
Chapter 803 President Larry Sherman, with Laurel Mountain K9 Search and Rescue’s Kim Piasecki, after the chapter sponsored her two Search & Rescue dogs in November 2022.


Chapter 803 is committed to education and leaving its mark, focusing on the loss of comrades over the past few years from Agent Orange-related maladies, as well as highlighting the good they have done in their community. Extra books from the library are donated to local high schools to “get them the knowledge of what the Vietnam War was, why it was fought, and what it meant to us,” Sherman said.

Courtesy Chapter 803
Chapter 803 spearheaded cleanup of more than 4,300 wreaths at Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, N.Y., as part of the annual Wreaths Across America observance in 2018.

The chapter provides food to a local food kitchen on holidays, helping feed 50-70 homeless people. The chapter hosted The Wall that Heals in July 2022, in an effort that that the moving memorial’s organizer told them went above and beyond. And the chapter works with two local charities, The Arctic League and Get a Vet a Pet. The former focuses on underprivileged youth, and the latter on helping veterans cope with PTSD through animal companionship.

Courtesy Chapter 803
Donuts sold by Chapter 803 as part of a fundraiser last fall.

The chapter also has a longstanding collaboration with the Laotian Hmong Secret Guerillas who worked with the U.S. Army, Navy, and CIA in Laos and who live in the Elmira area. The chapter is planning to ask VVA to allow Hmong veterans full membership in the organization.

The chapter keeps its eye on the future as well. Sherman says that having the museum, maintaining a library, educating students, and expanding membership are the heart and soul of the chapter’s mission.

“We try to make the surrounding community realize that we’re not just crazy Vietnam vets.”




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