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OUT OF HIS SHELL

Manteca veteran credits joining VFW for turnaround

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OUT OF HIS SHELL

Manteca resident Fred Garber has been elected Commander of Ripon VFW Post No. 1051.

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin


POSTED May 22, 2014 1:41 a.m.

RIPON – Fred Garber climbs atop his motorcycle, feels the rubber handles in his hands, and recalls a time when he wasn’t riding much. 

If at all.

Most days, Garber can be spotted cruising between Stanislaus and the South San Joaquin counties, either on official detail for one of his motorcycle clubs or a leisurely spin. 

The former Marine and Vietnam War veteran is a member of the Modesto Harley club and the chaplain for the District 13 VFW Motorcycle Group.

He says he parked his passion for motorcycles for a number of years because his first wife made him choose between beauties.

At 71 and remarried, Garber is enjoying a renaissance of sorts.

Not only does he ride, but he’s come out of hiding too. Diagnosed with PTSD, Garber, who served one tour in Vietnam and eventually retired after 21 years of service, became a recluse. He didn’t socialize much and even shied away from outreach and support centers like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.

“For most of my life,” he says, hands folded in his lap, red Marine Corps cap framing honest eyes, “I’ve been a loner.”

Look at him now. 

Garber moves about a bustling dining hall at the post, greeting members and guests. 

“I’m getting out more,” he says:

There is a reason for all the glad-handing and mingling.

Garber has been elected the next Commander for Ripon VFW Post No. 1051, and he’ll begin his year-long tenure on July 1. He will succeed John Franscella after serving as the Senior Vice Commander. 

“I’m looking forward to it,” Garber said. “I’m looking forward to learning about how the post operates and what goes into it.”

The Ripon VFW ranks among California’s most active posts. Post 1051 was named to the all-state Division V list and recently earned national recognition, too. The post will pick up their award at a national convention later this year.

That trip is a testament to Franscella’s work, Garber said.

“It’s going to be tough road to follow,” Garber said, sitting in a swivel chair in the commander’s office. For now, the name placard on the door still belongs to Franscella, who has served multiple terms as the post’s appointed leader.

Garber credits the VFW with helping him come out of his shell.

Though he lives in Manteca, he joined the Ripon VFW four years ago because Jimmy Conners Post 1061 in Manteca didn’t have a home to call its own. A friend told him to check out the Ripon VFW and the rest, as they say, is history.

Off the radar for so long, Garber jumped straight into a leadership role. He says he’s held a position at the post three of the last four years. He hopes to serve multiple terms and then graduate into a position with the district.

“The first year, you’re getting comfortable and learning,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to do a second year, at least you know what you’re doing and can get better at it.

“… If I do a good enough job, and they want me to, I’ll move into a district position.”

First things first: Before Garber can act as Commander, he’s got to get through a busy Memorial Day weekend. 

On Saturday, there’s a walk-through for Monday’s festivities at the Ripon cemetery, of which Garber is a member of the honor guard.

On Sunday, he’ll jump back on his bike. The District 13 Motorcycle Group is slated to have lunch with Gold Star family members at Prestige Living in Manteca.

From there, Garber and his gang will help law enforcement officials provide those families with an escort to Woodward Park, where the Not Forgotten celebration will take place. 

It’s a busy life, no doubt. But this once self-described loner enjoys the company and time on the road.

“It’s the camaraderie that we have,” Garber said when asked about the blessings of being a VFW member. “Every where I’ve been, the VFWs are always so friendly and outgoing.”

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