VFW Chaplain ‘involved with everything’ earns top awards

From left to right, Alpine post 9578 Auxiliary Chaplain Jan Bazdorf, State and District 1 Chaplain James Wright, Alpine post 9578 Chaplain Theo Bazdorf, VFW California State Commander Dusty Napier

Alpine Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Chaplain Theo Bazdorf has two awards to hang on his wall at the post: Chaplain of the Year for District 1 and Chaplain of the Year for all of California.

He received the Post Chaplain of the Year award for District 1 on May 1 after Post Commander John Sullivan submitted him at the regional level.

“Then, I was told by Reverend James Wright that I had won for California, seventeen districts all up and down the coast,” Bazdorf said, beating out well over a hundred other posts.

He’ll receive that second, state-level award on June 9 in Anaheim but he’s already being considered for the top, national award.

“I only have to compete against 49 other states,” Bazdorf said mischievously.

In a more serious tone, he said it has taken him some time to learn how to best serve in his role at the post. When he first stepped into the volunteer job, about ten years ago, he downloaded the entire VFW Chaplain’s manual in an effort to find guidance or a standard for how to do the job.

“You don’t just read prayers at meetings. The Chaplain is involved with everything: Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, flag retirements, funerals, parades. I’ve been doing the opening prayer for Wall of Honor events for years. I don’t ask for the events but I also don’t say ‘no’,” Bazdorf said.

When District 1 and State Chaplain James Wright puts out a call for any chaplains available for services, Sullivan said, Bazdorf is the only one who says ‘yes’, every time.

“Theo is our unsung hero. What people don’t know is how he helps out with the Quartermaster or how, since COVID began, there have been 40 or so funerals all over local houses, the posts. Theo does them all. Really, nobody does more for veterans,” Sullivan said.

“Well, I’ll be 83 on Friday and I’ve matured to the point where I think it is important to help others. I’m an Episcopalian but the same holds true for everyone, you know Muslim, Jewish, really anyone: we need to help our fellow man as best as we can,” Bazdorf said.

The small things that add up matter, he said, like checking on a widow or taking time to visit a Korean War veteran in the hospital. Auxiliary Chaplain Jan Bazdorf, his wife, is there by his side, he said, “a true partner” in service.

“I certainly don’t do anything for praise or glory. There’s a lot of turmoil in the United States today and we have to ask ourselves: what is the right thing to do?” Bazdorf said.

The first time he ever presided over a funeral, he wasn’t entirely sure what to say so he looked up the service in the VFW Chaplain manual.

“I was shocked that after the ceremony, a Navy chaplain, an officer came up to me and asked about the service. I thought ‘Holy Mackerel, it’s simple and it works’ so I’ve stuck with that same format,” Bazdorf said.

“He’s our voice of reason,” Sullivan said.

As a young man, he had considered becoming a priest.

“I was very active in the Episcopalian church growing up- I was in the choir, I served as an acolyte. Then, when I was in the Army, I didn’t get to know many chaplains. It’s an honor to do this. It validates what we’re doing here,” Bazdorf said.

A chaplain shouldn’t be self-promoting, Bazdorf said but Sullivan sees him as an asset to the post.

“He’s always humble but for us, it’s a bragging point to have him at our post. He represents what we want the Alpine VFW to mean to people. It’s important for veterans to be there for other veterans,” Sullivan said.

Being the post chaplain has “forced him to be a better person,” Bazdorf said in a quiet voice.

“When I started, I downloaded the Ten Attributes of a VFW Post Chaplain,” Bazdorf said.

The list includes items like a willingness to serve, committed to providing support and ministry to VFW members and their families, and a sincere desire to help others.