Pete Kukurba stands behind the bar at the American Legion Tattler Post 973, surveying the scene. It’s a Friday night, and Burger Night is winding down. A trickle of burgers are coming out of the kitchen and some people are already starting to leave. It’s the last Friday of the month, so the Tattler post, 4355 N. Western Ave., is holding a regular fundraising event that features $5 burgers with the trimmings and a side. So far, the night’s been a success.
“We try to sell 100 hamburgers,” Kukurba said. “We’re coming pretty close tonight.”
Kukurba is the Legion Commander, and he served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1970 as a recon Marine earning two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. As Commander of the American Legion Tattler Post, he oversees the monthly meetings and legislative proceedings. He works to coordinate community outreach and events for members, including Burger Night.
The purpose of the Burger Night is to raise funds for the post and to build on the membership base. Tim Mahoney, an Army Ranger that served in military police from 1960 to 1963 mans the grill, turning out burger after burger (the post would fall only a few short of its goals of 100 burgers). “We do the hamburger night to bring the younger people in,” said Mahoney. “We’ve got a good base of people here. It helps that we own the building.”
During the night, Mahony is firmly stationed at the hot grill, turning out hamburger after hamburger. He rarely leaves and is kept busy for nearly the entire four hours of dinner service. On this night, so many people have showed up that it is difficult keeping up with service. Several plated burgers sit on a ledge waiting to be served as a waitress calls out names for orders. Nearly every seat is filled, and only a few stools remain at the end of the bar. The night has proved a success, but time will only tell if it is successful in recruiting new members. Fridays and Sundays are the Post’s busiest nights; on other days, it is starkly different.
The American Legion Tattler Post is only one of four private clubs in the Lincoln Square and Northcenter area. It operates like a key club: the front door is always locked and only members have keys. Unlike a bar, there are no bartenders or servers. Rather, members can come in, grab a beer, and pay the till. It works on the honor system. Everyone pitches in, and it helps to keep prices low.
“It’s a place to open up. You have people that come over, and you can get it off your chest,” said Kukurba. “It doesn’t matter where you go or what war you were in. Combat is combat. War is war.” There are veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea. Guadalcanal or New Guinea. Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. There is more than just comfort and shared experiences. The experience goes beyond that. “It is just like a college fraternity,” Kukurba said. “Same thing. It’s like a family. At least the price is right.”
The American Legion Tattler Post started 65 years ago at the Queen of Angels school only a block away. The post got its name of Tattler from a paper launched in October 1941 to keep those in service informed of what was happening back home in the neighborhood. Taken from a gossip column written by Nate Gross for the Chicago Herald American titled The Town Tattler, the one-sheet paper grew to a monthly magazine with 1,500 recipients. When the war was over, many of these servicemen returned and established the American Legion post #973 on February 25, 1946. Two years later, the Post moved a block south from the Queen of Angels Guild Hall to its present location, which was named the John M. Hawk Memorial Building in 1966 after the Post’s third commander.
At the height of its membership, the Post had more than 500 members. Now that numbers stands at less than half, somewhere around 220. The declining numbers are reflective of the general trends at American Legions and similar clubs around the nation. In Chicago, many of the younger veterans have moved to the suburbs, and other posts aren’t as active as the Tattler. For now, the Post will continue to offer Burger Night and special events to let veterans know of the services it offers. The goal is to get new people in and let them know what is available.
“When you’re younger, it doesn’t seem to bother you as much,” Kukurba said. “Then an illness maybe related to the war shows up. You want to be established early. We can help with that.”
Providing assistance with Veterans Affairs is one of the primary tasks of the American Legion. Many veterans might not be fully aware of the benefits and options available to them. “It is important for people to know that the post has the resources to help people,” said Kukurba. “We know the procedures at the VA hospital; we know how to get things done. It is good to have the group behind a person when they need to go to the hospital to get things done.”
For Frank Simon, who served in the Airborne in Germany from 1968 to 1971, the help extended to when he lost his job several months prior. “Just being able to talk to people and figure out what my options were was helpful.”
Another part of the Post’s mission is community outreach. The legion closely works with Heinz hospital. Once a year, the Post brings several disabled vets from Edward Hines, Jr. Veteran Affairs Hospital to the Tattler for a day of food and drink. For the vets that are confined to the hospital, this provides a day to hang out and socialize. “We have some local high school kids that help out,” said Simon. “For a lot of people, it is rare that they get out, and this is a treat.”
In addition to helping with the vets at Hines Hospital, the Post hosts a fundraising festival for the developmentally disabled, participates in Poppy Day, provides Christmas baskets to the community needs, and hosts the Tom Ryan Youth Fund that provides funds to community youth sports organizations. The goal is to pitch in for the community, relying on the same principles of service found in the military.
On Burger Night, Kukurba, Mahony, Simon and the other veterans, friends and auxiliary members (wives of members) share stories over drinks. It’s the camaraderie and friendship that keeps them coming back. It’s being with others that understand the same situation. “Some people will BS a little, but for the most part, it’s true,” Kukurba said. “It’s like watching TV, but live.”
Tattler Post meetings are the first and third Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. Contact the post at email@example.com or (773) 588-5809.