In the past month, we’ve recognized military veterans from all conflicts during nationwide Memorial Day ceremonies and again with events in France to honor the 75th anniversary of D-Day when U.S. and allied soldiers began what would be a significant turning point to bring an end to World War II and Hitler’s power.
World War I and II vets returned from service regarded as heroes but once home, they set their sights on getting back and getting on with life--marriage, working, raising children and all that those endeavors included.
Though most didn’t speak of specifics regarding their service often, they belonged to a generation that established groups such as the VFW and American Legion, both of which played vital roles in founding the Veterans Administration, the G.I. Bill of Rights and the many benefits and services they provide for veterans and their families. Posts were established across the United States and membership steadily grew as soldiers from WW I and II, Korea and to a limited extent, Viet Nam, joined the membership ranks. The organizations became fixtures in communities across the nation and have had a significant presence in Washington with enough clout to create change for the better regarding veteran services and rights.
The concept wasn’t new--even following the Civil War, Union troops organized a group named The Grand Army of the Republic, formed to assist the needs of their soldiers with regard to their care and old age. The GAR suffered its demise as the veterans aged out and died. And now, both of the two major organizations that were built and grew in the shadows of World War I and II also face big challenges due to dwindling membership numbers. As the population ages, fewer veterans from pre-Viet Nam conflicts remain and younger soldiers returning from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan are choosing a different path. With the changes in the way soldiers live to the way they waged war on the enemy, many younger soldiers say it’s difficult to identify with those that served in those earlier conflicts. Many VFW and Legion Posts have been lost, also putting other groups and events they sponsor in jeopardy, such as Legion baseball , color guards, and many other community services and activities..
With both VFW and Legion Posts in our own midst, Guernsey is also dealing with the diminishing membership rolls, coupled with increasing age in their established and active membership. But if there’s anything I could say about the members here, it would certainly be that they are not quitters and they are not about to allow two well-established entities that are a huge piece of the community go by the wayside quietly.
I’m not sure I can even put into words the effort we have seen made by the core members of both the VFW and Anerican Legion groups here and the respect I have for them. To lose either would have a significant effect on our community. They’ve been hit hard over the past 15 years with increasing costs coupled with decreasing numbers but they’ve continued to do everything they can to offset those issues.
To lose our VFW would be especially difficult because the building they own and maintain is used for countless events on a very regular basis. From wedding receptions to funerals, auctions to election forums, Sunday Bingo and even a Halloween Haunted House; there’s not much that hasn’t happened within those walls that once housed a feed store and later, a dance hall called The Blue Moon. It is a cornerstone piece of this community.
Unfortunately, they are up against some things they simply cannot control but with the strong military presence here in Guernsey due to the proximity of the National Guard Camp, I am hoping that these groups can find a way to attract the younger veterans. It will definitely require work on both ends and it may require some changes made at the national levels to add non-military membership to keep it strong and less susceptible to a similar situation once the current veterans age. Change is hard for people, particularly when it comes to groups that have such strong traditional history. But wouldn’t making some changes to save the organization be better than losing it completely? It could very well come down to making those kind of changes and more. And for the younger veterans, I hope that some of them will look past perceived notions that these are just clubs for old men who don’t want anything to change. That may have been the case in some places and at one time. But it certainly isn’t the case here--at least not that I can see. This can work but both ends are going to have to find middle ground. We don’t have to give up the ideals or change the foundation of why these groups exist to save them. We have to find a way to honor the tradition but make them more relevant to what our younger vets are and have experienced.
It remains important work and just like our veterans, worthy of our unending support.