Skip to comments.With VFW Members Dwindling, Posts Shutting Their Doors
Posted on 01/29/2008 2:39:37 PM PST by Incorrigible
By JEFF BARR
Members of the Mendon VFW Post 4898 from left, Merlin Huff, Morris Ballman, L.D. Ballman, Vernon Yeomans, Sharon Buchner and Ted Talbot are upset their post is closing. (Photo by Jonathon Gruenke)
MENDON, Mich. Powder-blue paint peels from the surface of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4898. The brick-and-wood building sits next to a farmer's field gone barren for the winter and, like the adjacent acreage, it sits empty.
The Mendon post, located south of Kalamazoo, was ordered closed Nov. 24 62 years to the day after being founded by 60 World War II veterans. Dwindling membership, combined with confusion and spotty adherence to state VFW bylaws, resulted in its shutdown.
VFW officials at the state and national levels, along with former Post 4898 members, say the post is symbolic of a more widespread issue.
Since 1997, the number of VFW posts nationwide have decreased from 10,500 to 8,400. National membership stands at about 1.7 million less than 10 percent of the approximately 20 million U.S. veterans eligible to join the VFW.
Mendon is one of three Michigan posts to close since November. Post 5003 in Bronson shut down in December and Post 393 in Detroit surrendered its charter earlier this month.
"It's not just Mendon," said Robert Weiss, Michigan's VFW Adjutant Quartermaster and a Vietnam veteran. "It's happening all over."
When Weiss was appointed state adjutant in 1997, there were 404 VFW posts in Michigan. Today, there are 340. In the past year, VFW membership in Michigan declined by almost 5,000.
The Mendon building was an old schoolhouse when it was built in 1871, and then sat vacant for years. It then was transformed into a medical-implement manufacturing facility, sat vacant again, then was given to the VFW in 1971.
"We felt bad about closing down the Mendon post, but there were so few members and they weren't turning in officer-election reports or attending district meetings to keep up on VFW affairs," Weiss said.
VFW membership is aging, and as we members pass on, they aren't being replaced by younger veterans, Weiss said.
"At a lot of places, it's just a few guys in their 80s," he said.
Thirty-nine members were on the books when Mendon's Post 4898 was padlocked, but only six or seven in their late 70s or early 80s took an active role. The vets helped organize community blood drives and they marched annually in local Memorial Day parades.
"The VFW represents tradition, sacrifice and patriotism," said Ted Talbot, 80, a U.S. Army veteran who joined Post 4898 in 1948 after returning home from World War II duty in Honshu, Japan. "I think the reason posts are closing, the reason there are fewer members, is because there is less of all three of those qualities in society today than there used to be.
"Everyone is so busy ... Being a veteran doesn't seem to be as important as it once was."
Former Post 4898 member Merlin Huff, 77, a Korean War veteran who lives in Mendon, was more blunt.
"People don't even want to stand up for the national anthem anymore," he said. "It's as if they don't even understand what the flag represents. It makes me sick."
The most public displays of VFW activity might be the parades and honor guards, but the organization's primary focus is to help veterans receive Veterans Administration disability benefits.
The VFW fights for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. The group also has worked to improve VA medical centers, including better screening procedures for breast and lung cancer.
According to VFW statistics, the organization annually recoups more than $1 billion in VA benefits and compensation claims for veterans or their dependents.
VFW officials say the claims process can be exhausting and frustrating, and often takes years to complete. The VFW guides veterans through the process.
"Without advocacy from the VFW, a lot of veterans apply for benefits, are refused and then just drop it," Weiss said. "But with our help, we let them know what to expect and we stay with them for the long haul."
The most serious ramification of declining VFW membership, according to Weiss, is the danger of the group's bargaining power diminishing.
"If we are to remain a legitimate agency when it comes to fighting for veterans' benefits, we have to be viewed as an organization that represents a good number of veterans," he said. "There are Vietnam vets, there are Persian Gulf vets, but not in the numbers we need.
"We will exist in the future, but in order to remain viable, we're going to have to be leaner and meaner."
(Jeff Barr is a reporter for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette. He can be contacted at jbarr(at)kalamazoogazette.com.)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
This represents a general change in society. When my father returned from WWII, he and my uncles and their friends would meet at the VFW or some bar and drink after work. Their wives spent time with the kids and I didn't see my father that much unless he was watching TV. That's just the way it was.
Now, recent vets are more likely to do the things men and fathers in society are doing. Sharing household chores with their wives. Being more involved with their children's lives. And doing more volunteer work.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and hang out at the bar after work like my father did but I've got too many non-work respsonsibilities!
VFW life member but rarely go to the post ....
My father served during peace time, but he was very active in his local veterans association up to his death. He had a lot of good ideas that brought many new members in. But, when he was looking for ways to bring in younger members, the older veterans were not interested in doing so. So, I think there are ways to appeal to younger veterans, but maybe in many cases the older veterans are reluctant to do so.
I always knew where to look first and second for my brothers after work.. ;-)
The Eagles club or the VFW not far down the road,, both are still open but a lot of the old-timers are gone or getting up there..
Food, bingo, cards, camaraderie,, and drinks too and dancing some nights.. a regular gathering place of the backbone of America, well, a big piece anyway.
Many guys just don’t want to relive the ‘good ol’ days’ because they weren’t that good. A lot of guys have a hard time getting back to normal. If they do get back to normal, they don’t necessarily want to be reminded of what they had to get over.
Further, I think with Afghanistan and the Iraq war going on now, there probably will be a small upswing in VFW membership. I think the bigger the campaigns, and the more purpose these guys and gals felt about being there and what they were doing, has an impact on whether they join the VFW.
“Everyone is so busy .”
thats the problem along with absurd DWI laws. How many members have been pulled over and despite never having an accident in their life, they lose their license.
There’s a big VFW hall that I pass by sometimes. The other day I noticed they were advertising a bingo game.
“The VFW represents tradition, sacrifice and patriotism,” said Ted Talbot, 80, a U.S. Army veteran who joined Post 4898 in 1948 after returning home from World War II duty in Honshu, Japan. “I think the reason posts are closing, the reason there are fewer members, is because there is less of all three of those qualities in society today than there used to be.
When I returned from Viet Nam we were not exactly welcomed with open arms at the VFW. I was actually mocked that I really didn’t serve in a “real war” as the stalwarts of the post claimed. Needless to say there has been a huge disconnect between me and the VFW. I still smart from that remark
The VFW changed their membership rules last year, so I am now eligible to be a member. However, they only allow submariners that rode the Fleet Ballistic Missile boats, but not Fast Attack or Diesel boat sailors. The USSVI is a much better fit for me.
Same here and I wonder if many vets that served in Korea during peace time know that they’re even eligible?
For that matter the ones that mobilized for desert storm?
I’ve been a member since I returned from the gulf in 94. The only problem is I get heckled for my service (USAF) and in the case of my local on it’s a bunch of older gentlemen that complain about life smoke like chimneys. I’d rather hang out with my friends at a local bar where I can meet people out side the military. Don’t get me wrong I respect my fellow veterans but I’m not going to meet my wife at a VFW. In addition I have other things going on in my life studying for promotion etc.
You’re not condoning drunk driving are you?
Remember that was only a small minority...and the guy that said it probably was cleaning latrines as a REMF... Probably the real reason is that young guys find little attraction at a VFW.....let's face it when you are below the age of 40....the VFW...probably is not a good place to go "hunting". That being said the post that I belong to in a small Texas town....has plenty of "action" for the "hunters"...but of course we live in a dry town...that only the baptist's and bootlegger's can keep that way.
I think it is outrageous to arrest anyone who has not done anything wrong.
You on the other hand apparently countenence the new Puritanism where things are evil and our rights are squashed.
We had a member who got caught driving over .08 4 times = never had an accident and lost his life for 25 years.
How is that justice.
My Daddy (WWII combat veteran) was a member of the VFW and got the VFW magazine. He would go to the listing of veterans who had passed away in the month and say how sad it made him. He didn’t go in for the parties and socializing that went on at the VFW meeting hall; but did keep up his membership for the sake of those who did want to socialize.
These kind of fraternal order type clubs are disintegrating. There was an article on FR a couple years about the Shriners having the same troubles. I don’t know if it’s guys sharing in household chores, I think newer generations aren’t as into formalized relationships as they used to be. Now if you want to go hang out in a bar you go hang out in a bar, if you want to hang out with friends you create a social group by introducing your friends to each other and do that. We’re just not big joiners, we don’t need chapters and posts.
Are you kidding? He may not have had an accident yet, but his conduct was still reckless and put other people’s lives at risk.
My grandpa was a WWII navy guy. He pretty much didn’t talk much about the war, didn’t really want to think about it that much. He was on an aircraft carrier in the pacific as an electrical engineer. The one thing I remember was that he was below the flight deck and he saw a kamikaze (or perhaps a pilot out of control) coming in at his level towards the ship. He said he could see the guy’s face before he hit the ship, about 20-30 feet away from where he was.
But he was an Eagles club guy, did more with his church groups and golf guys than vfw stuff. Maybe because he was a younger guy (19-20) and was coming back to a wife and daughter, he just wanted to get his life back on track and it was kind of waiting for him.
My parents are Elks, and they are having the same problems. They get great pleasure out of the club, but there is no doubt the membership is quite old.
There used to be a Doe club for the women, but now the women are becoming Elks too.