Veterans organizations struggle to stay relevant in changing times

There are between 26,000 and 27,000 veterans in Butler County. However, the number of veterans organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others are dwindling.

Chuck Weber, president of the Butler County Veterans Services Commission, said there are a handful of these organizations left in the county. By his count, there are three American Legion posts, three VFW posts, two AMVETS posts and one Disabled American Veterans post that operate in the county. One American Legion post in Overpeck closed about six months ago, he said.

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Weber, a VFW member in West Chester, said some of these local veterans organizations are healthy and there are some that are barely getting by and at the brink of closing. Some of the organizations have found fund-raising opportunities to continue operating and providing community service. His VFW post started a food truck operation to cover their operating costs.

He said in his opinion, part of the problem is bad management of the organizations and another problem is that younger veterans don’t have much interest in joining because of work, family and other issues. Weber said that today’s veterans are not that interested in joining until they get a little older and more reflective of their lives.

“A lot of them don’t see the value or any real reason for them to join and are busy with family and work,” Weber said.

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He said a lot of organizations are surprised when their finances become troublesome.

For decades, many of these organizations supported the local community in a myriad of ways including sponsoring Scout troops, youth sports teams, softball teams, and community events and organizations.

Some organizations, such as the American Legion post in Franklin are taking more drastic measures to stay afloat.

Post officials are planning to close their facility down for the summer after the Memorial Day parade to hold fundraisers and a golf outing to cover operating costs when they reopen after Labor Day.

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Post Commander Carl Bray of the Russell McElfresh Post 149 said that decision had been in the works since February.

“Everyone is still disappointed that we had to do this,” Bray said. “It’s a little sad.”

The post also organizes the city’s annual Memorial Day parade as well as the various send offs and welcome back events at Franklin High School when local military units get deployed. They also cover the costs of sending several Franklin and Carlisle high school students to participate in the annual Buckeye Boys State.

Bray said they have about about 129 members, with 30 members actively participating. In comparison, the post had more than 300 members in 2005.

Bray said his goal is to keep the post operating as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2019.

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Warren County used to have eight American Legion posts, but there are four left after the post in Springboro closed, Bray said.

“We’re losing members left and right,” Bray said, noting the post has also lost an average of 35 members who passed away over the past few years.

He said that the post has buried 11 of its members this year. The average age of a member is between 78 and 85. Bray, at 55, is one of the younger members.

“It’s really hard to get younger people to join,” Bray said. “There’s so much going on.”

Bray said the post has recruited about 14 new members. He said many of the members come to the Legion post because it’s a safe atmosphere and they enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow veterans as they share their “war stories.” But Bray acknowledged it’s a little different for younger people to get involved as the post can afford a number of activities.

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Larry Black, a member of the Sons of the American Legion for more than 30 years, did not serve in the military as his father Ed Black did as a Marine during the Korean War. He said his father discouraged him from enlisting in the military. The Sons of the American Legion is an affiliated organization for sons of American Legion members.

Black, 61, became a construction worker and was active in the Sons of the American Legion, serving as its commander for about 20 years.

When the decision was announced, his reaction was “Oh no!” as he comes to the Legion hall almost every day and described it as “an old family bar.”

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Mark Singh, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3809, in Middletown, agreed with Bray about recruiting younger veterans. In addition, he said it’s frustrating and very concerned about the future.

“I think that younger vets have families and are busy,” he said. “Some may not know what the organization stands for. They also don’t have the income for entertainment and other things.”

Singh said his post has about 470 members with 150 to 200 participating in its activities. He said the average age of his membership is in the mid-60s. He said the post is managing to operate despite difficult times. The post was founded nearly 77 years ago.

“We need the younger vets,” he said. “We need to talk to them when they come back and we need to hold events to bring people in.”

Singh said, “we all have to keep fighting to get new members and keep going as long as we can.”

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