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The American Legion struggles to remain relevant

From left, Bill Conn, Dean Collins, Marvin Greene, Garry Mitchell, Russell Todd, Jr., and Jerry Naylor look after veterans’ interests in Adams County.
From left, Bill Conn, Dean Collins, Marvin Greene, Garry Mitchell, Russell Todd, Jr., and Jerry Naylor look after veterans’ interests in Adams County.

Local posts fear dwindling membership numbers will force them to close their doors

Photo and story by Patricia Beech –

American Legion posts across the country are struggling to stay afloat as their membership numbers continue to fall. As aging World War II and Korean veterans leave the ranks, new members aren’t stepping up to replace them. Since 2000 the organization has had an 11 percent drop in membership nationwide, and posts in rural areas are being hit especially hard.

Leaders of Adams County’s veterans organizations say they are definitely feeling the crunch of the falling numbers. They fear veterans will lose their political influence if something isn’t done to reverse the trend. According to some in the oprganizations, the younger veterans don’t realize that not being involved means they’re losing their representation in Columbus and Washington.

At a meeting last week Bill Conn, President of the DAV, and several of his fellow veterans discussed steps their organizations could take to attract new members.

“Our military organizations here in the county are in bad shape,” said Conn. “We have to find a way to get people to step forward, sign up, and get involved with their military chapters, if we don’t we’re going to lose them.”

Many of the county organizations have already closed because of poor membership numbers.

“We’ve lost our Am Vets Chapter, and a couple years ago we lost the Legion in Cherry Fork,” said Conn. “The VFW in West Union has until January to get their numbers up or they’ll be history, and the chapters that are left are just hanging on by a thread.”

Even though most of the 23 million veterans nationwide are eligible to join the American Legion, the organization had less than three million members in 2014. Among those who do join, not all choose to be active.

Jerry Naylor, Commander of the Winchester Post says, “We have about 40 members, but only about eight people come to legion meetings, years ago the post would have 40 to 60 members show up at meetings.”

Garry Mitchell of the Peebles Post agreed, “We’re lucky if we have enough to make a quorum.”

Conn says there are over 2,000 eligible veterans in Adams County, and most do not belong to either the American Legion, Am Vets, or the VFW. He and the others agree the lack of members will eventually have a negative effect on all local veterans’ benefits.

“The state does an estimate of how many members are in the county, they look at votes only, so when any kind of bill comes up that has to do with veterans, they only look at the numbers”, says Conn. “These younger veterans don’t realize they’re losing their representation.

Conn and the others say they realize that work and busy family schedules keeps many younger veterans from joining.

“Ball games, television, computers, and technology take up all their time,” says Naylor. However many posts are turning to technology to attract younger veterans who they hope can revive their organizations with their enthusiasm, and recruit new members with their technical skills and familiarity with social media.

Along with serving as a lobbying organization for veterans’ causes, the American Legion posts also promote patriotic programs and mentor young people in their communities. Veteran Dean Collins said he believes membership could be bolstered if the community were made aware of all the good work the Legion does or is willing to do.

“Many people don’t know that we’re even here,” said Collins. “These organizations used to do all kinds of things, but that doesn’t happen anymore, it seems like without exposure, no one knows we’re here.”

Conn and the others say they’re concerned that the Legion’s history and traditions will be lost.

“Who’s going to handle the Veterans program, who’s going to do the Memorial Day services? It’ll be a thing of the past.”

The American Legion was created after World War I to support returning veterans and their families. It saw a substantial growth when soldiers returned from World War II in the 1940’s.

The American Legion is open to all veterans whether they served in times of war or peace.

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