American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts struggle

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GALESBURG, Ill. — The future of VFW Post 2257 might hinge on the life span of its worn-out, 50-year-old boiler and attendance at weekly bingo games this winter.

Like many Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, Post 2257 in this western Illinois city of 31,000 people is struggling to survive as older members die and younger veterans decide not to join. Nationally, the number of VFW posts declined from 8,374 in 2007 to 7,915 as of June, spokesman Jerry Newberry says. The American Legion has 14,150 posts, down from 14,260 two years ago, spokesman John Raughter says.

More than a building is at stake here and at other troubled posts, says quartermaster Mike Lummis, who keeps the books for Post 2257. VFW and American Legion posts, both founded to fight for veterans' benefits and promote patriotism, quickly became havens where veterans could talk with peers about experiences and problems, members say. Beyond the physical posts, both groups have long been vital presences in communities, marching proudly in parades, placing flags in cemeteries and sponsoring scholarships and Little League teams.

Some younger vets buy into the misconception "that all this organization is is a bunch of old warriors sitting around blowing smoke and in a lot of places drinking beer and telling war stories," Lummis says. "Well, that's not correct at all" — especially at Post 2257, where zoning rules bar alcohol sales.

"We look after our fellow vets whose lives were never the same and the ones fighting in the current wars and the wars that will come," Lummis says.

As national membership in the VFW dips — down from a peak of 2.5 million in 1992 to 1.5 million as of June — VFW posts have to change, Newberry says. Local posts are encouraged to welcome female vets, offer family friendly programs such as child care and to make veterans who are having trouble with civilian life feel comfortable. "You have to give them a reason to join," he says...

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