As young men, they forged connections amid the misery of war. As old men, the veterans of the China-Burma-India campaign will gather

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They are former soldiers whose tales of derring-do during World War II are the stuff of legend. But these members of the China-Burma-India Veterans Association, once young and vigorous, seemingly fueled by feelings of immortality, are old men now; many have died over the years.

American membership in the veterans group initially totaled about 83,000 in 140 units (known as Bashas, the military acronym for bamboo-and-straw-hut, assembled) throughout the nation. Today, membership has dropped to about 5,000 in fewer than 100 units, so the organization has decided to dissolve itself.

But those who remain have chosen to go out with a booze-filled bang instead of a bedside whimper. The formal end of the national group will come as a week-long affair at the next annual meeting, starting Aug. 31, in Arlington, Va.

"We don't want to wait for the last man to turn out the lights," explained Joe Birk, 82, a Port Washington resident and co-founder of the Long Island Basha, whose roster has gone from 125 to less than 90. "Many of us are in wheelchairs or using walkers, and there are no replacements in the wings."

Unlike other veterans' groups, such as the American Legion, which gains members from new wars in different places, the CBI association has been limited to a single theater (albeit a huge one, stretching for more than 4,000 miles across Asia) in one war.

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