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Local VFW post struggling

Organization needs younger members or it could close

Local VFW post struggling

Local VFW post struggling

VFW Post 10825 members Mooney Prosser...

Statesboro’s VFW post has an aging membership, including World War II and Korean War veterans now in their 80s and 90s. Its leaders, several of whom pull double duty just to fill the slate of 12 officers, say the post will fold this year unless it can recruit younger veterans.
Post Commander Jerry McCarthy, 72, convened a little gathering to illustrate and discuss the problem. To his left sat post trustees Lannie Lee, 93, and Mooney Prosser, 89, veterans of World War II.
To his right sat Chris Goodson, 55, who is both the post’s quartermaster and its service officer, and Dean Rakoskie, 63, both senior vice commander and adjutant. Goodson served 21 years in the Marine Corps; Rakoskie, 20 years in the Air Force. Both qualify as Veterans of Foreign Wars because their careers took them to South Korea, where a U.S. service member’s stay of 30 days or more still counts as wartime duty.
McCarthy, who spent six years in the Marine Corps and 27 in the Air National Guard, is a Vietnam veteran from his days as a jet engine mechanic, supporting reconnaissance flights there in 1963-64. He also served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“You see these ages. We’ve got a spring chicken here, 55 years old,” McCarthy said. “The rest of us are to the point to where we need help. We need these guys like from Desert Storm, Afghanistan, all these guys. It’s their turn. It went from the Second World War to Korea, Vietnam, now it’s their turn to come in and pick up the ball.”
The post will hold a recruiting drive Thursday, from 7-9 p.m., at the American Legion Hall on Rucker Lane off U.S. Highway 301 South. Annual dues are $35. Applicants should bring their DD 214 forms. The VFW borrows or rents the Legion hall for some events, but its regular meetings are 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at Fordham’s Farmhouse restaurant.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and Global War on Terror personnel who have served in many other places since Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible for VFW membership. But none have joined VFW Boswell A. Johnson Post 10825, McCarthy said.
The post has existed since 1946, at least, although that was not its original name and number. Lee, discharged from the U.S. Army’s 8th Air Force on May 1, 1946, joined the VFW’s Statesboro post not long after. But after the original charter was allowed to lapse in the early 1970s, the chapter was rechartered as Post 10825. That’s when Prosser joined, though he had been eligible since his World War II service as a Marine, which included the campaigns for Guam and Iwo Jima.
Could do more
These members talk not so much about history as about how the post could do more, now, if it had more members. The post still raises money with Buddy Poppy drives each Memorial Day weekend and again before Veterans Day. These drives typically raise $1,200 to $1,800, twice a year.
“If we had more people we could double that, easy,” Prosser said.
But, as Rakoskie observed, it’s always the same three or four veterans working the table in front of Walmart to collect donations and hand out poppies.
First distributed in 1922 and trademarked by the VFW, Buddy Poppies are red poppy boutonnieres worn in remembrance of U.S. military people killed in battle and in honor of those wounded.
Much of the money Post 10825 raises goes to the VFW National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, Mich. A community supplying homes and support for surviving children and spouses of military personnel, it features houses, such as the Georgia House, supported by the VFW in various states. Statesboro’s post has given about $16,000 in the past decade, said Prosser.
This VFW post, together with American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, petitioned for a Department of Veterans Affairs medical clinic in Statesboro. With support from U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., the clinic opened in March 2013, serving veterans who would otherwise have to go to Dublin or Augusta for VA medical care.
The post presents service awards annually to Georgia Southern University ROTC cadets and high school Junior ROTC students. It helped a GSU student veterans group go to Washington, D.C., as part of lobbying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which became law in 2008.
Like other VFW chapters, Post 10825 could sponsor local middle school students in the Patriot’s Pen essay contest and high school students in the Voice of Democracy essay and speaking contest. These award local and regional prizes, and to national winners, a $5,000 prize for the Patriot’s Pen and $30,000 scholarship for Voice of Democracy.
“We could be doing this, but we don’t have enough people to do these programs,” McCarthy said. “There are probably two or three other programs that would benefit the community that we can’t do because we just don’t have the people to do it.”
Noting that the VFW has exclusive federal recognition as a voice for veterans, McCarthy adds that its lobbying power on rights and benefits will be lost if the same thing happens all over that is happening to Post 10825.
Members would pack the Legion hall dining room for a VFW meeting a few years ago, Goodson recalls. Now, a good meeting is six or seven members and a few spouses. While he sees posts in nearby small towns having the same problem, he suspects that larger posts, especially near military bases, are thriving.
“But I think the heart is really places like this, and we’re struggling across small-town America,” Goodson said.
Calls to the communication director’s office at VFW national headquarters Thursday were not returned in time for this story.
Post 10825’s problem is not a shortage of names on the roll. With 74 current members, the total is down by about 10 from past decades, according to McCarthy and Prosser. But some are lifetime members who paid their dues long ago, and many are older now and cannot attend meetings regularly, let alone march in parades.
Struggling to recruit
“We don’t have the active membership, age is working against folks, and the spirit is willing, but there are just limits on what folks are able to do,” Rakoskie said.
This even limits what the post can do to attract new members, he observed.
In August 2012, the post arranged a day for veterans at Splash in the Boro water park. More than 250 people took advantage of the veterans’ discount, but only three VFW applications were picked up and none returned. The post distributed fliers during last October’s Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade, again with no response.
So, this Thursday’s drive could be the last call.
“We don’t want to close the post,” McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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