Fraternal veterans organizations are facing dwindling membership numbers. Some fear this could negatively affect younger veterans and entire communities.
Members of VFW Post 2147 said the camaraderie they feel is among the biggest benefits of belonging to the organization. But, they also said the ability to give back to the community and to stand up for veterans' rights are also key.
Many said they feel these opportunities will be lost for younger veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Posts all over the country are seeing their numbers decline, putting some in jeopardy.
"It's all dwindling now," said VFW Dist. 15 Quartermaster Adjutant Tom Marrelli. "The big thing is World War II veterans are dying off. Their dying off somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three thousand a day."
Veterans at VFW Post 2147 said there just aren't enough young veterans to fill those kinds of numbers. They cite family obligations, starting careers, and wanting to get away from the military upon returning home as reasons they don't join.
The dwindling numbers also make it harder for groups like the VFW and the American Legion to give back to the community. VFW members said they work to raise scholarship money and feed the hungry.
Marrelli also said advocacy efforts could be affected by the decline. "We're trying to make sure the rights that they earned fighting for their country...that they get them," he said.
Marrelli said it's important to keep these organizations going to stand up for veterans in the future. "We're not just a bunch of drunks sitting around telling war stories," he said. "We're here to help each other out, we're here to help veterans out, and we're here to help the families."