TUSTEN, NY — Local veterans’ posts were once hubs of activity in communities across the United States. Veterans would gather in these cozy halls to knock back a beer or two and talk with …
TUSTEN, NY — Local veterans’ posts were once hubs of activity in communities across the United States. Veterans would gather in these cozy halls to knock back a beer or two and talk with others who understand the profound experience of military service. They still do gather—but in far fewer numbers than a generation ago.
According to military.com, the Veterans of Foreign Wars had 2.1 million members in 1992, a high-water mark. That number has now been cut by half.
“To be perfectly honest with you, we aren’t getting too many young vets,” said Peter D. Carmeci Sr., commander of the Sullivan County Veterans of Foreign Wars and of Tusten-Highland-Lumberland Post 6427. “It’s important for young people to join because that will keep the post going.”
Carmeci is proud of the services and support that “the elderly running the organization today” continue to provide local veterans.
Carmeci has been commander of Post 6427 for 12 years and county commander for nine. During his time as county commander, he had to close five different posts.
“They didn’t have participation, weren’t holding meetings weekly, and the membership dropped,” he said.
Carmeci said it’s important for veterans to have their own space. “You need a place to meet that’s comfortable and you’re not going to be thrown out of,” he said. “A lot of posts lose their building because they can’t maintain it any more, it’s starting to fall apart, they don’t have the funds to mend the roof or whatever.”
Post 6427 uses the senior center in Eldred, which is owned by the Town of Highland.
“We thank the town for that and we’ll continue to hold meetings there as long as we’re still alive as an organization and as long as the town lets us use that building,” he said.
One possible explanation for young vets not joining, Carmeci said, is “because, of course, they have to work on Saturdays or Sundays to raise their families. All of the parents are working so they don’t have the time to join the post and do what we do.”
Young veterans may also be finding options to the traditional veterans’ post. According to the American Homefront Project, they are joining new and different organizations, such as Team Rubicon and Team Red, White & Blue. Carmeci said veterans joining his post now are in middle age. “You mostly run into a Vietnam War vet, or a Persian Gulf War vet who is now in their late forties,” he said. “Those are the ones who are joining.”
Carmeci said the problem isn’t unique to the VFW. “It’s everywhere: the fire department—any organization. They’re not getting young men.”
The Hogencamp-Schupper Post 531, Veterans of Foreign Wars, has given up its search for a new building.
Jeannie Torrick of the ladies auxiliary said there were not enough volunteers to tend the bar, the main way the post made money. After the post left its former longtime address, 736 Main St. in Honesdale, the building suffered a fire, and its commander moved to Florida.
“I don’t think they are looking for a new place now,” Torrick said.
Even if the post were able to find a suitable new building, without volunteers to help “we would lose it,” Torrick said.
Torrick said the post has more than 100 members but only five active ones. They still hold meetings and still help veterans. They still hold their annual Memorial Day parade and give out scholarships. She encourages veterans who need support to call her at 570/878-9100.
Carmeci said his post, first chartered in 1967, also remains committed to helping veterans even as membership declines.
“The bottom line is this: We are here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to help veterans,” he said. “So when we have a meeting, we talk about who’s in trouble. We get calls every day about a veteran who’s in need of something—car payment, can’t pay his mortgage, needs help with food, a ramp built for a 90-year-old vet, can’t get out of his house no more. Things of that nature. And that’s what we talk about. Helping veterans.”
Veterans can call Carmeci at 845/557-6093 or 845/707-2890.
“Yes, it’s a big problem that we have young people that are not joining,” he said, “but the older people that are in their 70s, 80s, even 90s still come to these meetings and participate in what we do. So thanks to them the post is still solvent and continues to help veterans. These guys will do this till the day they die. It’s what they do.”
For Veterans Day events, see pages 14 and 15.
Note: Pamela Chergotis contributed to the reporting of this article.
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