PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – When American veterans returned home from wars past, the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars was their first stop. In Plano, the VFW no longer has a home.
“We ran out of money. We couldn’t afford to keep our rented home open,” says Stephen Blackburn, a VFW and American Legion member.
It’s a symptom of membership that has declined rapidly over recent years. The American Legion saw numbers fall from 6 million just four years ago to around 2 1/2 million now.
“Attrition, people dying, unfortunately, and people moving different places,” says American Legion member Dave Sweeney. “So we don’t see the same amount of people here that we used to see.”
“The average age of VFW member today is over 70. In 20 years, we’ll be a dead organization unless we get the younger veterans involved,” says Blackburn.
Courting those younger veterans is their greatest challenge.
“The younger generation is not necessarily looking for a bingo night or a karaoke night or a smoky pool hall,” says Cliff Sosamon, executive director of the non-profit, Honor, Courage, Commitment, Inc. “We’re very technical in the younger generations. We have social media. We have those types of things that draw our attention, which really isn’t what you find at a VFW or an American Legion.”
Leaders of the organizations say they are trying to evolve. And they say veterans organizations are still necessary – providing support for veterans’ causes, the community – and each other.
“It’s more of a camaraderie. That bond you had when you were in the service, it exists here,” says Sweeney.
Members of American Legion Post 321 will be remembering the fallen over Memorial Day weekend. They are hosting a service called Sunset at Memorial Park at 7 p.m. Monday.