YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Many of the Memorial Day services around the Valley on Monday were put on by veterans organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Amvets.
But many of those groups said their numbers are dwindling. As Korean and Vietnam-era veterans age, not enough Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are joining to replace them. There are numerous reasons, from redeployments to time commitments, to just the sheer number of veterans.
“Less than 9 percent of the American population ever served their country. Currently serving in the military all the branches, less than one half of one percent. You talk about sacrifices, that is why,” Mercer County Veterans Affairs Director Lt. Col. Larry Scheetz said.
Veterans organizations make numerous contributions to the community through parades, graveside services and fundraisers, as well as to veterans and active duty military members, offering gifts for wounded men and women, lobbying congress and offering resources for understanding benefits.
“It is hard. It is very hard. I think today’s society, the kids don’t realize what the American Legion or the auxiliary does. I don’t think it is as important as it was when your father or my father was in the service and the women stayed back to help,” American Legion Auxiliary Mahoning Valley Unit 15 president Claire Kopcsos said.
Rick Benson, commander of the VFW Post 419 in Girard, is one of the more than 2.5 million veterans who served in Vietnam. He came back in 1969 when the welcome home wasn’t so warm.
In those days, banding together with fellow veterans was essential.
“They felt like they weren’t wanted,” Benson said.
Today, things have changed and fewer vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are joining veterans’ groups.
“We keep hoping we will get some younger fellows in with us. We would sure love to have them. And the women too, now,” Benson said.
“With the war that is going on now because they keep getting redeployed and because they have so many things to do, it is hard for them to find time,” Sons of the American Legion Commander Jeff Vrabel said.
As a result, the groups are getting smaller.
“It is something that is happening nationwide. If you look around, you will see a lot of older veterans. Those are the people that may have fought in Korea, World War II, Vietnam. And they are dying off,” Vrabel said.
That makes it more difficult to keep up with the many services they provide. It is a big loss for the community and for other veterans.
“Those organizations lobby Congress. They are able to help them get their benefits. They can help them get their Veterans Administration benefits, hospital treatments, things that they need that a lot of them don’t know they can get,” Vrabel said.
“It is not just for the troops of the past. It is for today’s troops. We send gifts to the Yanks. We send gifts to the VA hospitals and without membership and help, that can no longer happen.” Kopcsos said.
So on this Memorial Day, these members are reaching out.
“Just become involved. It is good for the future, good for the vets, and good for the ones that are not here today,” Kopscos said.
“We just want them to enjoy all the benefits that everyone has fought for,” Vrabel said.
“War is war and if you fought, then you deserve to be with a fellowship of guys who also fought,” Benson said.