Members of American Legion Post in Chesterfield reached out asking for help because they find themselves in a dire situation. The sign hanging outside American Legion Post 186 on Otterdale Road is a desperate call for help.
“We’re not in good shape,” says U.S. Army veteran, Angelo Fusari. “We need all of the help we can get.”
Behind the cinderblock walls of the white washed building, American veterans from all branches are fighting a losing battle.
This particular post has been a fixture in Chesterfield since 1953. It has been a place welcoming generations of soldiers and sailors from World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. But these days, the ranks attending morning coffee are thinning.
The reason? Too few new members are joining replacing the aging veterans who are passing away.
“We need some new blood to help us out. As the post gets older we’re losing more members,” says 82 year-old Korean War Veteran, Bill Judson.
Unlike veterans from past generations the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans aren’t joining the American Legion. Members wonder constantly about the future of their beloved post.
“The thing of it is that the young ones coming back have to get jobs and families and they don’t have the time to devote to something like this,” says Judson.”I’m afraid we’re shrinking when I think we should be expanding.”
How bad is the situation? In the last ten years American Legion membership nationwide has dwindled from 2, 700,000 in 2001 to 2,400,000 last year.
“Oh it’s the camaraderie,” Joe Malerba says. “I don’t think you can get this camaraderie anywhere else.”
The challenges facing the veterans in Chesterfield are not exclusive to Post 186.
Six years ago there were 15,000 posts across the nation. Today that number has dropped by 500. Members of the non –profit American Legion donate time and money to the Va. Boys and Girls State.
Members say if the American Legion makes a great impact in the community. If the American Legion loses, so does the community.
“Practically everything that goes out helps veterans and pay our bills,” Malbera says.”So it’s getting tougher and tougher.”
“You’re trying to get new members constantly,” Angelo Fusari says. “You’re trying to stem the tide of those that have passed on.”
Swimming in a sea of red ink, the 400 member Post 186 will remain open for now. Members are not giving up without a fight
“There is always hope. And there are things we can do to increase that hope.”