Loss of vets will be felt at VFW

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The Department of Veteran's Affairs estimates more than 1,000 World War II veterans die every day. Of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II, the VA projects just 3.7 million will be alive this August.

For the Veterans of Foreign Wars, this rapid loss of veterans could mean dwindling membership and a significant loss of political clout in the coming years.

Craig VFW Post 4265 has lost eight WWII veterans in last few months, VFW member Bill Harding said.

VFW Post Commander Ray Talkington estimates WWII veterans make up 75 percent of the post's membership.

"There is a definite effect (on VFW membership) across the nation," Harding said.

Harding said dwindling numbers won't have much of an effect on the VFW's community events, such as Huck Finn Days and the Memorial Day celebration, but the organization's political effectiveness could be lessened.

Charley Watkins, the VFW district commander for Northwest Colorado, said the loss of WWII veterans will definitely effect the VFW politically.

"This will have a significant effect on our lobbying ability," Watkins said.

Veteran's issues such as health care are not as important to politicians because the veterans aren't the powerful voting bloc they once were. "A lot of programs could be in jeopardy," Harding said.

The key to success for the VFW in the face of losing a large percentage of their members is younger veterans stepping into leadership roles. "Vietnam era guys, like myself, have to step forward," Harding said.

Many Vietnam veterans, however, don't celebrate their service the way WWII veterans do.

"They still aren't comfortable letting people know they served, and that's a shame," Watkins said.

But, Watkins said, more Vietnam veterans will join the organization as soon as they retire.

"They'll want something to do," Watkins said.

Last month's Hometown Heroes picnic resulted in a few veterans showing interest in joining the VFW.

"We had many guys say 'we had no idea what you guys do," Watkins said.

Commander Talkington said the same thing. "We got quite a few applications there," he said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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