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VFW posts see membership decline as WWII veterans die

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Nov. 11, 2013: Members of a veterans' honor guard furl a flag after a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day in Washington. (Reuters)

A Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Washington state dutifully goes about the business of civic enterprise: It marshals members for the local annual Veterans Day Parade, fields a pool team, provides a color guard for local schools, as well as military honors for veterans' funerals.

But the Yakima Herald reports there is a hard truth about VFW Post 379, or rather its membership, that is getting harder not to acknowledge, no matter how difficult to accept.

Its rolls, like those of the national organization to which it belongs, are slowly dwindling, or specifically dying out.

Fourteen members of the post have died so far this year and, as the paper wrote, “it’s only February.”

That follows a reported 118 deaths last year and 134 in 2012. Total membership in Post 379, according to the Yakima Herald, is down to 937, from nearly 1,400 as of just five years ago.

“That’s probably the trend all across America,” Bob Hearing, the post’s 68-year-old historian, told The Herald. “We’re just losing membership.”

Indeed, Randi Law, a spokeswoman for VFW Headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., confirmed to The Herald what Hearing suspects: National membership in VFWs has fallen from 1.8 million to 1.4 million, since 2004.

“We continue to lose our World War II veterans and, simply put, today there are fewer eligible veterans to fill their ranks within our organization,” Law reportedly said.

 Whereas dozens of veterans once populated the Yakima VFW post, three or four now visit on a good day.

But from such discouragement, some see cause for hope. Law told The Herald that a higher percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VFW membership are joining the organization than for veterans of any other, previous American war. They now reportedly account for 10 percent of VFW participants.

“This is not a clique — when you walk through that door, this is an honorary place,” Bill Kibett, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran and VFW member, told The Herald. “If they’re a veteran, we want them to come in here. This is their post. This is a hall of honor. All of these guys, this is their honor.”

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