VFW hopes to increase participation
World War II and Korean War veterans were once the mainstay of Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, but their numbers have dwindled to the point that Vietnam-era veterans now make up the majority of VFW membership nationwide.
Marion Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6958 Quartermaster Bill Keith, a Vietnam War veteran, wants to increase participation in the local post, but faces another battle common to local VFW posts: few Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown interest in joining.
“Veterans just aren’t becoming part of fraternal organizations anymore,” Keith said. “They just don’t seem to want to be a part of something. A lot of Vietnam vets didn’t join until later years. I’m hoping the Iraqi and Afghanistan vets as they get older will want to find that fraternal bond again.”
VFW membership is more restrictive than for the American Legion, another military fraternal organization, and the difference is in the word “foreign,” Keith said.
“You have to have been overseas and served in a recognized war or confict,” he explained. A veteran who served a tour of duty in Japan but was not engaged in any conflict could join the American Legion, but not the VFW.
The canteen in the post building on West Santa Fe St. is a licensed class A club. It opens at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and closes between midnight and 2 a.m. depending on demand. Keith said the canteen is open to the public.
“You don’t have to be a member to utilize the canteen,” he said. “It is open for use. We take a $5 donation, and you get the privilege to use the canteen for a year.”
Hoping to boost use of the canteen, the post became a Kansas Lottery outlet in early October. Keith said there’s been a small but noticeable increase in patrons.
“People come down and have a cup of coffee, a glass of pop, a drink, and they play keno, play Texas hold ‘em, and buy scratch-offs or pull-tabs,” Keith said. “We sold a $2,000 winner last week for the Kansas Hold’em instant winner. We’ve given away 10 seats to the NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway.”
The Kanas Lottery military van will visit the post for a two-hour promotion.
“It will be keyed toward their Red, White, and Blue scratch tickets, the proceeds from which go to military organizations in Kansas,” Keith said.
The club has also opened the south half of the building as a nonsmoking area, where other activities are available.
“It’s open for poker, dominoes, pitch, other card games, and dart tournaments,” Keith said.
The continued vitality of the post is necessary in part, Keith said, to continue providing honors at military funerals.
“This VFW provides a firing squad, honor guard, flag folders, and bugle at every military funeral we’re asked to do,” Keith said.
Post members also want to re-establish sponsorship of a Boy Scout troop that disbanded for lack of members. A large Cub Scout pack gives Keith reason to believe they can do it.
“We have the equipment from the last troop,” Keith said. “We have the tents, the trailer, the canoes. We’ve been in the process of getting the property behind us to turn into a Scout area.”
Scouts in the past have helped the post with official flag burning ceremonies to properly dispose of old flags, and have volunteered for opportunities that count toward earning merit badges, Keith said. In return, the post has given $500 scholarships to those who make Eagle Scout.
“We’ve given four or five of those,” Keith said.
For now, increasing traffic at the post is the top priority.
“It’s building,” Keith said. “If this lottery picks up, we’re considering being open seven days a week.”
Last modified Nov. 6, 2014