JASPER, Ind. (WFIE) - Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 673 in Jasper once had 12,000 members. Now, they have 330.
On Wednesday, members said they all share a deep bond.
“We’re all brothers. We’ve all connected somehow,” said Don Kluemper, a longtime member.
They said it’s a tight-knit group, but recently they’ve seen a rapid decline in the number of members.
Patrick O’Keefe, who helps keep the place running, explained that while older members have died, younger veterans don’t enroll as much as they have in the past.
“The younger generation have a conceptual view of a VFW being a dingy, smoky place with a bunch of old cronies sitting around drinking,” he said.
But in Jasper, they said it’s so much more than a watering hole.
Gene Eckerle said that as a veteran, it’s important to have a place to go and meet with like-minded people.
“We can come in here and talk about the war, and everybody understands,” Eckerle explained. “When you go home and you go to your families, they don’t understand.”
Having held 27 funerals in the past year, they said the loss of members can be disheartening.
However, beyond Jasper, the VFW is a nationwide lobbying group.
As membership dwindles, the group’s political influence dwindles as well.
“If we don’t continue to support the numbers, we’re going to lose benefits,” said O’Keefe.
They said politics aren’t their specialty, but without groups like the VFW, they wouldn’t get nearly as much support as they do from the government.
More than anything, O’Keefe said they want the next generation of service men and women to be taken care of the way they were.
“They’ve got to come and join up to save their benefits,” he said. “Because we’ve already used ours.”
The veterans in Jasper said they’re already a family. They just want it to grow.
O’Keefe invited any veteran interested in coming to the Jasper VFW to call him at 812-630-2567.
The VFW has its own website where veterans can enroll.