Photo by Frank Prager
Wood River American Legion Post 204 Senior Vice Commander Leroy Duncan says the decline in membership is challenging all veterans organizations.
WOOD RIVER — An era is coming to an end as a longtime local veterans organization turns in its charter after 70 years of serving the community and local veterans.
The Wood River American Legion Post 204 is officially closing after its next meeting.
Senior Vice Commander Leroy Duncan explains that over the years the membership rolls and active members have dwindled to the point where the post is no longer viable.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble recruiting veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” he explains. “Most of the current members in veterans organizations are from the Korean and Vietnam War eras.”
The national American Legion organization was created by an act of Congress in 1919 and has seen its membership decline to 2.4 million from 3.4 million 20 years ago. Much of the decline is attributed to the fact that households often have two working parents and children are involved in a myriad of school events and sports teams. The hectic schedules leave little time for participation in other activities. The Post 204 roster is down to 36 members.
The Wood River post was established in 1946. Duncan is a Wood River native and U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam era. He spent 30 years with the Norfolk Southern Railroad, retiring in 2007 as a conductor. Now age 68, Duncan says he remembers coming to the post with his dad when he was 5 years old.
“The post used to support and participate in a lot of activities,” he says.
He says they always entered a float in the annual Loyalty Day parade. He notes bingo was played at the post every Saturday night and that it often occupied all three floors of the building. He knows of a mother and daughter who played bingo together at the post every week for more than 50 years.
Duncan says the post also supported Little League and Legion baseball, girls’ softball and local high school sports teams.
“We donated a lot of money to the community through fundraisers over the years,” he says.
The American Legion is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The national organization works to influence legislation benefiting veterans and service personnel in everything from local districts to national issues. Its effectiveness depends on membership and it continues to work to bolster membership by making people aware of all of the activities in which the organization is involved.
Duncan emphasizes that veterans’ organizations like the American Legion and VFW are family-oriented, hosting many activities that welcome and include children. He notes the VFW provides support for the Voice Of Democracy competition, which gives high school students the opportunity to win money in regional and national contests in writing patriotic essays.
Duncan says a letter is being sent to all Post 204 members explaining they can transfer their membership to any American Legion post of their choice. He says members who do not specify a transfer preference will be transferred to East Alton Post 794. Duncan points out many of the members already are involved in other organizations such as the VFW.
Duncan encourages younger veterans to explore opportunities available through participation in a veterans organization. “We have a lot to offer and we need the younger membership,” he says.
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