By Sam Elliott
The Carmel chapter of the nation’s oldest major veterans’ organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is looking to the future — a future in which the group’s membership torch is being passed from the “Greatest Generation” to the next generation of young veterans.
Unfortunately for Carmel VFW Post 10003 at 12863 Old Meridian St., \the post is losing its World War II and Korean War veterans, once the backbone of the organization both locally and nationally. The Carmel post is down to just two surviving World War II veterans and the vast majority of its roughly 350 active members are veterans of Vietnam — a war now 40 years in the rear-view mirror.
For the VFW to continue with a strong a future, Post 10003 Commander Richard Leirer says the group has to find ways to recruit younger veterans.
“It’s real important to us,” Leirer said. “Just in the state of Indiana there are close to 350,000 wartime veterans and about 130,000 or 140,000 of them are what we call the younger veterans — Desert Storm and the Gulf War and those conflicts since — those are the people we really need, because most of the veterans that run and are in the VFW are the older guys.”
Leirer was first introduced to the VFW at age 18 after the post in his hometown of Dexter, Mo., gave him a membership as he was being drafted into the Army. Leirer served two tours of duty in Vietnam and one each in Germany and Korea.
These days, his mission involves educating young returning veterans — men and women — on what the VFW can offer them.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get that information out there to the younger veterans. We’re all about really helping the veterans. That’s our goal,” he said. “A lot of people see our bar and they get the wrong impression that it’s just a private club and a bunch of old men sitting around smoking, drinking and telling war stories. It’s really a whole lot more than that.”
The Carmel post serves the community in a variety of ways — sponsoring Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, supporting the Veterans Retirement Home in Lafayette and donating time and funds to a number of charitable organizations across the city, state and region, including the VFW National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, Mich., among others — but it also serves as a valuable resource for returning veterans.
“I try to get the message across to young veterans about how we can help them,” Post 10003 Sr. Vice Commander Joel Watson said. “If they’re having a hard time with the VA, we’ll go in on their behalf and fight for them there to get them the benefits they deserve. … A lot of guys who come back from war are just kind of zoned out. If they don’t want to reach out for help but they have an organization like the VFW, they can go there and feel comfortable. We’re all veterans. We’ve all served, and we can get people help they need.”
Watson served aboard the USS Roosevelt during bombing campaigns on Libya before exiting the navy in 1989. In 1996 he joined the Westfield VFW post, which merged with Carmel two years ago, and has seen how the organization can be a support system for veterans returning home.
“A lot of them are so new out of the military, it’s hard for them to go to a military-type organization,” Watson said. “It seems like the new veterans don’t want to go out and ask for help or seek out organizations like us. I’m trying to get across that vets should reach out to veterans organizations because they’re there to help you and will work on your behalf.”
The post has set up a recently purchased awning at community events as a recruitment effort, and Watson said members are always on the lookout for armed forces bumper stickers or hats to find veterans in the community who might not be involved with the VFW. For area veterans, he said, their door is always open.
“If you need something done or need information or need to talk to somebody about something, go to the VFW post, because there’s going to be somebody sitting in there that can help you,” Watson said.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 1.9 million – Total number of VFW and VFW auxiliary members
- 350,000 – Wartime veterans in Indiana
- 6,773 – VFW posts worldwide
- 380 – Members of VFW Post 10003 in Carmel
- 2 – Members of VFW Post 10003 who are World War II veterans
VISIT THE VFW
Carmel VFW Post 10003 is open for lunch weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for breakfast Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m. For a full calendar of events or to learn more, visit carmelinvfw.org.