The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 288 held a barbecue last Saturday in hopes of bringing together older veterans with newer ones. The barbecue brought a modest number to the event, which was held in the parking lot of the Post on La Crescenta Avenue.
The man mainly responsible for the barbecue was Andy Gero, member of the VFW and American Legion. Gero, a Korean War veteran, brought up the idea last year for a barbecue.
“I’ve had a long-time desire to get the veterans here in the area together,” he said.
Gero paid for the food from his own pocket – discounted from Smart & Final – but he wasn’t upset about that.
“[The Post wasn’t] going to argue with me when I said I’d be willing to pick up the tab for everything. All I needed was some help to set up the chairs and the tables,” he said.
Gero invited veterans from all over the valley, with hopes of bringing in younger vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Membership, like for most organizations today, is a little bit falling apart for whatever reason,” he said. “Everyone has things to worry about: family, jobs, you name it. I just saw the Post starting to diminish more and more.”
Aside from helping veterans ease back into civilian life, the VFW and American Legion help sponsor the Boy Scouts and give out scholarships to students. Membership to the VFW is $42 a year, and $30 per year for the American Legion.
It’s the lack of awareness of organizations like the VFW and American Legion that troubles some of the vets. Ron Bularz is a Vietnam vet from Ohio. He came out to Southern California after his service, and didn’t know groups like the VFW were around. He finally joined when fellow community veteran Mike Baldwin clued him in.
“They come back from war and they don’t even know anything exists,” Bularz said of the younger veterans. Bularz has a job helping vets process their claims for pension and compensations.
Bularz said they didn’t know how many people would show up for the barbecue. He just wanted to say hi to any vets and welcome them and inform them on how the VFW can help.
Gero said lagging membership numbers not just the VFW’s problem. He is a past commander of the Sail & Power Squadron in Pasadena, which teaches safe boating. He said membership there is falling off as well. Organizations like the Squadron can’t get younger people interested anymore, he said, and one problem might be Generation Y’s infatuation with technology.
“You see kids walking across the street texting without looking to see if a car is coming,” Gero said.
VFW Post 288 meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 4011 La Crescenta Ave. in La Crescenta. Bularz said overall membership is over 100 people, but for monthly meetings, “If we have a dozen people attend a meeting, that’s a good turnout.”
The VFW’s immediate plans concern raising enough money for the Two Strike Park War Memorial, but in the meantime, it’s always looking for more vets to help, and to become aware of what it does.
“If [vets] want to join, fine,” Bularz said. “If they don’t, we’ll still help them.”