Farewell to arms

Left: Stephen Jolley of Kerhonkson, who served in Da Nang with the Marines in 1970, and Bert VanDemark of Saugerties, who was in the Army and served near the DMZ and was awarded a Purple Heart at Sunday’s Veterans Day ceremony

At the American Legion Lamouree-Hackett Post 72’s annual Veterans Day remembrance ceremony, old friends and former comrades in arms greet each other with a handshake or embrace. Each year, those who served in World War II grow fewer, and those who were in Korea begin to pass on, leaving smaller numbers to mark what began as a way to commemorate the end of World War I.

Alberta Longendyke, whose late husband, Ralph, served in the Navy during World War II, is a member of the Legion Post’s Ladies Auxiliary. She said her late-husband’s desire to serve his country was so great, “his mom had to sign his enlistment papers to join because he was only 17 years old at the time. But he had to promise that when he got out he would go back and finish high school.”

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Longendyke has been a member of the auxiliary for a long time and talks fondly of the days when the Legion was a bustling place. “There was a time when the auxiliary would collect Christmas presents and holiday meals for service members at the VA (Veterans Administration hospitals),” she said wistfully. “This whole hall would be filled with presents and food for the men.”

Now, the auxiliary is no longer able to hold such collections. “There are just fewer younger women and men coming in,” she said.

Veteran Jimmy Gage, voice of the Legion and its raconteur, said there are a few newer members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they are not joining the Legion the way veterans from the nation’s previous wars did when they got home.

“They have families and work lives they are coming home to, and don’t seem that interested in becoming Legion members,” one member said.

National headquarters tries to reach out to the returning veterans, Gage said, but there doesn’t seem to be a real interest.

So as the number of World War II vets who turn out for Veterans Day grow fewer each year, and Korean War veterans begin to pass on as well (and even Vietnam veterans are beginning to age), there is a concern among members of Post 72 that those who come out to honor the veterans for their service will far outnumber the actual number of veterans.

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