One more door has closed to local veterans.
The last American Legion Post in Schenectady is locked and empty. As it heads for the wrecking ball, the legion’s members are left with just one building in the entire county.
The losses have been fast and furious. In the past few years, six of the seven post buildings have been sold, as World War II and Korea veterans die and newer veterans do not join up.
The last one in the city, the Broderick-Fuller-Nekola Post 1005, is being sold to CVS. The company is submitting plans to the city for a new pharmacy at the location, 1612 Chrysler Ave.
The post wasn’t just any old bar, local veterans said. They’re losing a community center, a place where veterans could be sure that everyone else truly understood war.
It’s something that the Veterans of Foreign Wars posts can also provide, but not the for-profit bars, they said.
“It’s just that you know they’re been through the same thing, more or less,” said legion member Randy Hagar, who was a 3rd class petty officer in the Navy during World War II. “You can reminisce about the service.”
He said veterans want to talk about the past — “It’s an important time in your life” — but talking with civilians just doesn’t work.
“They really don’t understand what you’re saying,” he said.
And they’re not really interested, added Eric Peterson, who was a B-29 tail gunner in the Air Force during the Korean War.
“You don’t talk about it with anyone else, probably for lack of interest on the other person’s part,” he said. “But a lot of people with this traumatic stress, just being around other people and being able to talk about it, I think it helps them.”
Legion members have one building left: 1809 Union St., in Niskayuna. There, Peterson and Hagar were planning to play cards with three other members on Thursday afternoon. The others didn’t show up, but they stayed anyway, enjoying each other’s company.
They’re hoping that they are not a dying breed.
After all, they said, they didn’t join the Legion until decades after their wars were over. Perhaps the newer veterans will do the same.
“When you’re younger, you’re raising your family. You don’t think about joining the legion,” said Hagar, who left the Navy in 1946 but didn’t join the Legion until 1990.
“I was busy with other things,” he said.
Peterson got out of the Air Force in 1955 and joined the Legion in 1980. Until then, he was traveling during the work week, so he reserved his weekends for his family.
But later he joined up to spend time with people who could truly understand his experiences in Korea.
“When I started to get to know other vets, it got me kind of interested,” he said. “It’s the camaraderie.”
Now he’s trying to recruit veterans from the Gulf War and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s not sure if the posts will still be around when those veterans decide to join.
“Hopefully, 10 or 15 years from now, it’s not going to be too late. But with the way the posts are closing, it’s a possibility,” he said.
Still, he sees hope.
“We are beginning to get a few younger members from the Iraq War,” he said.
But the post has only a handful of veterans from the current war and the Gulf War.
“We have a few, a handful, maybe a dozen,” he said.
The post has 168 members in all, with the majority from World War II and Korea. The Broderick-Fuller-Nekola post has just a few less, with 157 members reported in the 2008 post membership record. That is a huge decrease from 1950, when 967 veterans came together to buy the land and build the post.
All the posts in the country are seeing similar losses, said Warren Manor, legion vice commander of districts 3 and 4, which includes Schenectady.
“Each year it seems that the national and state membership declines,” Manor said. “The main reason is the World War II, Vietnam, Korea veterans are getting older. They’re dying off.”
He thinks newer veterans just don’t have the time to join.
“They’re having to work two jobs,” he said. “We have the same problem at the Knights of Columbus. With the cost of raising a family, they’re not getting involved in the legion or any other fraternal organization.”
The fact that posts are closing throughout the country didn’t make it any easier to sell the Broderick-Fuller-Nekola post. Member Anthony Rossi said the building’s sale was “the passing of an age.”
In a letter to The Daily Gazette, he said the final decision came down to finances.
“The newer younger vets needed to keep the post going are not joining,” he wrote. “The shrinking membership’s inability to support the property is the reason for the sale.”
He said the entire community has lost a repository of knowledge.
“The local centers, where the people’s memories of the war experience were gathered, will be scattered and relegated to the sterile collection of dwindling dates/locations in some little-used textbook,” he said. “It’s sad that these personal histories will eventually fade as others have before them.”
The post was named after three local soldiers who died in France in World War I. It was chartered in 1929, although the building was not constructed until 1950. That gives Rossi hope — he wants his post members to find somewhere else to gather. They could simply transfer to the last post in Niskayuna, but they also could continue the post without a building.
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