Rifle American Legion on a mission to replenish membership
Rifle American Legion Post 78 is facing a crisis: dwindling membership.
Even though Post Commander Mike Bosshardt estimates there to be more than 1,000 veterans currently living in the Garfield County area, he said over the years the local Post has dropped from 100 members in 2005 down to about seven this year.
“We had about 40 members pass away because of the older generation,” the U.S. Air Force veteran said. Bosshardt, 49, was a crew chief on C-35 aircraft.
As World War II, Korean and even Vietnam war veterans continue to age and die, Bosshardt’s mission is to try and at least restore membership to 100.
To do so requires convincing many younger military veterans that there’s more to Legion membership than talking war stories over cheap drinks amid a haze of cigarette smoke.
“The reason why it’s hard to get help is because they have a stereotype that the Legion is just for older guys,” he said.
There’s more to it, Bosshardt said. The American Legion is responsible for so much: fundraising to defray memorials, visiting the local Veterans Affairs nursing home and giving Christmas packages to the old-timers and, most importantly, fighting to take care of vets when they’re discharged.
The American Legion is typically responsible for a number of community projects. They mean
“That’s one reason why I joined the American Legion, is because they will lobby the politicians to make sure we are taking care of our veterans,” Bosshardt said. “We’re one of the biggest voices for that.”
Bosshardt said the Rifle Post doesn’t have their name out there much in the community. In fact, they don’t even have their own building. Instead, before COVID-19 official Post 78 meetings were taking place at a local funeral home.
“Because people don’t even know we’re here, they don’t even know where to meet,” Bosshardt said. “If we had a facility, then people would know where we’re at to come and meet.”
Jan Detwiler, former commander and Post 78 member of 20 years, said dwindling membership isn’t just isolated to just Rifle.
“It’s hard at all of them,” she said. “I was at a meeting down in Fruita, and they’re having a struggle. The young people are not interested.”
Detwiler, also a lifetime member of the Ladies Auxiliary who served in the U.S. Marines between 1957 and 1960, said as little as three people sometimes show up to the Post 78 meetings in Rifle.
“It is a tragedy that these young people don’t wake up to the fact that they have older people,” she said. “They need to see us, and they need to take our places, you know?”
Post 78 member Betty Clifford, 75, served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1988. She said it’s important for younger veterans to start joining up with the Legion.
“I think it’s pretty important because I think that veterans don’t get the recognition that they need,” she said.
But there are some younger veterans participating in the American Legion.
Yadira Guthrie, a 37-year-old American Legion member from Carbondale, was in the U.S. Army when she did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her job was to supply the infantry.
The reason she’s a member despite her youth?
“I am very patriotic,” she said. “Like, when I was in eighth grade, I knew I wanted to join the army because I got the chills every time I heard the national anthem. That part of me never left. I’m still in it for the camaraderie.”
As to why other younger veterans aren’t joining the American Legion nowadays, Guthrie’s still thinking about that, she said.
“They have the stigma, like older people or whatever. I’m still trying to figure that out,” she said. “Because, with my people I’m like creating a Facebook page that people can see what we do more, because a lot of the older members don’t have Facebook, they don’t do any of that stuff. … They don’t have the technology.”
So far, Bosshardt has continued to do what he can to galvanize people into joining up. He’s meeting with other American Legion posts and looking to expand their online presence.
Membership is just $45 a year.
“We need to find a way to give (veterans) a sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, you know, because you have a brotherhood the whole time in the military, and having these veteran groups, it gives you that brotherhood again.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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