Leaders of central Maine veterans groups say their members are aging and younger soldiers coming out of the military aren’t joining the ranks to take their place or help shoulder the work of helping people, including other veterans, in their communities.

If local outposts of organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Marine Corps League don’t bring in new blood, several local leaders said, posts could close and the services they offer to the community and to veterans could end.

“We need to have some new blood, new ideas. We need somebody to step in and start taking over the activities us old guys are doing,” said Ralph Sargent, 81, of Augusta, a retired Marine who served in the siege of Khe Sanh and is senior vice commandant of Marine Corps League Kennebec Valley Detachment 599 and junior vice commandant of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9 in Gardiner. “Get out of your recliner, get up, and support the community that supported you while you were on active duty.”

Group members said some younger veterans who saw action in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan have told them they don’t join veterans groups after their military service because they doubt they would relate well to the older former soldiers there, partly because they don’t have much in common.

But Eric Hunt, 66, of Fairfield, who served in the Navy and is a past commander of Winslow VFW Post 8835 and an associate member of Marine Corps League Kennebec Valley Detachment 599, said a post full of older veterans is perhaps the most likely place that a young person dealing with the horrors of war can find someone who understands what they’ve been through.

“The younger people need to know there are people in these organizations that have experienced what they’ve experienced, and they’re not alone,” Hunt said. “There are others in these organizations who are in the same boat they are, and they’re more than willing to do what they can to help these younger members.”

Hunt noted that group members also go to VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus, where they help returning veterans with any problems.

Beyond camaraderie, local posts and groups provide services to veterans such as advocacy to preserve their benefits in Washington, D.C., and, Sargent said, access to people who are willing to help fellow veterans solve just about any problem they may have.

Hunt said his VFW post is down to about 400 members from the 600 it had in the late 1970s. But, he said, it’s the same 20 to 23 members who regularly go to post meetings, and that core group seems to be involved in nearly all the other post activities.

Members of other groups said the same thing: A small core group of their members are the ones involved in nearly every group activity and meeting, while other members are rarely seen at group events.

Bill Schultz, 76, retired Navy and commandant of Marine Corps League Kennebec Valley Detachment 599, said if the core members of these veterans groups stop coming and doing all the things they do, their local posts would likely close.

James Laflin, 70, of Readfield – retired Army, an AMVETS National Executive Committee representative, commander of AMVETS Post 2001 in Augusta and a past commander of the department of Maine AMVETS – said that organization has lost a couple of posts in recent years and has seen its state membership of about 1,500 decrease by 200 to 300 members.

Statewide, the number of legion members in Maine, according to a membership report on the state legion’s website, decreased by nearly 1,951 members from 2016 to 2017, and in that same period, only 315 new members joined in the state.

Augusta American Legion Post 2 lost 11 members and gained seven from 2016 to 2017, according to the state membership report. Gardiner’s Legion Post 4 lost 19 members and gained six. Waterville’s Legion Post 5 lost 60 members and gained 14.

Nationally, the American Legion had about 2.4 million members in 2010. Currently it has about 2.2 million in some 13,000 posts throughout the country and overseas, said John Raughter, a national legion spokesman.

Roger Paradis, 70, of Pittston, retired from the Navy and adjutant, historian and Americanism coordinator for American Legion Smith-Wiley Post 4 in Gardiner, said members of the Kennebec Valley Honor Guard, at their own cost, attend nearly 100 burials of veterans a year, and the group is increasingly finding it hard to keep up with the demand.

Schultz said one thing might help: As soldiers are leaving the military, they could be presented information about the various veterans groups and what they provide. “A lot of people don’t know anything about us,” he said.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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Twitter: kedwardskj