Local legions seek new members

A historical photo shows the Clatsop Voiture 547s driving the Forty & Eight train during an Astoria Regatta parade in the late 1950s.

Hundreds attended Memorial Day events around the county in memory of those who died while serving in the military.

But as wreath ceremonies and flag salutes unfolded, concerns about the longevity of the institution that largely coordinates these events remain a troublesome undercurrent to an already somber holiday.

The American Legion, a wartime veterans organization that focuses on veteran outreach and community service, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019. But it has been declining in membership nationwide for years.

In Oregon alone, membership has dropped from around 21,500 in 2005 to 16,700 last year — and local legion posts are also feeling the crunch.

Mike Phillips, the adjutant of Clatsop Post 12 of the American Legion, said while the local finances have remained stable, membership between the Legion, Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion branches have dropped from 1,110 when he joined in 2002 down to below 800.

With fewer people joining, worries have mounted about who will take over organizing traditional ceremonies and events.

“We want to get more young people involved,” Phillips said. “We only have about 50 members from Middle East wars — that’s the same as our World War II membership.”

At American Legion Post 168 in Cannon Beach, membership has dropped about 25 percent in the last 10 years, Adjutant Agris Pavlovskis said. But what has impacted this post more has been a decline in turnout at fundraising events like classic oyster feeds and rib night specials.

“We’re not in dire straits. We’re just coming to a point where we can’t continue like this,” Pavlovskis said.

Fewer people attending fundraising events is beginning to impact the Legion’s ability to pay for community events like the Memorial Day wreath ceremony and Fourth of July parade, he said.

With less money coming in and newly-instituted city requirements to buy liability insurance cutting into reserves, for the first time the Legion will have to require parade participants to pay a $5 fee to enter. The organization may need to find other revenue sources if the parade is to continue.

“It’s a national trend,” Pavlovskis said. “We do a lot of community service, but every time we dig out money from the reserves, the less we can do to help veterans.”

The cause for the drop is hard to identify. Pavlovskis said in general it is always harder to get younger people interested in community service when they are busy with jobs and families.

Some larger, cultural changes about how the military is perceived in general could be partially to blame, Phillips said. Locally, with an active Coast Guard population, there are probably more options for younger veterans in town to congregate elsewhere, Phillips said.

“The average age is 70 when you walk into the Legion,” he laughed. “They probably still do a lot of their partying elsewhere.”

But there is reason to be hopeful. With the 100-year anniversary of the American Legion approaching, Phillips hopes the message of helping veterans will again be at the forefront of people’s minds.

“We just have to keep maintaining the spirit of the post,” he said. “Because as long as you have that, you’ll be okay.”

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