Bradenton veterans post members to be at Red Barn

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 14, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Dick Alvarez will be looking for a few good people Saturday and Sunday.

More than a few, actually.

The first vice chairman and some fellow members at Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24 will hold a membership drive at the Red Barn Flea Market, 1707 First St. E. from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

It's just the third time in the 93-year-old Post's history it has held such a recruiting drive.

Its membership is about 1,400 when northern members are here during the winter. During the summer, however, it plummets below 700.

"I look around at the participation at our monthly meetings on Thursdays and there's just not enough people," said Alvarez, 69. "When you get an organization and you have meetings you want a lot of people there to voice their opinions, bring up problems they're having, anything. But there's not enough there."

The natural attrition of World War II members exacerbates the situation.

"Sadly we have lost the effectiveness ... of our greatest generation members," said the decorated Vietnam War veteran. "Our Korean War veterans are having difficulties providing additional support as well as those of the Vietnam War.

"We simply don't have enough strength and interest from returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans."

That will take time, Alvarez said.

"When they come out they don't want to have anything to do with military stuff, but eventually they come back," he said. "If they want to join we've got programs to offer them."

Retired U.S. Air Force veteran Drew Thomas agreed. The former B-52 crewman is a Post 24 member.

"A lot of veterans don't realize what the American Legion can do for them," he said. "A lot of them want to recover their records, but don't know how to do it. We've got a service officer who can do that. Same for finding out about their VA benefits."

That's what Post 24 representatives will be telling people who visit their Red Barn booth this weekend.

"Whatever problems veterans are having, we can be their voice," Alvarez said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix

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