Published : Monday, May 28, 2018 | 5:31 AM
Memorial Day is a reminder for many local veterans that the camaraderie they once shared in military service still exists within the American Legion Posts and Vietnam Veterans Chapter here in Pasadena.
But every year their ranks thin, and the public’s thankfulness seems to fade further.
Pasadena’s American Legion Posts face the same demographics-driven problem the Legion and many other veteran organizations face nation-wide: their membership numbers are dropping, mostly due to the passing of older vets, and younger veterans aren’t joining.
For the Vietnam Veterans Chapter, there simply are no young new members to enlist.
“Membership goes up and down. People die and I can’t say we get new members because they’re all old guys,” said Alan Stelzer, 74-year-old Army veteran and President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 446 in Pasadena.
Stelzer says current membership hovers around 100 veterans and it changes each year.
He says it is unlikely to exceed that number any time soon.
“That’s typically the difficult number to maintain,” Stelzer said.
Stelzer was drafted into the Army in 1965 and served in Vietnam until 1967 as a combat infantryman.
Although the war ended nearly five decades ago, Stelzer says the role of the VVA in Pasadena remains relevant and it is an important space for fellow Vietnam vets.
VVA members meet at least once a month to reach out to less fortunate vets who may be experiencing hardship.
“We help veterans that need housing or food or need counseling. We’ll just steer them in that direction and help them along and follow through with some of their paperwork,” said Stelzer.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he added, noting the VVA helps all veterans including, “Korea, World War II, or the stuff that’s going on today.”
Navy Veteran Loren McReynolds, who served in combat during the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1966, frequents the East Pasadena American Legion Post 280 where he has been a member for 32 years.
“We have some camaraderie, but I mean, we’re like a lot of them and we don’t talk about the military. We just appreciate each other for who they are,” said McReynolds.
Nationally, membership in the American Legion has hovered around 2 million for the past five years compared to around 10 years ago when membership was at 2.6 million, according to a report.
Stelzer says the VVA and other local posts aren’t typically a place where veterans talk war stories. If anything, they are places to do the opposite.
“The veterans in our group are very friendly, but veterans speaking to the general public about anything that went on, it’s very difficult to expound on,” he explained.
The VVA is perhaps most visible to the public on Memorial Day, where members gather at Pasadena’s Memorial Park to remember those who lost their lives in combat.
“It’s very sobering day. We don’t have a lot. We don’t have any grandstanding at any of our memorial events. It would be the same thing when your grandparents died. You don’t have the politicians come in and give out balloons and speak of all the wonderful things they’re going to be doing,” Stelzer explained.
Stelzer and fellow VVA members are also sure to honor those who lost their lives in wars other than Vietnam, such as the Korean War, which he says does not have a proper memorial site in Pasadena.
“It’s commonly called the Forgotten War,” he said.
Veteran organizations in Pasadena include the American Legion Pasadena Post 13, East Pasadena American Legion Post 280, and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 446.