By the time New Hyde Park’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8031 closed in April after a nearly 73-year existence, its membership had declined to less than the bare minimum.
It had 17 members, only four of whom were active, and the post was struggling to reach a quorum at meetings, Mario Obertis, the post’s most recent commander, said. He had been playing double duty for nearly a year ever since the post’s “financial man” Benny Messina, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, had died.
Obertis attributes the post’s dissolving to such deaths.
“Most of our members were World War II and Korean,” he said. “We had a few Vietnam veterans and oddly enough one of them passed away last year … but all of our World War II veterans, for the most part, are gone.”
Obertis transferred the remaining members to Garden City Park’s Post 120, which he said still has about 50 members.
His chapter’s closing, however, is unfortunate for the community, he said.
“A lot of people are going to lose out,” Obertis said. “We used to support the Little League parade, the Eagle Scouts and we used to make a lot of donations to different groups. We’re not going to be doing that now.”
Obertis, who served in Germany during the Cold War, joined the post in 1994 after attending the local Memorial Day parade.
“I saw some of the older guys marching, and it just brought back memories of when I was in the service,” he said.
Upon joining, he found a group of men similar to himself who became his close friends. It didn’t matter which war each had served in – their shared life experiences bonded them.
Perhaps it’s because there are fewer in the area or perhaps it’s due to a lack of interest, but younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were not joining the post, Obertis said.
Even attendance for the Memorial Day parade has been declining, he said.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, a national organization headquartered in Kansas City, dates back to 1899. Veterans of both the Spanish-American War and the Philippine insurrection banded together while navigating a country that did not provide veterans with pensions or medical assistance, according to the organization.
It now has more than 1.6 million members. Its National Veterans Service supports veterans in accessing veterans benefits, and the organization advocates for veterans, pushing legislation and devoting special efforts to groups such as women and students.
New Hyde Park’s post met in Village Hall every month, lacking a space of its own where members could meet and relax, Obertis said.
He is a member of the local American Legion chapter and will participate in Garden City Park’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Even without an official post, New Hyde Park will still have a Memorial Day parade, Obertis said.
But losing his chapter hurts, he said.
“The camaraderie, it’s the same as when you’re in the service,” Obertis said. “You make a lot of friends, and you don’t forget them.”