American Legion post in Belmont seeks members

Post 312 tries to stay viable as Post 666 closes

BELMONT — On May 2, American Legion Department of Ohio Commander Ron Chapman told legion posts across the state in an open letter, “We must continue to work the membership if we are to maintain our status as the largest veterans service organization in the land. Please continue to push to reach your goals.”

The Ohio Legion requires that all posts have at least 25 members; otherwise they must close their doors. Two local posts have been notified that they must close due to that rule if they cannot increase their numbers to 25 by May 30, 2018.

American Legion Post 312 in Belmont will try to increase its membership, while Maynard Post 666 already has closed its doors and plans to dissolve into St. Clairsville Post 159.

Maynard Post 666 Commander John Wodarcyk said his post was already in the process of closing before notification was sent because the post is losing members due to deaths. In the past year, the post has seen three of its members honored in military funerals — two World War II veterans and one Vietnam War veteran.

“We had 14 members earlier this year, but one passed away and we decided to close. We just keep losing members — we are all in our 70s and 80s and our post is small,” Wodarcyk said. “It’s sad that we need to close. It started in 1944. But we knew that if we didn’t have 25 members by next year they would close us down anyway, so we’re beating them to the punch.”

Wodarcyk said although he is sad to see his post close, he likely will become a more active member by being associated with St. Clairsville Post 159.

“They have a big canteen and always have a lot of meetings and events. They also do a lot of charity work with the city,” Wodarcyk said.

Belmont Legion Post 312 Commander Ed Blon said his organization is “recovering” and has picked up a few new members recently to bring its total up to 18.

He said it traditionally has been difficult to find new, younger members because the organization is mainly a service organization and doesn’t provide many benefits.

“The Legion offers the opportunity to serve your community. A lot of people nowadays, when they join a group they expect to get something in return for joining,” Blon said. “We just keep losing members. And they don’t quit — in most cases they die. Last year we lost four members.”

Blon said five other posts in American Legion Department of Ohio District 11 besides Belmont and Maynard were notified they would need to close their posts, including Post 337 in Quaker City, Post 246 in Duncan Falls, Post 418 in Dexter City, Post 461 in Antrim and Post 756 in Hopewell.

“We’re working hard getting our numbers up, and we believe we’re going to do it,” Blon said.

Post 312 operates the Belmont County Military Veterans Museum on Barrister Street in Belmont, and Blon said the Legion is planning to host interviews of any veteran who has a story to share.

“We have a committee working on the museum right now, and they are very interested in veterans’ stories.” Blon noted.

Blon said the Belmont Legion Post 312 gets all of its funding from donations.

“We don’t have a bar or a canteen, so we rely strictly on donations. We set up at a local restaurant every Monday and people donate there, and we are working on other leads,” Blon said.

Post 312 serves the community by sponsoring a Memorial Day parade and ceremony each year in Belmont. Members place flags at nine rural cemeteries before Memorial Day each year, and they participate in military funerals whenever needed.

Blon noted that he serves at military funerals as part of a different service organization, the Belmont County Veterans Association, which does not accept donations.

“We are glad to do this service. And the veteran does not have to belong to any veteran organization. They’ve earned it,” Blon added. “We don’t take any donations at the Belmont County Veterans Association because we just do it for the vets. Anything we need, we just purchase ourselves. We want to honor their memories and want to portray honor ourselves.”