WATSONVILLE—Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1716, which has served the local community of veterans since its inception in 1929, is facing closure after members failed to elect officers at a meeting in July.
Member Paul Szemenciak says that, out of 116 members, just eight showed up to the last meeting.
When members were unable to decide on this year’s leadership, the California VFW Department of California suspended the charter of Post 1716, Szemenciak says.
Now, with the next meeting on Aug. 18 fast approaching, Szemenciak is hoping that more members will attend and step up into leadership roles.
If that doesn’t happen, the state office could permanently disband the post and sell the property, Szemenciak says.
That would be a blow for the community of veterans that rely on the post to connect with their brethren, he says.
“All I know is that the veterans wouldn’t have a place to go,” he said.
Rodger Meier, the VFW State Adjutant and Quartermaster, says the result of failing to elect leadership could also be consolidation into another local post. In order for that to happen, however, the post would have to agree to take on Post 1716’s debts, he said.
“We hope that the post can either elect officers and continue to be an integral part of their community, or be a part of a neighboring post,” Meier said.
Meier says that VFW halls are crucial parts of their communities, serving as places for blood drives, food distributions and educational programs to the community. Members donate thousands of volunteer hours, he says.
More importantly, they serve as a vital gathering place for people who have served in the military
“A VFW post is an important place for vets to socialize with other vets,” he said. “It’s a form of mental health to talk to people who can actually understand them.”
Ramon Gomez, who works as an analyst for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput, says the low attendance likely stems from concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, especially with increasing cases of the Delta Variant.
“It’s hard to get people together these days,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran Harry Wiggins, who is active in the local veteran community, added that the younger generations of veterans who served in more recent conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t joining the VFW as older ones did.
“I think it’s a whole generational thing,” he said.
Wiggins says that, if the VFW closed, it could mean the end to the volunteer efforts for which it is known, such as putting U.S. flags along Freedom Boulevard on Memorial Day.
It could also mean the end of the local Color Guard, and possibly the annual Memorial Day Parade, he said.
“The community would be crying,” he said.
The VFW Post 1716 will meet on Aug. 18 at 7pm at 1960 Freedom Blvd. to elect officers. All members are encouraged to attend.