LAHARPE — There was a time when the LaHarpe Veterans of Foreign Wars post housed one of the largest civic organizations in Allen County.
In its early days, the VFW’s rolls were filled with soldiers fresh out of World War II, and it had more than 200 active members, Doug Northcutt noted.
Those numbers have steadily dropped, as that generation grew older, and veterans of more recent conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been less likely to join, explained Northcutt, commander of the LaHarpe VFW post.
“I was probably the same way,” said Northcutt, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
“I really didn’t want to have anything to do with any of it. But as you get older, you learn about what they do, and you want to get involved.”
He hopes to convince others to join, and soon.
While the LaHarpe post still has 86 members, “active members is another story,” Northcutt said.
Those can be counted on one hand.
“We probably have two or three who show up for our meetings every month,” he said.
That’s because most of the 86 members are in their 70s or older.
“They’d be willing to come and help if they could, but they just can’t any more,” Northcutt said.
Northcutt hopes a benefit dinner open to any military veteran Monday evening will help bring potential new members to the VFW.
The dinner will be served at 7 o’clock at the post home along U.S. 54 in LaHarpe. The meal is being provided by the VFW Auxiliary.
Northcutt noted other VFW posts in Iola, Moran and elsewhere closed decades ago.
Others in LaHarpe and elsewhere continue to limp along.
“It’s not unique to us,” he said.
ANY veteran who has served in a hostile area is eligible to join.
“We have a lot of younger veterans who can join,” he said. “All those who went to Iraq with the National Guard, they’re eligible.”
The VFW’s mission is to serve other veterans through a number of means.
“We donate to the Wounded Warriors, things like that,” he said. “We’d like to do more, but we just can’t.”
Northcutt said the VFW Auxiliary — which recently expanded to include males since a large number of military veterans are now women — continues to go strong.
Both the VFW and Auxiliary meet the second Monday of each month.
“We’ll have two or three guys, and they’ll have a room with 17 or more,” Northcutt said. “They’re doing a great job.”
To sign up for the VFW, veterans must have their DD-214 discharge papers.
Northcutt may be reached at (620) 496-2266.
NORTHCUTT’S military career took shape before his senior year of high school, but only after he was given a promise by an Army recruiter. “I told him if I couldn’t get on a tank, I wasn’t going to join,” Northcutt recalled. “He said, ‘No problem. We’ll get you on a tank.’”
Northcutt trained at Fort Knox, Ky., before moving to a base in Schwinfurt, Germany, for about two years.
He was planning to return to Fort Knox as a tank instructor before his orders changed abruptly.
“Of all the places in the world they could have sent me, they picked Fort Riley, Kansas,” he said with a laugh.
There, he toiled until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991.
“When I got to Fort Riley, they had enough men in our company for 1 1/2 platoons. They were just short on tankers.”