Declining membership and closings plague NJ American Legion posts
American Legion membership has been shrinking in New Jersey and the nation, and some posts have closed in recent years as the organization struggles to regain its former prominence.
The number of American Legion posts across the country dropped from almost 15,000 in 2000 to just under 14,000 in 2013. Total membership has dropped 11 percent since the year 2000. As of 2012, there were an estimated 2.4 million American Legion members across the country.
Michael Schaffer, commander of post 129 in Toms River, says Ocean County American Legion posts are probably doing better than most.
"We have the largest veteran population in the state, with over 40,000 veterans in Ocean County, one of the largest veteran populations in the country. Our particular post has over 1,700 members. And as a county, we are the largest county, as far as members are concerned around the state."
The secret of success for American Legion posts in the 21st century is recruiting, according to Schaffer.
"They are out there. You just have to make an effort to find them."
Schaffer says another thing they have to work on is their social media presence.
"The young guys and gals that are rotating out now are not interested in a printed newsletter. They want someplace where they can go online, see what we do and what we have and what we can support."
Jim Purcell is a former officer of American Legion River Edge Post 226, which recently closed because of declining membership.
"If you do go out and sign up a few, you are going to lose two at the other end," he said. "It is a very difficult process."
"The soldiers are not joining," he said. "They are doing other things. Young people with families have other interests right now."
But national American Legion officials at the national headquarters in Indianapolis are hoping to restore the legion's ranks to 3 million by their 100th anniversary in 2019. They are hoping to renew recruiting efforts among the almost 23 million veterans across the country.
Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.
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