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Vets gather to remember, but also look ahead

Veterans Day program Saturday at American Legion

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 10:28 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 11:03 a.m. CST

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Ninety-nine years ago the battlefields of World War I went quiet, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month of 1918, and across Jasper County this Saturday, groups of veterans and supporters will get together to commemorate that event.

Veterans Day, which began as Armistice Day, will be recognized by several different groups of veterans this year. As they remember the past, they are also focused on the future. Declining enrollment and an inability to attract younger members to their organizations has many veterans worried about the future of those institutions as they honor our nation’s veterans.

Judy Brassfield, the Vice President of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 111, said her organization will hold its annual Veterans Day program at 11 a.m. Saturday at the American Legion Hall in Newton, 1101 W. Fourth St. S. The event, which has been held previously at DMACC in Newton has been moved to the Legion Hall this year. Following the program the legion hall will be opened up to serve coffee and cookies to veterans, Brassfield said. For Brassfield, the event represents a chance to honor veterans for their service, but also, to remind them the legion is available to support them.

“We want to pay attention to our veterans, we’re here for them and their families,” Brassfield said.

The auxiliary has struggled in recent years to attract younger veterans to the organization, and as she gets older, she worries the organization is at risk of dying out if they aren’t able to convince younger veterans to participate. Lori Nelson, the new president of the auxiliary said she’s hoping to shake things up to encourage more participation.

At 53, Nelson is one of the youngest members of the auxiliary.

“It’s time to get the word out, and get young people involved, or we’re not going to have an auxiliary, we won’t be able to support our veterans,” Nelson said.

In Colfax, veterans groups are facing similar challenges. Dave Mast, Colfax mayor, and the president of the local AmVets chapter said he hopes the annual Veterans Day soup supper his organization is hosting Saturday will be a bridge to connect with those veterans who aren’t currently involved with the organization. Like Nelson, Mast is one of the youngest members of the AmVets chapter, even though he’s in his 70s.

“You want to try and get people to show up who aren’t necessarily a member and have a little camaraderie,” Mast said.

In Colfax, the high school is also organizing a free breakfast for veterans on Friday morning. Beginning at 7:15 a.m., the breakfast will take place at the high school, and will be followed by an all-school assembly to thank veterans for their service.

Veterans Day is often a that draws veterans who aren’t currently active in a veterans association into contact with groups like AmVets, and Mast said he’s hoping veterans will see something that they want to be a part of when they sit down for a bowl of soup at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Howard Street Christian Church in Colfax. Typically, the event draws anywhere from 20 to 30 veterans, and Mast hopes some of the younger veterans from more recent conflicts will take him up on his invitation. Without an influx of new, younger members Mast said he’s concerned about the future of the organization.

“When the typical person is over 80, you’re not sure what the legion or AmVets will look like in five years,” Mast said. “I’m one of the young ones and I’m 70.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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