STOCKTON — One of the most historic veterans organizations in California has fallen on hard times and, according to its commander, Danny Wren, the group is at wits end on what to do.
Wren, who leads Karl Ross Post 16 of the American Legion, said that lacking outside help, the organization has even discussed closing its doors. The post, located at 2020 Plymouth Road in Stockton, has been in existence for more than 80 years.
“There are several reasons for our anxiety,” Wren said. “Our members, many from World War II and Korean War eras, are growing older. And while the Vietnam veterans now make up the bulk of the membership, Gulf War veterans are not joining our ranks as they should. The result of this is that more of our veterans are dying each year than are joining.”
Wren said, however, that the most immediate need was building maintenance.
“Our roof is sadly in need of repair,” he said. “We’ve been doing some emergency work, but it is not enough. To make the necessary repairs for this project alone, we are looking at $25,000. A few thousand more is needed to fix wiring and piping issues. Then there is a nearly $5,000 charge for a levee fee increase which we have to come up with quarterly. All of this is money we don’t have.”
Ron Poier, the post’s First Vice Commander, said he is frustrated as well with the situation. “I called officials in the regional and national organization,” he said. “They are telling me that lacking a devastating event they are not set up to help local posts. What they basically told me is that we are on our own.”
Some of the financial concerns could be relieved somewhat by a vibrant membership.
But according to Gail Francisco, who serves as the post’s adjutant, the problem is veteran groups in general haven’t been able to attract those returning from the Gulf War. “It may be they feel they won’t fit in with the older veterans,” she said. “Maybe they just haven’t gotten the message that the programs we have to help them aren’t adequate. Maybe changes need to be made in how we approach things. The answers aren’t clear.”
In the meantime, the post in Stockton is left with the responsibility to help veterans who are asking for help. And the post wants to provide that help as it has for some 82 years.
Among its founders in 1934 was Warren Atherton, the father of the GI Bill. Atherton also served as national commander of the American Legion. Benjamin Holt was also involved. He was owner of the Holt Tractor Company that not only redefined farming, but made possible those World War I and World War II tanks. It was those tanks that contributed greatly in winning both wars for the allies. The post also produced a second national commander of the American Legion, Leo Burke, and has in its current membership, a Medal of Honor recipient, Richard Pittman.