Local veterans group hopes membership will increase

Snoqualmie - Ceremonies and events across the nation honor America's veterans each year in November, but veterans groups continue that honor all year - in ways both big and small.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Mount Si Post No. 9476 in Snoqualmie is no exception. The group helps veterans and their families in a number of ways, and teaches the younger generation "so that they're aware of what their parents and their parents' peers did and why," said post commander Howard Rapp.

Rapp, a Vietnam veteran, and David Lake, a veteran of World War II, go to the national cemetery in Maple Valley with other area VFW members at least once a month for services. They put on patriotic programs for students and others to teach them about the American flag and its significance.

But there are only a few members of the local VFW who are active and able to participate in such events. In the past five years, Rapp said 35 local VFW members have died. Of the 160 current members of the local post, about half have moved away and 50 or so are disabled. Only six or seven are very active, and the group is having trouble recruiting new members.

"We, as a post, are not atypical, but we've got a problem [in] that most of the members are World War II [veterans] - there are some Korean and Vietnam - but there is not a lot of participation; everyone's too old," Rapp said. "The biggest trouble is trying to recruit people my age, from Vietnam or later."

Rapp said that Washington probably has more veterans per capita than any other state in the country; more than 700,000.

"You wouldn't think we'd have this kind of difficulty, but we do," he said.

Rapp said there are a couple of reasons those from his age bracket don't participate. Many of them may still be working or have young families because they got married later on.

"They don't feel they've got the time and stuff," he said.

A lot of them also don't want to get involved in anything that has to do with the government, Rapp said. When those who served in Vietnam returned, "there was a bad connotation to say you'd served in the service."

"Most of us didn't want to go, but the people were against us because of what the government forced us to do," he said. "There wasn't any place to go and talk and what have you."

The media affected people's views, too, he said, because Vietnam was the first time the general public saw how bad war was.

In the current conflict, Rapp said he doesn't think the general public is "against the guys themselves this time. They may not like the war, they may talk against it, but they aren't throwing rocks at the guys coming back.

"In Vietnam, they'd never seen it before. Now they realize that's the way it's always been. Soldiers are following orders they've been given."

Rapp and Lake hope successful recruitment of veterans from recent and current conflicts will sustain VFWs and other veterans groups. Rapp's son is in the Air Force and will return to the Valley in a couple of months. He told his father he had some ideas for getting the younger veterans involved.

Lake said, "That's something we need is somebody who's been there and done that with them to help us."

Both men are optimistic about the VFW's future. Lake just signed a new member up on Nov. 10; he is the first new member in a long time, he said.

"With all the veterans coming in from Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, there's no doubt that a lot of them will eventually join the VFW or DAV (Disabled American Veterans) or another of a dozen different groups," Rapp said.

While the two men look forward to new members, they are putting a lot of effort into helping some of the older veterans and widows of veterans.

"We help the veterans, and we especially help them help themselves," Rapp said.

Lake said one thing he emphasizes is how important it is to register with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Money is appropriated by the government based on the number of claims, and many veterans haven't taken the time to file.

For information on the Veterans of Foreign Wars Mount Si Post No. 9476, call (425) 888-0223.

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