“We used to have over 300 members at one point,” said Frank Salamino, a member of East Meadow’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2736. “Now we have 25 members in total. Our post is dying.”
Only 11 members attended the VFW’s Aug. 7 meeting. Salamino, 72, the post’s quartermaster, said the organization is in dire need of new members, now more than ever. Bill Weber, an 89-year-old Vietnam veteran, said that although he can travel to meetings at the American Legion, other members are not as mobile.
“Several members can’t get out of bed anymore,” Weber said. “And some have passed away this year. But there’s so many young guys that live in East Meadow and Merrick and Bellmore that can join the post. I’m just not sure they know who we are.”
Post 2736 is a chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, which veterans of the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection founded in 1899 to make sure that veterans received rights and benefits for their service, according to the VFWUS website. Now, the organization has 1.7 million members. But Salamino said that East Meadow’s post is struggling to reach 30.
“We offer so many services,” Post Commander John Mallico said. “We offer medical support and we put outings together. We help members with any paperwork they need, either medical or government-related. We help members get their medals. We can even help the younger guys find jobs if they’re having a tough time. We do a lot.”
Mallico, 90, a World War II veteran, joined the post in 2005, and became commander in 2014. Since then, he has organized outings, meetings and Memorial Day parade appearances. Regardless of the post’s community presence, he said the group membership is languishing. “We used to get up to 50 new memberships at a time,” he recalled.
Despite the dwindling numbers, at their last meeting, all 11 members wore smiles and caps that displayed medals from their respective wars: Korean, World War II and Vietnam. Bill Lattarulo, 72, the post’s adjutant, read the agenda, and announced that one new member enrolled this month.
Brooklyn native Richard Barelli, 71, was welcomed by his new comrades as they each shook his hand. “I wanted to join because this post has some really great guys in it,” Barelli, a Vietnam veteran, said. “I have friends in this post, and I like going to the outings. It’s easy to talk to these guys.”
Longtime friends Lattarulo and Salamino were both drafted into the Army one after the other. “He laughed at me when I got drafted,” Lattarulo recalled. “A week later, he got drafted, too.”
Both joined the post in 2012 after watching members march at a Memorial Day parade. They were both American Legion Post 1082 members.
“I looked at Bill and said, ‘Look at those old bags!’” Salamino laughed.
“They looked so old marching down the street,” Lattarulo recalled. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta join.’ And we haven’t looked back since.”
“We need all the members we can get,” Salamino interjected. “We’re fighting for this.”
Stephanie Rossetti, the post’s only female member, said she hopes more women will join. At 65, Rossetti is the post’s youngest member. For now, members are preparing for their Labor Day dance at the Knolls on Sept. 2.
“We catch up and talk, mostly,” Rossetti said. “Communicating with each other and laughing together keeps us going strong.”