The Veterans of Foreign Wars is eyeing the half-million U.S. servicemen who served in Operation Desert Storm as potential new life for its aging organization, the group's leader said.
``We're already recruiting,'' James Kimery, national commander-in-chief, said during an interview in Spokane, Wash. ``We've got something like 15,000 of them already signed up.''
Michael Miller, junior vice commander for the Lawrence chapter of the VFW, said the local post was following the lead of the national organization.
"We have sent out some applications," he said. "There's been some that have joined, and we have one who joined before he went over there, from Panama."
Miller said the recruiting efforts, which have brought in three members, had stemmed from the organization's letter-writing campaign to show support for the troops. VFW members can remain active in the military, he said.
THE VFW, with headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., represents 2.2 million veterans.
As the organization's leader, Kimery is touring several states, discussing the homecoming of the soldiers as well as legislation before Congress that will affect veterans' benefits.
Miller said it was important for the VFW to add new members and help ensure better benefits from the Veteran's Administration. On a local level, he said, the VFW offers monthly dances, an annual family day and a lake for fishing. Members also can receive free insurance policies from the national organization, Miller said.
The VFW is organizing the official homecoming festivities in Washington, D.C., on July 4, the day President Bush has called for a nationwide celebration, Kimery said. Kimery also is encouraging each of the 11,000 posts nationwide to hold its own celebration.
THE RECENT surge in patriotism can only help the VFW in its lobbying efforts in Congress to increase veterans' benefits and maintain a strong national defense budget, he said.
``I think that by having a clear-cut won battle we have put the Vietnam syndrome to rest,'' Kimery said. ``It does show that we can have a clear-cut victory, because that was what the Vietnam syndrome was, that we would never have a victory again. That's gone.''
Kimery said recruiters should have an easy time signing up new members because the war was so decisively won and support at home was so strong.
Soldiers won't feel frustrated or ashamed of their service in the Middle East, like some did after the Vietnam War, he said.
``They had a purpose over there (in the Middle East). They had something to fight for. They had good leadership,'' Kimery said.
MEANWHILE, an officer for the Dorsey-Liberty American Legion Post 14 of Lawrence said the Legion would not officially begin recruiting new members until it receives directions from the organization's national office.
"It will probably be forthcoming very quickly," financial officer Kevin Remick said.