Mattituck’s American Legion was set up just after the end of World War I, a war whose centennial is being commemorated this year. But the Legion Hall is in danger of not seeing its 100th birthday in 2020.
The Raymond J. Cleaves Post, named for a Mattituck casualty of that war, now has just 26 dues-paying members, says member Art Tillman, and will close if enough interest is not generated at a special free dinner meeting June 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Touch of Venice restaurant in Cutchogue.
“The last time we met, there were four of us, and we needed six or seven for a quorum,” said Mr. Tillman. “A couple years ago, we had to turn the Memorial Day Parade over to the fire department, even though it’s the traditional role of the Legion.”
Mattituck’s former Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #11117, which met at the Raymond J. Cleaves Post, closed about four years ago, and its remaining members joined Southold’s VFW.
Mr. Tillman said all veterans and all children of veterans are welcome to become members of the Legion, and there are no requirements that they live in Mattituck. Members and prospective members can RSVP to attend the dinner meeting by emailing him at Caylea30@aol.com or calling 631.298.9587.
“There we will discuss the activities of the American Legion and the veterans’ causes we fight for,” he said. “It was the Legion who fought the government to include Agent Orange as a disability from war. It is the Legion that advocates for VA Hospitals and patients. It is the Legion who remembers all those who have given lives for their country.”
Mr. Tillman, an Army veteran who served from 1958 to 1961, said the American Legion began losing members when Vietnam veterans didn’t feel accepted there when they returned from the war, and formed their own veterans’ group, Vietnam Veterans of America. Mattituck’s post hasn’t seen new members from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in part because today’s career soldiers keep returning to the battlefield.
But, he said, the decline in membership at the Legion is echoed in other service organizations.
“There’s a decline of volunteerism throughout the country,” he said. “People are too busy. They have second jobs. Housewives are working outside the home. There’s plenty of entertainment within the home. Generally, I would call it a social malaise. It’s a broad-based thing, in churches also.”
The Raymond J. Cleaves Post, a metal Quonset Hut at the northeast corner of the intersection of Pike Street and Wickham Avenue, is diagonally across Wickham Avenue from the Mattituck Firehouse, and the Mattituck Fire Department uses the Legion building for training classes.
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association also meets in the building.
Mr. Tillman said that, if the post closes, under normal circumstances the property would revert to the New York State American Legion, but the contract with the fire department could complicate that transfer.
“If we can get people in the Legion to come out and keep it going, and if we could get some new blood, we’ll try, but it’s basically that’s it, if we don’t get enough people there on June 27,” said Mr. Tillman. “I’m a sentimentalist. I feel bad about the ending of an institution that was there 97 years. We always put flags on graves, and had the old flag burning ceremony. I was friendly with a lot of guys who were active who are now gone. I’m doing it in their memory. They gave a lot and thought a lot of the Legion.”