The Mattituck American Legion will soldier on, as 17 new members and transfers signed on to join the post Thursday evening, after getting word that it might close without new recruits.
The Raymond J. Cleaves Post, named for a Mattituck casualty of World War I, had just 26 dues-paying members as of mid-June, and at recent meetings had been unable to conduct business because they didn’t have a quorum.
The post held an emergency dinner meeting at Touch of Venice restaurant in Cutchogue June 27 to gauge interest in the community in keeping the post alive, and members were heartened enough by the turnout to decide to carry on, holding a swearing-in for new members July 6. In all, 12 new recruits joined, and five transferred from other American Legion posts.
Eighteen-year American Legion member Bobby Neudeck, who was elected Commander Thursday evening, said the Legion hasn’t done much for the past five years. He’s been a member of the Mattituck Fire Department, which leases space in the Legion Hall, for 48 years, and joined at the urging of Howard Wells, a longtime member of both the fire department and the Legion.
“For two years, we’ve been fighting to keep a Legion Hall,” he said as he served up hot dogs, bratwurst, sauerkraut and North Fork potato chips for the growing crowd.
Ron Breuer, who lives in Cutchogue, has been in the Southold and Greenport American Legions. An Army veteran of the Vietnam War with the 195th Helicopter Company and a retired businessman, he now serves as a volunteer for the Small Business Administration’s SCORE volunteer mentorship program.
“The Legion has to reach out more and contact people. There’s a new generation of Legionnaires who are using social media,” he said as he served up refreshments for the crowd. Mr. Breuer hopes to use his business skills to help drum up just that kind of support.
He struck up a conversation with a fellow Vietnam veteran, John Ribeiro of Mattituck, who joined the American Legion when he got out of the Army in 1972, but was never assigned to a post and hadn’t seriously considered joining one until he heard that the Mattituck post might be in danger of closing.
Mr. Ribeiro, who was a prosecutor for 26 years, had served in a tank company in Vietnam, and he and Mr. Breuer reminisced about the beauty of the countryside where they’d served, the best Korean barbecue, called Bulgogi, that Mr. Ribeiro had found in Vietnam, and, of course, the war and Army life, filled with unforgettably mediocre rations.
Rob DeVito, a Southold American Legion member who decided to transfer to Mattituck, said he’d like to see the American Legion do more to welcome Cold War veterans, which technically could cover all veterans from 1947 to 1991.
Mr. DeVito served in the Vietnam War after he was drafted in 1971.
“Vietnam and Korea are direct offshoots of the Cold War,” he said. “But it’s not a recognized period of conflict. A lot of men did the same job I did, but not during wartime. But they could have gone to war at any minute.”
Mr. DeVito added that, in 1989, there were 3,013,000 veterans in the American Legion nationwide, but today there are only about 2 million members, according to the American Legion’s magazine.
“It’s a good organization that tries to help people out,” he said. “But young men can’t afford to live here, and what 25-year-old is going to want to join? There’s nothing in it for them.”
Peter Young, a veteran of both the Air Force and the Army, who now lives in Mattituck, had been a member of the American Legion in Cold Spring Harbor, and decided to join in Mattituck when he heard they needed new recruits.
Air Force veteran Robert Dean, who enlisted in 1982 and then served at the 106th Air National Guard in Westhampton before retiring in 2009, said that, as a Mattituck firefighter and a veteran, he and his fellow firefighters who are veterans hope to reinvigorate the post.
“It’s good to get this back,” he said of the American Legion. “I don’t miss the job, but I miss the guys.”
Upstairs in the Legion’s meeting room, filled with flags from different branches of service, yellow ribbons and the POW/MIA flag flown since the Vietnam War, its corners crowded with bags filled with worn American flags awaiting retirement ceremonies, the longtime members and new recruits said an invocation, and remembered post member William Stars of Mattituck, who had just died on the Fourth of July.
They then recited the preamble to the American Legion’s Constitution before being sworn in: “to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations during the Great Wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and goodwill on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy; to participate in and contribute to the accomplishment of the aims and purposes of The American Legion; to consecrate and sanctify our association by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”
Veterans interested in joining can call Art Tillman at 631.398.9587 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.