VFW, American Legion combine forces in Milford

MILFORD — The American Legion in Milford is hoping to make a comeback with help from fellow veterans at Blue Hen VFW after years of struggling to stay afloat.

“We were dying. Our population is getting relatively older. They’re in their late 70s to 80s. It’s harder for them to get out and come to meetings. These are the gentlemen that have already put their time in. They have taken every office, done the spaghetti dinners, parades, and all the functions of a post like this is expected to do and they can no longer do that,” Legion Commander Nancy Soriano said. “But at the same time, the younger generation, the newer soldiers, aren’t joining. They might actually join and have membership, but we never see them. In order to function, you need the manpower.”

Although the national American Legion organization is celebrating its centennial year this year, the group has been suffering, said Ms. Soriano, who has been an active member of Milford’s Legion organization for five years. It was previously located at 503 N. Rehoboth Blvd., Milford.

“I joined the Milford group and we were struggling then. We’ve always had enough members to make a quorum and that’s about it. But the one’s that are here are very strong willed, very dedicated. I don’t know what I would do without them. I see them once a month and it brings joy when I see them,” she said.

With hearts and years of service behind the members of the Legion, members of the organization reached out of their comfort zone. That’s when fellow heroes came on the scene to offer a helping hand.

Blue Hen Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6483 Commander Steven Hall shook Ms. Soriano’s hand and granted the Legion the opportunity to meet in their facility while the organization gets back on its feet.

“We’ve been pulled up by the bootstraps and I’m holding those tight. I have hope,” Ms. Soriano said.

The partnership is a team made to be, Mr. Hall explained, as they often have similar goals.

“If you’ve been in the military one day during wartime, you can go into the Legion. If you’ve been overseas or in a combat area, you can be in the VFW,” he said. “We both have scholarship programs that are available to junior high and high schoolers, we do the poppies, we do a lot together. But, to get all of our veterans is why we have both organizations.”

Ms. Soriano agreed. She served in the Air Force for 18 years between 1979 and 1997 as an electrician, eventually moving on to a civil engineering unit. Mr. Hall served in the Air Force for nearly 20 years.

Despite their passion for their organizations, Ms. Soriano and Mr. Hall said both groups are struggling with memberships and community involvement. They hope working together will help strengthen them in the long-haul.

“We’re struggling with scholarship applications, even,” Mr. Hall said. “There’s $10-15 grand out there and nobody will touch it.”

Aside from scholarships, both organizations help the community when they hear of a need like a leaky roof or a home without running water. They also help the families of veterans when they can, offering assistance here on the home front or abroad by sending supplies and comfort to local soldiers who are deployed.

“We’re just talking about fixing some simple things to make life easier for the people in our community,” Ms. Soriano said. “Sometimes, all they [veterans] need is an ear and a shoulder — we can take care of that. At the same time, we need the community connections.”

Mr. Hall added, “This is why we are sharing this building. We still run our separate programs, but we have the same goals and values.”

The groups are now also working together to coordinate Poppy sales, organize an Easter egg hunt, place flags around town for Memorial Day and help with the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Milford.

“The Legion has been here for three months now. It’s a big relief for us because we’re feeling the support. Our membership is up, so we’re stabilizing as far as that goes. But, the active part of getting things done is still not taking place. We’re still struggling. We now have hope and part of that was coming here with the group that’s supporting us. We’re still trying to get our faces out there,” Ms. Soriano said. “I see a brighter future because we’re here with them and getting support. I look for that to grow and help us get momentum.”

Both groups are hoping to increase their veteran and social memberships. The VFW also has auxiliary memberships available for those with immediate family members in the service or are veterans. The Legion can accept auxiliary memberships from women. Men interested in the Legion auxiliary can join the Sons of the Legion.

The Legion meets at Blue Hen VFW on the first Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. located at 77 Veterans Way, Milford.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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