OGDEN — As fewer and fewer veterans populate the United States, veterans organizations are seeing a corresponding decrease in memberships. But an American Legion post in west Ogden is bucking that trend, still going strong after 100 years.
On Monday, Ogden’s American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9 will celebrate its centennial.
Housed in a 1,500-square-foot building on west 24th Street, the post is the third oldest, continuously active American Legion organization in Utah. Posts throughout the state were chartered in ascending order and there are only two posts in Utah older than the Ogden Legion: Post 2 and Post 3 in Nephi and Price, respectively.
Baker-Merrill currently has 438 current members, according to Bob Yeaman, another Vietnam veteran and adjutant of the post. Schow said up until last year, the post boasted the largest American Legion Membership in the state. A post in St. George has since taken over the top spot.
“But we’ll reclaim our rightful place again soon,” Schow said.
The post counts several high-profile Weber County veterans as members.
Bob Ramos and Casey Kunimura belong to Post 9. As an Army man, Ramos saw combat during three different U.S. conflicts. He fought in both Europe and the Pacific during WWII, then saw action again in both Korea and Vietnam. Kunimura, also an Army veteran, served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, as well. He also spent time in a Japanese internment camp before joining the military.
Medal of Honor recipient George Wahlen, for whom the Ogden veterans home is named after, was also a member until he died in 2009. Schow said Wahlen met his wife Melba at the Legion’s current home on 24th Street, though back then it was an establishment called “The Keg.”
First and foremost, Schow says, the Legion is about service. The organization runs the Boys and Girls State program; American Legion Baseball; it gives scouting recognitions; provides military funeral honors; helps veterans access their Veterans Administration benefits and more. The American Legion also led the battle to establish the GI Bill.
But aside from charity, life at the post is also about camaraderie.
“We like to get together and tell old sea stories,” Yeaman said.
Post commander and Vietnam veteran A.C. Scheer says the group provides veterans with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to connect with people who have experienced war.
“For any service guy — it’s hard to talk about what’s happened to them in a combat zone,” he said. “Until you have actually been through it ... you don’t understand. ... The goal for us is that we can accept a veteran and talk to him and hopefully help him adjust to everything that has to happen. The conversion from being in the military to being a civilian is a tough one.”
Schow says it’s for that reason that younger war veterans would benefit from the Legion.
According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S.’s veteran population is on the decline. In 2016, only 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Pew says the drop is directly related to decreases in active duty personnel, which over the past 50 years, has dropped significantly, from 3.5 million in 1968, to 1.3 million in 2016. The VA projects the decline will continue for the foreseeable future.
Shrinking numbers in veterans organizations like the Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars has also been well-publicized in recent years.
While the Baker-Merrill post still maintains a healthy membership, Schow said looking to the future can’t be ignored.
“(Recruiting a younger generation) obviously is part of the challenge,” he said. “We do need to get younger members in. It’s a problem in a lot of places — even in the Kiwanis and Rotary (clubs), those organizations are struggling too. For the American Legion, I feel it an obligation to try and make sure it keeps moving forward. I just believe it’s an important organization to have.”
Post 9 will celebrate 100 years on July 8 at 845 W. 24th Street in Ogden. American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad is scheduled to attend, with several other activities planned.