By Rod Lee
Again this year an ever-dwindling number of veterans associated with American Legion Post 58 and VFW Post 5663 will perform their solemn duty by leading observances of Memorial Day in the town of Oxford.
It is Post 58’s turn to host the Memorial Day Parade, which will start at about 10:15 a.m. on May 28th from the VFW Post on Federal Hill Road and proceed south on Main St. for dedications including remarks by town officials at the Vietnam-Korea, World War II, World War I, GAR and DAR monuments. Prior to that, a Memorial Honor Guard will visit all of Oxford’s seven cemeteries. The Parade will end at the American Legion Post and be followed by a luncheon there.
A conversation on the afternoon of May 9th with Jim Haskell, who is commander of Post 58, inevitably turned, as he must have known it would, to American Legion and VFW’s thinning ranks. Not just in South Country and Central Massachusetts but across the country.
“We had two hundred fifty members, we’re down to one hundred thirty-five,” Mr. Haskell, a U.S. Army Engineers’ veteran of the Vietnam War, said. “It’s hard to replace people when they pass away. We’re losing World War II veterans and now Korean War veterans and young guys from Afghanistan and Iraq are not interested in joining.”
Contrast this with the remarkable status of “Post 40 in Plymouth,” Mr. Haskell said, which “just constructed a multimillion-dollar building and they have 1300 members.” But Post 40 is an anomaly.
Part of the problem in maintaining membership, he noted, is “guys belong to other organizations too. I’m a life member of the DAV.” Also, while yearly dues to be a member of Post 58 seem small at $35, budgeting is an issue when “$28 of this goes to the state level” and “all Veterans Administration money not used goes to foreign aid.”
Talking about Memorial Day and other activities in which Post 58 is involved in the downstairs members’ room of the Legion’s facility at 227 Main St., Mr. Haskell reflected on his own delayed attachment to Post 58. “I was thirty-four when I got out of the Army, in 1966. It was twelve years before I joined the Legion and that was only because my brother was in Korea.”
Since then Mr. Haskell has been on Post 58’s Board of Directors “for forever” and “five years ago I was the commander for two years” (similarly, Don Bilodeau is a seven-time commander, an indication that responsibilities fall to a handful of the Legion’s stalwart and longstanding members).
Mr. Haskell is looking forward to “elections in June” when someone else will take over although he is not sure who that person will be. Mark Beaulieu is Post 58’s senior vice president (also the Post’s historian). The other officers are Quentin Burnett, junior vice president; Steve Cheney, adjutant; Steve Morrow, finance; Paul Mason, sergeant-at-arms; and Tom Siplas, chaplain.
Despite a shortage of members and never-enough funds, Post 58 is active throughout the year. A Sons of the Legion Yard Sale, in fact, is scheduled for this Saturday (May 19) at Post 58, starting at noon. The Post sponsors Boys State and Girls State participants, a state trooper program, the Oxford Little League, the Clara Barton School’s commencement ceremony (on May 25) and the “Oxford Firefighters for a Cause” horseshoe tournament (coupled with a silent auction) which is scheduled for June 9.
On June 14—Flag Day—Indian Ranch will host a free barbecue and ride around Webster Lake aboard the Indian Princess “for veterans for the first time,” Mr. Haskell said.
On a positive note, Post 58’s building itself is “in good shape,” he said. “We just put a brand-new furnace in, new security system, we have wireless, brand-new TV’s. Everyone has meetings here.
“People think we’re a bunch of old farts sitting around the bar telling war stories,” Mr. Haskell said, in reaffirming that this is not the case.
There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, as Oxford veterans prepare to exemplify “duty, honor, country” on Memorial Day.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.