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New Hyde Park loses its VFW post as members die and enrollment declines

Mario Obertis, 85, left, and Bill Hothan, 88,

Mario Obertis, 85, left, and Bill Hothan, 88, were among the last members of VFW Post 8031 in New Hyde Park. The chapter had declining enrollment and closed on April 15. Credit: John Paraskevas

The Veterans of Foreign Wars post in New Hyde Park, founded just after the end of the nation's last world war, closed last month after steadily declining enrollment and an inability to attract younger veterans. 

The VFW Gerard & Eugene Linder Post 8031 had 250 members in its heyday around 1965, but closed on April 15 with only four active members. One is New Hyde Park resident Mario Obertis, who said the deaths of members in recent years further shrank the membership. 

"All of the World War II guys, they're essentially gone now," said Obertis, 85, a Korean War vet who joined the post in 1994. "We lost our last one last July. He was 100 years old." 

The post opened in July 1946, almost a year after the end of World War II. Its members met monthly at different locations in New Hyde Park but eventually found a home base at the Marcus G. Christ Community Center. Post members rented the center for monthly meetings instead of finding a permanent location, which Obertis said eventually also hurt recruitment efforts. 

"Guys can't come in anytime like they can at an [official] VFW post," said Obertis. "They don't have, like, pool tables here for guys to just come in and spend leisure time."

Even as membership dwindled, the post continued to operate, said Oyster Bay resident Bill Hothan, 88, also a Korean War veteran and one of the post’s last four members. The other two are James Lutz and Gunther Harter. But, finally, four were not enough to keep it afloat, Hothan said.

“To run a decent post, all you need is seven people who are committed,” Hothan said.

The closure also means local Boy Scout troops won't receive awards from the VFW honoring those who earned their Eagle Scout rank, and the post will no longer sponsor the annual New Hyde Park Little League Parade, a tradition that began in 1950. 

New Hyde Park's American Legion Post will now handle military appearances at parades, said trustee Rainer Burger, the village’s Veterans Affairs liaison. Burger said the village's goal is to make sure the American Legion, which has 115 members, doesn't meet the same fate as the VFW. 

"I'll be working with them [American Legion Ernie Pyle Post 1089] trying to focus on getting the word out and trying to increase membership," Burger said. 

Obertis said VFW posts across Long Island are struggling to recruit younger veterans, particularly those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

Veterans from those wars return home and are more focused on reintegrating into civilian life than looking for a VFW post, said Roger King, past post commander  of Sag Harbor VFW Post 9082.

There's also an incorrect assumption among younger veterans that the VFW is just for old, Vietnam-era vets, said King, who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2009. Post leaders must make themselves  better known on Long Island, King said, and members must explain to younger veterans that, even though they built bonds with service members overseas, "you can still build those same relationships with veterans from different generations."

July 1946: The VFW Gerard & Eugene Linder Post 8031 opened and is named after two of its most celebrated members, two brothers who were killed in action in Germany and Italy, respectively.
August 1946: The post formed a ladies auxiliary.
May 1947: Post members held a joint meeting with members of the American Legion, Veteran's Club and New Hyde Park fire department about reviving the village's Memorial Day parade.
May 1948: Post members held their first formal meeting inside the Marcus G. Christ Community Center.
November 1948: The Post participated in its first military funeral, for Lt. Edward Barchuk, who was killed in action.
June 1953: Post members purchased and donated two baseball backstops for the village baseball diamonds at Memorial Field.
October 1957: The post began sponsoring the New Hyde Park Little League parade.
May 1961: Post members appeared for the first time uniformed at the village's Memorial Day parade.
April 1962: The post was declared the most impressive unit during the Nassau County Loyalty Day Parade in Hempstead.

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