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Veterans’ groups offer a legion of support

Ryan Carter

If you ask Frank Iannaconne, going to American Legion Post No. 150 is

about a lot more than a drink at the bar. For Iannaconne and other

veterans who frequent them, places such as the Legion, Veterans of

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Foreign Wars Ship 8310 or Disabled American Veterans Chapter 40 are

where military history comes alive and war stories echo back to the

1940s.

“It is an honor for me to come here and enjoy the company of all

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the guys and talk about old times,” said Iannaconne, who served in

the Navy during World War II and the Korean conflict.

All three Burbank clubs have survived since the early 20th

century. Generations of veterans have passed through the halls, which

are occasionally rented out for bingo games, weddings, dances, wakes

and memorials.

Veterans who are active members of each club see them as community

resources. Their members quietly donate items and their time to the

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needy and to their comrades at Veterans Administration hospitals.

They sponsor local high school teams and participate in toy drives.

The national Disabled American Veterans organization was founded

in 1920 with a focus on helping injured veterans receive their

rightful benefits. It is totally funded by dues and contributions,

and receives no federal funding. The national American Legion was

formed in 1919 as a wartime veterans’ organization to promote support

among its members and to preserve the memories of the groups.

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Veterans of Foreign Wars traces to 1899, when it formed to secure

the rights and benefits due American soldiers returning from overseas

combat.

Navy veteran James McDermott is bar manager and treasurer of the

Disabled American Veterans post at 1115 W. Magnolia Blvd.

“First of all, this organization helps me get my benefits,”

McDermott said. “Otherwise, it’s the comradeship. You get fellow

veterans that went through the same situations -- maybe not the same

battle -- but you can relate. You can get some pressure off your head

before you go nuts. Basically, we are here to help our comrades and

their families.”

But older members are dying off and moving away. That makes

recruiting new members more of a challenge, said McDermott, adding

that only about 15 members at the local Disabled American Veterans

post are active, out of a roster of 1,352.

“We’ve lost a lot of members, from just old age,” said Carol

Burks, the bar manager at the American Legion.

Burks hoped the generational connections among members will prompt

a new wave of members, but she isn’t optimistic.

“The numbers are just not as good as we would like to see them,”

she said.

Iannaconne, though, is more optimistic about the future of places

such as the American Legion, predicting membership will come in

clusters.

“You’ll see a flow come in, then a dead moment, then before you

know it, a new group will come in,” he said.

McDermott, 53, who injured his back when he fell down a hatch

during the Vietnam War, is a part of the Disabled American Veterans

squad that will appear at local Veterans Day ceremonies Tuesday.

“For us, the importance is that we are the only ones helping out

our brothers and sisters at the VA hospital,” he said.


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