Editor's note: In recognition of Veterans Day, this is the second of three stories this week looking at the Northfield Veterans of Foreign Wars and the membership , its men's auxiliary and its ladies auxiliary.
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The World War II generation is perhaps America’s most patriotic. Even now, more than 60 years after the war, the women of the Ladies Auxiliary to the stand as a testament to that patriotism.
“My father was a very, very patriotic man and I just followed in his footsteps,” said Joanne Rone, 81, a Ladies Auxiliary member whose father, brother and ex-husband all served in the military. “I wanted to be a part of something I believed in.”
“They aren’t getting the younger members. I don’t think that they have the patriotism of giving as much to older servicemen.”
Millie Johnson, who worked as a riveter installing gun turrets in airplanes in 1943 and is a former Ladies Auxiliary president, shares Rone’s sentiments.
“It’s just been a great organization to for me to belong to,” said Johnson, whose husband served in the South Pacific during WWII. “Not only do we give a good service to a lot of people, but we have a good friendship between the women that are in our group.”
But the Ladies Auxiliary is more than just a social club.
The women perform a wide range of community services. They are involved with the veterans home in Hastings, visiting its residents biannually and donating clothing and gifts to the home during the Christmas season.
The group hosts fundraisers as well, and donates the proceeds to charities such as Cancer Aid and Research and Operation Uplink, an organization that provides phone time to deployed service members. They also distribute poppies every Memorial Day to benefit the families of disabled veterans. Nationally, the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Few young women stepping up
However, , as members of the Ladies Auxiliary grow older, their ability to give back to the community is limited.
“They aren’t getting the younger members,” said Dorothy Johnson, a Northfield Ladies Auxiliary member whose father served in WWI and brother served in WWII. “I don’t think that they have the patriotism of giving as much to older servicemen.”
Nationwide, membership in the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of the Foreign Wars is declining drastically.
Membership has decreased by more than 20 percent in the last year, from 522,875 in 2010 to 414,747 in 2011, according to the Ladies Auxiliary website.
In Northfield, membership is also decreasing, although not as quickly. In 2011, membership dropped from 135 to 127, a near 6-percent loss, and the Auxiliary gained no new members.
Members must be at least 16 years old and have any relation—wife, daugther, sister, granddaughter—to someone who was a member of the VFW or was/is eligible to join the VFW. According to the VFW, eligible members are those who received a campaign medal for overseas service; have served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea; or have ever received hostile fire or imminent danger pay.
Although the majority of Northfield Ladies Auxiliary members are the wives of older veterans, Auxiliary president Nicole Weaver proves that there are younger women interested in assisting America’s veterans.
Weaver, 35, has been a member of the Ladies Auxiliary since she was 17.
She joined under her grandfather, a former VFW post commander. Her grandmother was a past Auxiliary president and her aunts and mother are also active members.
“We are there,” said Weaver. “We can give them that assistance, which is great.”
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE LADIES AUXILIARY
The Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars was established in 1914.
The members of the Ladies Auxiliary live by the motto, “Honor the dead by helping the living.” We set out to serve the veterans of this country and our communities in honor of the sacrifices and commitment of every man and woman who has served in uniform.
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing Amerian Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.