Lately, Uncle Sam has surfaced all over Lynbrook, depicted on posters in the windows of businesses throughout the village, but it isn’t the traditional caricature. Instead, he has traded his white top hat and star-spangled threads for the cap and uniform of Lynbrook American Legion Post 335.
The poster, which depicts “Uncle Sam Legionnaire” and exclaims, “I want you, veteran,” is part of the post’s ambitious campaign to attract new, younger members to foster growth and ensure its future.
“It’s difficult and it’s frustrating at times,” Post Adjutant Bill Marinaccio, 77, who is also membership chairman, said of trying to recruit new members. “. . . It’s trial and error and perseverance, and I don’t know many people that go to the extent that I do.”
Marinaccio, who served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1966, is also the post’s treasurer. He said he spends 20 to 25 hours per week filing reports, paying bills and working to attract new members. The post has 60 members, but only about a third of them attend monthly meetings. Part of the problem, Marinaccio said, is that the post meets on the first Thursday of each month at 3 p.m., when many younger members are at work. So, he said, the post plans to switch to evening meetings in September.
The challenge of attracting new members isn’t confined to the American Legion. It’s also a concern for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans groups across the county. The VFW was founded in 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. The American Legion was founded in 1919, when Congress chartered it as a patriotic veterans organization. Both organizations offer veterans an array of services, including personal assistance, cash grants, donated goods, disaster relief, labor, networking, volunteerism and advocacy.
Marinaccio said that about 22 percent of the post’s members are post-Vietnam era veterans. He noted that while that isn’t a high percentage, it’s a significant increase over the past. In recent years, he said, the post has focused on recruiting younger members, with 25 joining in the past three years.
“We were fading away,” he said. “There was no concerted effort to rebuild the post, and I felt that in a matter of years, we’d be down to two to three people, and that’s not enough to keep the post going. Bringing in younger people, that’s my number one goal.”
The post’s recruitment effort received a boost last July when President Trump signed the Legion Act into law. The measure made veterans who have served anytime since 1941 eligible to join their local posts — not only those who were deployed during war. Nassau County American Legion Commander Al Ficalora, of Oceanside, said the organization wants to spread the word about the act to veterans across the county.
“Before the Legion Act, veterans had to have served during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War or Operation Desert Storm to be eligible to join a post,” explained Ficalora, a 73-year-old Army veteran. “In the past, I had to turn away some veterans from joining because they didn’t fulfill the requirements. Now officials have said that this will allow 4 million veterans nationwide to join the American Legion.”
Marinaccio said, however, that the law hasn’t had much of an impact in Lynbrook, and was “overblown.”
Ficalora said it has been tough to find post-Vietnam recruits. He said he would like to see a countywide effort to attract new members. “For the veterans who served in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, a lot of them will show up to one meeting and not be seen again,” he said. “My initiative would be for us to pay their first year of dues, but they have to attend at least 10 meetings in the year.”
In Lynbrook, Marinaccio said, the post charges $42 a year, with $6 going to the post and the rest to other places, like the American Legion Department of New York. Ficalora said the county American Legion usually meets twice a month, and membership is $40 a year.
Pat Alesia, of Valley Stream, will succeed Ficalora as county commander in June. Alesia said he aims to recruit younger veterans. “It’s important that we just get commitments from the younger veterans, even if they’re not able to attend all the meetings,” Alesia, 72, said. “I probably won’t be here in 25 years, but they will be, when they presumably [will] have more time on their hands to carry on the organization.”
In addition to hosting monthly meetings, the Lynbrook American Legion takes part in the Memorial Day parade and Patriots’ Day at Greis Park the day before, serves as the color guard for the village’s 9/11 ceremony, sponsors a Lynbrook Little League team each spring, and participates in Eagle Scout and Gold Award ceremonies for Boy and Girl Scout troops.
“We remain very active in the community,” Marinaccio said.
Matthew Ferremi contributed to this story.