By Jessica Easthope
The Catholic War Veterans and Auxiliary of the U.S.A. are brainstorming from their base in Bellerose, Queens.
They’ve served their country, and now they serve God. The organization has reached out to help anyone and everyone it can for the last 78 years. Now it’s time to map out the future.
Their numbers are dwindling so they’re upping their recruitment efforts to ensure they can continue their work well into the future.
“We try to tell them how important it is that we need them people because who’s going to take our place when we pass away or move and so we need to get the younger generation involved,” said New York State Commander Bruce Lubkeman.
Want to be a member? You must be a practicing Catholic and a veteran or related to a veteran who has served in active duty for at least six months. But what the team does knows no boundaries.
“We’re unique because we cross the lines, not only Catholics but we talk to all religious people, we help everybody as a veteran especially those who are coming back from one of the wars,” Lubkeman said.
After WWII, the Catholic Veterans had more than 250,000, now they’re down to about 8,000.
Most of their members are from the Vietnam War generation, and just five percent have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, a population that’s been difficult to recruit.
“I know what they went through, what they see over there, there are a lot of suicides across the board, they just can’t handle coming back, they have a lot of problems with what they see,” said Lubkeman.
Recruitment used to happen in church, but as less and less young people are attending mass, membership numbers have plummeted.
“We know what they’ve gone through and it’s a form of isolation,” said National Commander David Crum.
But the organization knows it can still help. They’ve provided financial support, been a liaison between veterans and the VA and gotten through to those who have sacrificed their emotional wellbeing fighting for freedom.
“Any veteran deserves what we can give them, they gave the ultimate sacrifice, giving up their time, liberty and possibly everything for this country, and whatever we can do, we’re going to repay them as best we can,” Crum said.
This year, the men are spending Veterans Day packing up supplies to send to American troops in Ukraine. One of the many ways they continue their service – and fill what they say is a significant void.
“They wrote us a letter saying they didn’t have anything. It boggles my mind how we can send troops there and not have the equipment and facilities they need to keep their jobs up,” said Crum.
They’re no longer on the front lines, but their call to serve hasn’t been silenced, it’s gotten louder.