BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Joint Memorial Committee held its annual Veterans Day pancake breakfast at the Newark-Bloomfield Elks Lodge No. 21 this past Sunday, Nov. 8. The committee, which is responsible for the Memorial Day and Veterans Day observations in the township, has been hosting the breakfast for more than 25 years.
A concern of Joseph Ellmer, the committee chairman, has been attendance loss. Ellmer, a Korean War veteran and the sergeant-at-arms for the Bloomfield VFW Post 711, calls the breakfast a celebration of all veterans who have served the United States in peace and in war. The Newark-Bloomfield Elks Lodge No. 21 is located at 296 Bloomfield Ave. On Sunday, a little more than two dozen people sat down for the meal.
“The Veterans of Foreign War is an organization we all hope will go out of business someday,” Ellmer said at the breakfast. “Then there won’t be anymore foreign wars.”
Ellmer thought membership in military organizations, like the VFW, is decreasing because younger veterans have been away from their families and do not want to spend more time away from them. He said Post 711 has 177 members but about 10 are active and attend meetings. The post was chartered in 1921.
“We don’t have a lot of World War II vets, about 15 or 20,” Ellmer said of the membership. “Most of the members are Korean War vets and a few from Iraq but unfortunately, not enough.”
A veteran can belong to both the VFW and the American Legion, which accepts membership of peacetime veterans, Ellmer said.
Bob Eskdale, a WWII veteran and commander of Bloomfield American Legion Post 448, is also feeling the pinch in participation. He said his post had 170 members.
“Now ask me how many are active members,” he said. “Zero.”
He said he had no idea why no one comes to the meetings but suggested that many members were too old to drive, while others signed up just to have an American Legion card. But Eskdale was adamant about the Bloomfield post not being abandoned.
“I’ll keep it going,” he said.
One person at the breakfast took a long-term view of memberships.
“The younger veterans will join someday,” said Helen Cole, the treasurer of the Ladies American Legion Auxiliary. “They have enough to do now with families when they get back. The same thing happened with WWII. And membership will be very good for them, getting clout and their due.”
Cole said a woman is eligible to be a Ladies Auxiliary member if they are the wife, sister, mother or daughter of a serviceman.
“When the husbands get involved, the ladies come out,” she said.
Derek Hernandez, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is a member of the Bloomfield Fire Department and VFW 711, said he knew about the post going into the service and wanted to be part of it. He thought a reason why military organizations were not attracting younger veterans was because of the current economic climate.
“People are stuck with two or three jobs,” he said. “There is more responsibility. That’s why their time is precious.”
The commander of Bloomfield VFW, Allen Garth, said about the same thing — younger veterans have family responsibilities. He also said VFWs, at one time, had the reputation as drinking clubs.
“Post 711 is three blocks from where I grew up,” he said. “I knew guys from the post and just wanted to join.”
The post is located at 369 Broughton Ave.
Garth said Bloomfield VFW has reached out to Bloomfield College and the police and fire departments in the township for new members.
“This year, I want to go after the trade unions,” he said. “The steelworkers, electricians, carpenters — they have a lot of skills and can help out at the post.”
He also said, like the American Legion, the VFW must think about making peacetime veterans eligible for membership in an organization dedicated to veterans who fought overseas.
Councilman Nicholas Joanow spoke at the breakfast. Councilman Joseph Lopez also was on hand.
“On behalf of the governing body,” Joanow said, “I wish you well and thank you for representing this country and Bloomfield.”
Joanow said it was important for children to learn and understand the sacrifices made by veterans.
“We need to only look at the Middle East and thank God that we can go home, put our head on the pillow, and the next day will be predictable.”