Vale American Legion Post 96 commander Gino Silva (front) along with post adjutant John Recla stand in the basement of the legion hall in Vale last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – On Monday, John Recla and Gino Silva will stand at Pioneer Cemetery and honor the nation’s veterans as part of the Vale American Legion Post 96 honor guard.

The ceremony will be familiar to both men. They’ve spent a combined 80 years helping vets and performing the honor guard ceremonies at the cemetery.

They remain as determined as ever to do “their part” but age – and the vestiges of war – are creeping up on them.

The local legion hall isn’t what it once was in terms of membership, either. The American Legions boasts it carries two million members on its rolls spread out across 12,000 communities.

Created in 1919 by Congress, the American Legion was an influential advocate for veterans. The legion helped frame the original GI Bill and led an effort to create the U.S. Veterans Bureau, which later evolved into the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Many locals encounter the legion because it sponsors summer youth baseball programs.

The American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State are also important pieces of the organization. Both are leadership programs that introduce high school juniors to American government and politics.

“The legion does more than any other veteran organization,” said Silva. Once, the local legion hall was a happening place, said Recla. He said he remembers when the downstairs bar was open and people converged on the facility for a good time that included dances and other social events.

Membership was up then too, he said. Silva, who is the Vale post commander, said at one time there were close to 100 members.

Times, though, have changed. Now, said Silva, the local organization has about 60 people – including four women.

Veterans organizations across the nation face dwindling numbers and the Vale post is no exception.

“There is a national push. The numbers are going down,” said Silva. Recla, who serves as the post adjutant, said age plays a role in the lack of numbers – seven members of the post died this year – but he isn’t sure, exactly, why the younger generation of veterans don’t seem interested in joining up.

“I’ve talked to people until I am blue in the face. I think everyone has their own thing going on,” said Recla.

Vale American Legion Post Commander Gino Silva has spent decades involved with the veteran organization and said he will probably be with the local post 'until I am gone.' (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

Now, Silva said, the age range of local legion post members is older, in the late 50s to 70s. Silva, for example, is 78 while Recla is 77.

 “It’s pretty much old guys and we’d sure like to get some younger ones,” said Recla.

Silva, who served in the California and Idaho Army National Guard, said he joined the American Legion 36 years ago. Recla, who served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, joined up 44 years ago.

The lack of numbers often means the monthly meetings – held the first Wednesday – are lonely.

“Most of the time nobody comes. I think the most we’ve had is six,” said Recla. Both men said they aren’t quite ready to step away from the post, though Recla said he would like it if a younger person could take over his adjutant slot.

“I do all the paperwork. Nowadays you have to do it on computers and computers and me are like left to right,” said Recla.

Silva considers his work with the legion to be important.

“I enjoy everything I do here but it would be nice to have more people again,” said Silva.

On May 31, Silva and Recla will join other members of the post and arrive at the facility about 10 a.m. They will go downstairs to the vault, unlock it and hand out the ceremonial rifles for the remembrance at Pioneer Cemetery. By 11 a.m. they will be on station, formed into an honor guard, to honor those who served and those who gave what Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion.”

“I think every vet that has passed deserves what we do for them,” said Recla. After the ceremony, they will stack the weapons in the vault and go back to their lives. Recla and Silva will keep their ears open for potential new members. They’ll still show up at the hall every month for a meeting. They’ll still keep the faith.

“I’ll be here until I’m gone,” said Silva.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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