Sep. 5—COVID, time and the weather appear to have led a local veterans group to lock the doors and put VFW Post 3321 canteen up for sale.
The building at 3 E. Main St. has been a home for the Veterans of Foreign Wars since 1968. But officials say it appears to have run out of money and interest.
"We had a meeting with the membership back in January and told them we were not generating enough money to pay the bills," said Post Commander Mike Heshelman. "From January to July we had a volunteer bartender who was working a full-time job also. The last big rainstorm, we had the building flooded and the drains backed up inside of the building. We were having problems getting people to come in and help clean it up and the people who were there decided they were tired of being the only ones to volunteer."
Heshelman says the organization had been struggling for awhile, but when COVID hit the VFW never really recovered.
"The small amount of people coming in daily were barely enough to keep the lights on. We were struggling before COVID. COVID changed everybody's lifestyle. When things opened back up people didn't return. They had already found other things to do and stopped coming in to socialize," said Heshelman. "We hate it as much as anyone else. There have been Saturdays when we were opened all day, but only one person came in."
The Washington area does not have a shortage of veterans who have served overseas. Deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait have resulted in plenty of potential members. But the VFW was not able to attract them.
"The younger people that qualify, some of them join, but they have other things they like to do," said Heshelman. "We have tried to get them in and talk with us about what we could do to get more of the younger veterans involved, and we couldn't get a response on that."
"We have talked to other clubs and we all have the same issue, trying to get the younger generation involved," said VFW Post 3321 Quartermaster Leslie Heshelman. "It is a problem across the board for the clubs and no one seems to have found the right solution yet."
Without an infusion of new veterans, the impact of the post's operations and problems began landing on fewer and fewer people and that issue finally brought operations to a halt when the floods hit in July.
"We had some times before where the sewers backed up in the building and we had to clean it up. The one in July was the worst we have had. The few folks who were doing all of the volunteering were trying to clean up and they decided if no one else was going to come in and help, they got frustrated and it got to the point no one even wanted to come in and open the doors for us," said Mike Heshelman. "When you only have a few active people, it doesn't take long for them to get burned out. We just had people who wanted to complain but wouldn't jump in and help and pull their weight."
The VFW has been in Washington since 1935. The original canteen opened just a few doors to the east on Main Street before moving to the current location in 1968. The plan now is to turn the chapter, for the time being, into a paper chapter.
"We are keeping our charter. We will remain a VFW post. We will be what is called a paper post. We will have our meetings and do the things we normally did. We just won't have a canteen where the members can go and partake in the fellowship and comradery there," said Commander Heshelman. "We are trying to sell the building so we can get some liquid assets together and maybe open another canteen in a smaller building that perhaps we can handle the utilities on better. We have had some nibbles, but no takers."
Besides the sadness of closing the canteen, the shut down of the post facility will remove a spot where veterans needing help could easily locate.
"Leslie, as quartermaster, was also the service officer. She worked a lot with veterans at the post. They would come in and she would help them with paperwork on VA disabilities. She worked closely with the County Service Officer," said Commander Heshelman. "The impact on the community is that older veterans and their families will not have a place to get their questions answered or find out the information they received there."