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Posted on Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 6:03 a.m.

C. Robert Arvin VFW Post 2408 in Ypsilanti struggles to survive as posts across the nation close

By Juliana Keeping


Jim Farmer of Ypsilanti, a regular at the C. Robert Arvin V.F.W. Post 2408, talks about his Vietnam War experiences with post commander Chris Tramp last week. Declining membership over the past several years has put the post in trouble as members look for ways to stay in operation.

Lon Horwedel |

The C. Robert Arvin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2408 in Ypsilanti is named for a town hero who died young. The tank out front may be one of Ypsilanti’s most recognizable landmarks, a symbol of American strength and ingenuity.

But today, Post 2408 has fallen into debt and disrepair. Its future is uncertain, and its membership has declined. If things don't change, the post will close.

“We’re just trying to survive,” said Christian Tramp, 50, the post commander.

The VFW post at 616 West Michigan Ave. needs a new roof — the slip of land on which it sits is sloped, causing occasional flooding. The post has lost about 100 members in the last four years, and current membership is hovering at about 150.

The post has around $15,000 debt, which includes taxes owed to the state and to vendors.

Still, some veterans visit the VFW post, where the drinks are cheap and the camaraderie is free. Despite the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is rarely a young face in the dwindling crowd.

Posts nationwide have found themselves in similar positions, said David Prohaska, assistant director of administrative operations for the Veterans of Foreign Wars national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

The VFW was established by soldiers in 1899 following the Spanish-American War. After they returned home, often wounded or sick, they found no veterans' pension or medical care available.

Prohaska said about 7,608 posts are chartered today, but since July 2003 — four months after the start of the Iraq War and the time the VFW started a searchable database — 1,207 posts have closed and 376 have consolidated. Meanwhile, 73 new posts have been issued charters.


Display case of C. Robert Arvin's military career are shown at the V.F.W. Post 2408 in Ypsilanti, which was named in his honor.

Lon Horwedel |

On a recent day, with drinks priced at $1.50, a lone woman sat in the canteen area on a bar stool at a row of gaming machines at Post 2408. The post operates a bar, hosts euchre nights, has some community meetings, and occasionally rents out the hall, Tramp said. Three monthly meetings in 2009 had to be canceled because there was no quorum.

Prohaska said it’s time for VFW posts to ask tough questions — and to change.

“I would say it’s time for the members of the organization to take a good look at what they want this organization to be," he said. "Do they want to continue to have this perception of an old man’s drinking club, or do they want to really focus on the purpose of this organization and start thinking about veterans' service, community service, and the importance of the legislative work we do?”

Tramp agreed.

“That’s our future, isn’t it? We’ve got to continue our legacy, we need to bring in the younger people," he said. "And one big thing the VFW does for us, and all these veterans’ organizations, is we have people in Washington that are our voices. That are on our issues. The more members we have, the stronger our voice is in Washington.”

Tramp is also an officer with American Legion Post 282 and is a member of the veterans' group Forty & Eight. Those groups meet at the Moose Lodge 782; the American Legion’s home on South Huron burned down in February 2008. Tramp spent 30 years with the Coast Guard and has been deployed to Iraq three times since 2003.

He admitted the Ypsilanti VFW could do more to recruit new members. Aside from referring vets to services offered around town, he couldn’t name any recent outreach effort the non-profit has undertaken.

“We need more veteran involvement," he said. "That’s what the bottom line is here. When we’re strong, then we can provide more services, we can be more vital to the community.”

Prohaska questioned whether a VFW post needs a building and bar at all to carry out its mission.

To keep its charter, a post has to assist comrades and preserve and strengthen comradeship among members. It has to perpetuate the memory and history of its dead and assist widows and orphans, among other requirements and national and state by-laws.


The entrance is shown to the C. Robert Arvin V.F.W. Post 2408 in Ypsilanti.

Lon Horwedel |

Tramp said the group wants to keep the building and the charter — somehow. Having a place to meet means something.

“We have a place where we can be veterans," he said. "It’s our place. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

In the face of declining membership, different VFW posts are operating differently.

VFW membership peaked in 1992, with about 2.17 million members. A half-million of the 1.5 million members nationwide today are World War II veterans in their 80s or older. Membership to the VFW is open to U.S. citizens who are Armed Services veterans or are currently serving and have been overseas.

“Death is certainly a big part of the decline in membership,” Prohaska said.

But it’s not the only factor.

Adam Betz, 30, has served in the Armed Forces for 11 years. He’ll be deployed to Afghanistan in August with the Michigan National Guard. Betz, a former U.S. Marine, has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in the Philippines.

Betz is one of 100,000 VFW members who are under 39. He lives in Ypsilanti, and he’s the senior vice commander of Ann Arbor VFW Post 423. Not all soldiers returning home want to get involved, he said.

“Because the war is so controversial, a lot of guys are torn as to whether they should be involved. When they come home, they just want to move on with their lives, and not have that veteran label," he said.

He joined the Ypsilanti VFW in 2009 after returning from a second tour of duty in Iraq. But he left after about a week, saying the post didn't provide the services or support he needed.

He said the Ann Arbor members welcomed him home when he walked through the door and helped with his reintegration to civilian life. The Ann Arbor post is active in the community, Betz said. Every month, for example, volunteers there pack 30 to 50 care packages to send to members of the Armed Forces from Washtenaw County who are serving overseas.

Most soldiers Betz knows who return from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan want go to college. They need assistance adapting and reaping the more generous benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Younger veterans have stepped up to meet that need.

Derek Blumke, 29, is a University of Michigan alumnus who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan with the Air Force. He founded Student Veterans of Michigan in 2007 while studying psychology and political science at U-M. Since it gained non-profit status in 2008 as the Student Veterans of America, membership has exploded.


The TAPS wall in the C. Robert Arvin V.F.W. Post 2408 contains photos of all the post's deceased members.

Lon Horwedel |

As SVA president, Blumke campaigned hard in Washington, D.C. for better educational benefits for veterans. The national non-profit has 360 chapters across the country and has its own army of advocates looking out for the needs of veterans who want to capture the new education benefits from the government under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Betz started an SVA chapter at Eastern Michigan University while he was there to earn a teaching degree. He graduated from EMU in 2010 and now works to help veterans attending college at Davenport University tackle the paperwork associated with getting educational and other benefits.

Meanwhile, some VFW posts are changing.

In Brighton, the town’s American Legion and VFW posts have been housed under one roof at the American Spirit Centre for most of the last decade. There are 550 members between the two groups, including associated organizations like the Ladies Auxiliary for both the VFW and American Legion. The facility also houses a bar and a 400-seat banquet hall.

“We found out just a single group can’t survive by itself,” said Ralph Schlaff, the quarter master — VFW speak for “guy in charge of the money” — for VFW Post 4357. “We find it’s easier to pay the bills with two groups instead of one.”

Tramp said he's open to new ideas. It’s just hard to get ambitious with bills to pay and a crumbling roof.

“Maybe we’ve got to team up to survive,” he said.

Juliana Keeping is a health and environment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


von Richter Douglas

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 5:52 a.m.

There was a time when Vietnam Vets wouldn't let '80s vets join The VFW, although Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama were legitmate conflicts. I remember prior to my commissioning, a Vietnam vet told me that I wouldn't be welcome to sit and drink with neither him nor his comrades. At that time, they were still in their prime and more pissed off. I am a Cold War veteran officer, and my mother was in The Panama Invasion. We all swore the same oath to defend the same constitution, and we couldn't drink with Vietnam vets? Like The World War Two vets, Vietnam vets are aging, therefore Men's Auxiliaries and Sons of The American Legion have been formed to keep VFWs and Legions in-business. Guess now, my mother's and my DD-214s count for something.

David Briegel

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 5:26 p.m. and Juliana, silence?

Laura Bien

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 5:17 p.m.

Posted my original question here in comments at 11 a.m., and also wrote a (polite) email to Juliana Keeping inquiring as to how learned of this story. I know it's a busy time after the holidays, (for me too), but I'd appreciate a response from or from Ms. Keeping as to how this publication learned of this Ypsilanti story. Thank you!


Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

I cannot say that the reasons for my transferring from the Ypsi Post to the Ann Arbor 423 Post are the same for every OIF/OEF veteran, but she asked me what my reasons were and I told her what I thought. I'm sure there are other issues not known to myself or others out there but as for me and several of my fellow Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, this is a big cause. Take it or leave it. Mr. Lillie as well as the other members of Post 423 in Ann Arbor have given me to positive support I needed when I came home and continue to leave to fight this war...and I owe them a lifetime of loyalty for it. When I arrived at the Ypsi post, the gentleman (although very helpful) who greeted me and helped me with my paperwork was not even a veteran...not what I like to see after being home for a few weeks and needing help getting back into society and on with my life. Again, take it or leave it, it's just one young guy's story.

David Briegel

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

Austen, thanks for the link. Better story! Juliana might want to interview tdw. I have always admired the service and continued service of Gary Lillie. He and UMRocks express my feelings. Bob Arvin was a great man and leader and, as a Local Hero it is sad to see his name associated with these problems! And they might want to raise drink prices 50cents!

UM Rocks

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

My husband served 3 tours in Vietnam. When he returned home and wanted to join the VFW (not in Mich) they would not let him. Now that WWII vets are dying and membership is dwindling, they now want him to join. He feels that if you didn't recognize the Vietnam War then when so many vets really needed their assistance, he will not support the organization now

Laura Bien

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 10:31 a.m.

I would be interested to know how and Juliana Keeping learned about this Ypsilanti issue.

Austen Smith

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 10:19 a.m.

Please see another story published Dec. 29 from Heritage Newspapers for more information on this story:


Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 9:54 a.m.

There has to be a purpose for an organization if it wishes to attract membership. My observation is that organizations that have bars rarely have an attraction to them. That was the old days. I am a lifetime member of the VFW through Post 423, but it took me me many years before I joined. I enjoy the 423 meetings because they are all about helping other veterans, as well as the current military. There is no drinking or smoking. Also, you will not hear "war stories" told unless it's a one-liner that makes people laugh. One of the principle reasons for declining membership is when we came back from Vietnam we were, as a whole, not welcomed by the older veterans. In fact, too many of us were told they did not want us in the organizations such as the VFW and American Legion. That's a negative comment, but it is history. As a result Vietnam veterans walked away. While the organizations are now heavy with Vietnam veterans there is still the stigma. I personally know a lot of Vietnam vets who refuse to join either organization because of past memories. Sad, but true.


Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 9:30 a.m.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong. To be member you had to have served in a conflict overseas. So if you served in the Vietnam War but, were stationed in the states you can't join. If this is still the case maybe it's time to get rid of this by-law. Also, my experience with the American Legion tells me there's always a lot of grumbling between members vs. members and leadership that too is part of the problem

Steve Pepple

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 7:57 a.m.

A comment that violated our conversation guidelines because it contained name calling was removed.


Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 7:24 a.m.

Sorry that story is a crock.That post had plenty of business and help to keep going.Lack of members is not the problem nor are funds.Go talk to its members not the comanders.You might to talk to the Atty. Gen. also.I know I'll be deleted but there's MUCH more to it