John Schroeder has worked as the commissioner for one of Delaware’s Korean War Veteran Association chapters for over 20 years.
The 88-year-old veteran has helped the Captain Paul Dill No. 2 Chapter in New Castle County with fundraising and participated in parades with his fellow Korean War veterans for years.
But on Wednesday, John Schroeder will be announcing to anyone that shows up at the American Legion Stahl Post No. 30 that they will have to disband their chapter, the last one in the state.
The chapter currently has about 35 members and it’s lucky to get eight members, a quorum, to show up to each meeting.
Declining numbers are a problem nationwide.
Across the country as a whole, 734 members died and 256 joined various chapters, according to The Graybeards Magazine, an official Korean War Veterans Association publication.
The Delaware chapter has added four new members in the last year, but lost three.
The drop is due to their aging membership, John Schroeder said. It started around six years ago, as veterans from the Korean War began to hit their 80s and 90s.
The Korean War was from 1950 to 1953, meaning the youngest veterans who may have joined at 17 in 1953 would be 86 years old.
Schroeder had planned to switch places with the chapter’s vice commander Victor Gonzalez, but Gonzalez announced at a recent meeting that he can’t handle the job and was resigning.
At the same meeting, both their secretary and treasurer also resigned, leaving Schroeder as the chapter’s sole official.
It has a technical issue: The chapter hasn’t yet filed taxes for 2022, and Schroeder hopes the previous treasurer will do that at some point.
There’s also a personal issue: Schroeder himself had a heart attack last year, so isn’t able to keep the chapter afloat on his own.
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At one time, there were four active Korean War Veteran chapters in Delaware, but three have since dissolved or are inactive.
Victor Gonzalez, the former vice president, said that the association has more difficulty finding new members.
“Any position that you elect to take…it requires a certain amount of time and energy,” Gonzalez said. “And if your membership is getting on in years, it’s hard to find someone that has the energy and the time to commit to helping the public.
“The ones that come to the meetings are great guys, but they don’t have the energy, they can’t do the time commitment to serve. They’re in their 90s.”
Schroeder said when they were more active, the chapter raised around $700 per donation drive, donating the money to the veterans hospital, the Home of the Brave and a watch repair shop in Odessa that hires disabled veterans.
Harold Trieber, secretary of the national Korean War Veterans Association, said that they’ve kept their chapter in Florida afloat by bringing on veterans that served in Korea but not necessarily during the Korean War.
The U.S. still has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, he said.
Schroeder said that the national organization asked them to try and bring in anyone with an interest in the Korean War to increase membership, but he only wants to add members who are veterans of war.
“You can’t bring goddamn eight-, 10-year-old kids in there and expect them to be active or do anything for your organization,” Schroeder said. “That’s what he was saying, bring them in. If they’ve got an interest in the Korean War, bring them in…join them and have them be a part of the organization. It just doesn’t work.”
Gonzalez said they try to do what they can to help the community through donations and outreach efforts.
“We try to do good work for the homeless, for suicide prevention, cause suicide is a big problem for veterans,” he said. “had a young lady who had served in Afghanistan and she was having problems readjusting, and we were able to put her in touch with people who gave her a job, gave her a place to live. She was able to get out of the loop.”
The Korean War Veteran’s website lists 350 chapters across the country, with 96 that are active. 70 that have dissolved, 131 that are either inactive or active-not active, 50 that are not activated, one in Arizona that is pending, and one in Rhode Island that has been in the process of forming since at least 2017.
Schroeder said he has a plaque listing all the members who have died since the chapter started around 1998.
The first one died in 1999. Since then, 80 have died. Schroeder hasn’t had time to put the last two who died on the plaque.
“We were real strong at one time. We were very active. We had things going for us,” he said. “I’m looking at the names on this plaque and I knew all these guys and we were all friends and got along so well.
“And then they’re gone.”
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