Honoring the armed forces

Frank d'Entremont's American Legion hat is running out of room. He's got a Marine Corps emblem, pins from his time as a post commander, a few American flags and pins in honor of his work with 4-H, Boy Scouts of America and Toys for Tots.

The 91-year-old World War II veteran served as a Marine from 1939 to 1942, and he hasn't stopped serving since. In addition to the American Legion, he's a member of the Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars and has held leadership posts in each.

He was flipping pancakes at 7 a.m. this morning for a Veterans Day breakfast sponsored by both the American Legion Post. No. 14 and VFW Grizzly Post 353 to raise funds for Oregon Boys State, a mock government program for high school students. On a holiday meant to honor those who served their country, veterans like d'Entremont who started the breakfast 21 years ago, say there is still plenty of need to serve.

"I don't really give it too much thought, I just do it," d'Entremont said. "I've always been joining things."

Many of the veterans in Ashland's posts served in WWII, and several in Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm, said Ted Sockman, commander of Ashland's American Legion post.

Fewer young people choose to join or even attend Veterans and Memorial Day events, he said.

"It's just that young people today, they fortunately have not been exposed to a lot of war at their age," he said. "We have a large anti-war group in the United States and it's perfectly understandable. Wars are terrible."

But by supporting Boys State, the American Legion is still able to expose high school boys to a taste of disciplined military life with its strict schedule and dormitory quarters, while teaching them about government, he said.

Attracting new veterans to join service clubs is also a challenge, he said. Most of the veterans active in Ashland's clubs are from WWII, he said. No Iraq veterans have joined, he said.

"In some cases they've just plain had enough of anything that relates to military," he said. "We've run into that on numerous cases. They went through a terrible ordeal."

Sockman himself didn't join any veteran's service clubs for many years after his discharge, focusing instead of finishing college, raising four children and a banking career. Once his children were grown, he realized he needed to get involved.

"I enjoy it," he said. "It's a form of camaraderie as well as being able to do something to help others."

Although many returning veterans choose not to join service clubs, they need help all the same, said John Blaize, a member of Ashland's VFW Grizzly Post 353 who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969.

"We do have a hard time recruiting young people because it takes a long time for people to readjust," he said. "It took me 32 years to want to reconnect."

He first got involved as a founding member of the Ashland VFW post six years ago. He needed every year of that interim time but is glad to be involved again, he said.

"It means a lot to me really because I think once you serve, it's like a brotherhood," he said.

Now he has dedicated himself to helping veterans and their families, especially homeless veterans, and he is looking forward to increased cooperation between all the groups working on veteran issues under a task force set up by Gov. Kulongoski, he said.

"We've got a lot of veterans coming back and we need to make sure they're taken care of," he said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.

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