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Korean War Veterans Association faces declining membership

Date: 2/19/2015

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 5.7 million veterans who served in the Korean War, but that number Rick Reopel said is decreasing rapidly.

Reopel is a member of Chapter 2000 of the Korean War Veterans Association, one of nine in the state, and he hopes that surviving veterans will consider joining the organization to continue doing its work.

The membership, according to the Korean War Veterans Association’s website is open to military personnel who “honorably served in Korea as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces September 3, 1945 to present, or served outside of Korea June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955.”

Currently the membership has decreased to the point there are only six to 12 active members, Reopel said. The group goes to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home three times a year, hosts an annual picnic and marches in local parades. They also have a fundraiser to collect funds for activities at the Soldiers’ Home.

The local chapter serves all of Western Massachusetts with members coming from Ludlow, Westfield, Agawam, Southwick as well as other communities. They meet at four times a year at the Amvets Post 12, 754 Montgomery St., Chicopee.

Reopel attributes the decline in membership to two factors. Said Korean War veterans are “getting to World War II age.” He is 85 and the oldest member of the chapter is 88, while the youngest is 77.

He also said the Korean War is “the forgotten war,” which meant when the veterans returned from combat “there was no fanfare, no organizations.” The Korean War Veterans Association wasn’t founded until 2000.

“Our membership didn’t participate in organizations,” Reopel noted. “We should have done things. I have to say the blame is on us.”

Reopel said the membership fee has been waived in order to attract new members. He said the group is people who are still active or partially active.

Reopel is a Ludlow resident and an Army veteran of the 700th Ordinance Company of the 45th Infantry. He was in Korea from July 1952 to July 1953.

He added he served above the 38th parallel, the line that divides North and South Korea.

Reopel noted that Springfield never had a monument for Korean War veterans until 2006 when a small granite monument was placed near Court Square.

“It meant a lot to a lot of people and it meant a lot to me,” he said.

The next meeting of the Western Massachusetts chapter will be 1 p.m. March 4.