CLINTON — American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 28 in Clinton is the second largest in Iowa with a membership of about 400.
However, participation is slipping.
Post Commander Cindy Hufford, going forward, wants to direct efforts to finding veterans in need — to let active servicemen and vets know “we’re really out there to help them and help their families and whatever situation that arises that they may need help.”
She’s struggling to find a bit younger group to take over some duties within the club, like the Honor Guard. Currently 17 members, the youngest — about four of them — are in their 60s. The guard’s coordinator, Joe Kampling, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1957-1960, has participated for 29 years, 14 as lead. He’s attended over 775 funerals — a number that’s taken its toll. He hates to see the phone ring, knowing it’s a call from a funeral director.
“I believe every service member deserves a military funeral and military rites at the funeral,” Kampling stated. He said it’s something that should be done. “One of the best assets we have in the United States of America is our veterans.”
Kampling can’t find any members or potential AMVETS members to take over the duty — a similar participation struggle Hufford that faces. He described his efforts as “trying everything over the years and nothing seems to work,” and “we’re not going to survive.”
“Many of them are Vietnam, WWII-era gentleman,” Hufford said of the Honor Guard. “They’re tired; they don’t want to have to do it anymore, and in the middle of winter and the high heat of summer. So, we need younger veterans that would be willing to kind of take over for them, because all veterans deserve to have the military honors at their funeral. But if we don’t have an Honor Guard, then we don’t have a group that’s able to do that for them.”
Hufford remembers her days growing up in the AMVETS club. Then, her father and grandfather being veterans, the social aspect of the club brought people together. She’d like to move the club back in that direction.
“I just wanted the place to continue on from what I remember it as a kid,” Hufford said.
A former Marine, serving from 1998 to 2002, Hufford stepped into the post commander position as the club was looking for younger veterans to take over. When she came back to civilian life, she would sit with her dad and other vets at the post.
She said those conversations “solidified that I needed to serve my country, too. I need to serve the people that served me.”
But changes to operation of Post 28 is an ongoing project. Hufford wants to spread the word that AMVETS is a resource and can be that go-to for military families. One of the most important efforts made during her time as commander was raising money for a family who had lost two members by suicide due to post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. On this aspect, she also lends a hand to the community.
“There’s so many people, just even in the community, that are having a hard time,” Hufford said, throwing out the idea of finding speakers on the issue to “... get people in that help us to understand what those soldiers are going through and even for the community.”