Welcoming French-American Veterans to Central CT (Bristol Press)

September 18, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Bristol Press

FARMINGTON — French-American veterans from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine will descend upon Farmington this weekend for the 83rd annual Franco-American War Veterans Convention at the Marriott Hotel.

The organization was founded in 1932 in Lawrence, Mass., and has established 31 posts over the course of its existence, although only eight remain today. Two of the active posts are in Connecticut, one in New Britain and the other in Bristol.

During the 1970s and ’80s the group had almost 1,000 members, said Mark Morin, commander of Post 26 in New Britain, which meets at the Saint Jean Baptiste Society at 209 Smalley St.

Membership has since declined to between 300 and 400 today, said Roy Taggert, quartermaster of Post 22 in Bristol, which will be the convention’s host unit because the organization’s national commander, George Castle, belongs to the post.

The organization has encountered the same long-term obstacles as veterans groups around the country, as many World War II and Korean War-era veterans can no longer actively participate or have already passed on. Vietnam-era veterans form the bulk of the groups’ memberships, which continue to dwindle because of the difficulty of attracting new recruits.

“The younger veterans do not seem to want to join any organizations,” Taggert said. “We’re losing a lot of older members, and if we’re not able to recruit any new members, then I foresee a time not too far down the road when we will probably fade out and have to close up the whole thing.”

“Every veterans group is facing the same problem — the American Legion, the [General Haller Post Polish War Veterans], the Veterans of Foreign Wars— all of them,” added Morin, whose post has 235 members, more than 50 percent of the organization’s total.

Members will discuss these issues during Saturday morning meetings at the convention. In a concession to the demographic realities confronting the group, it may decide to reduce future conventions from two days to one. Members’ personal expenses and travel time requirements will be factors in the decision, Taggert said.

Participants will arrive this evening for an open house in the hotel’s hospitality room. The session will be a time of drinking, eating and socializing, he said.

After Saturday morning’s meetings, which will also see the election of a new national commander and other officers, attendees will have free time in the afternoon. Most members and their families use the time to shop, sightsee or just relax, he said.

The highlight of the weekend will be a Saturday night banquet at the Elks Lodge in Bristol, which will be preceded by a cocktail hour. Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne and state legislators will make remarks.

A post-banquet reception will take place back at the hotel following the event, which will feature a raffle with cash prizes. A raffle will also be held Friday night in which ticket-holders can win items donated by the organization’s members.

Despite the challenges facing the organization, members relish the annual convention, Morin said.

“You have the chance to get together with veterans you don’t see all year,” he said.