Encased in glass in a building in Chillicothe sits a copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from Dec. 8, 1941.
Not far from it on Sunday, men who know the building well cleaned rifles used in a ceremony to honor those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And the fact that those men were gathered there might have been second in importance only to the reason for their gathering.
“There’s just not too many left,” 75-year-old John Galbreath said. “We are losing so many veterans from the Second World War.”
The ever-diminishing number of veterans of World War II means not only that there are fewer who carry memories of the conflict, but also that the building in Chillicothe has suffered recently.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4999, like thousands across the United States, was built to give veterans from World War II a place to gather when they returned. With 152 members, the post is doing everything it can to offer that gathering place to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They’re too busy,” Galbreath said. “You can’t blame them, they have to work for a living.”
The headline on the newspaper in the case reads “WAR! OAHU BOMBED BY JAPANESE PLANES.” The attack was followed by this country’s entry into a conflict that would claim more than 400,000 Americans’ lives. World War II was followed by the Korean conflict, Vietnam and then ... “there was no more until Desert Storm,” Galbreath said.
That peaceful period was hard on posts like the one in Chillicothe. In early 2011, the lights almost went off, according to 80-year-old veteran of the Korean conflict Dave Harlow.
“We got to the point where we couldn’t pay the bills,” Harlow said of an especially rough stretch for the post in early 2011. “We had to get volunteers.”
A small percentage — about 10 percent, Galbreath said — of the post’s members help run the small building on Santa Fe street.
Galbreath, a Vietnam veteran and Marine, and Harlow remain hopeful for the post’s future.
“You think to yourself, ‘When I get old and retire, I’ll have the time,’ “ Galbreath said. “They’ll come, once they have the time. It’s important because we’re close friends. It gives us a chance to get together and take care of community needs, too.”
As they talked, a young man approached.
“Pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Major,” he said to Galbreath.
“You’re down in (Camp) Pendleton now?” Galbreath replied to 18-year-old Brandon Cousins, a newly minted Marine.
The reply - “Yes, sir” - was met with a “Good luck” from Galbreath.
“They’ll come, I know it,” he said. “And I’ll be here as long as I’m able.”