At Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 160, a small squad of World War II, Korean and Vietnam war vets figure their ranks are about to swell for the first time in 20 years.
"There should be a lot of eligibilities in a short while," said post commander Tom Hancock, a master sergeant in Vietnam. "I do believe most of us wish there was another way they could be eligible, though."
Any soldier who spends 30 days in a combat zone is eligible for membership in one of the more than 10,000 VFW posts around the country. Veterans from the Panamanian and Granada invasions didn't make the 30-day requirement, but were given eligibility by a Congressional act.
Just over a year ago, as the Berlin Wall collapsed and the rest of America was trying to decide what to do with peace, the vets at this 55-year-old chapter figured their organization might not be aroundmuch longer. Few veterans from those more recent conflicts have joined.
Post 160 buried its last active World War I veteran last year,though a couple retired members -- now in their 90s -- are living inFlorida. The World War II and Korean Veterans are getting up there, too.
"We would have let the VFW fade away if there weren't any more wars. We weren't going to change the requirements," said Ed Krok, asergeant in Vietnam.
Most around the bar said they expect the Gulf war to last at least that long and are expecting their membership to grow sharply in the near future.
Support for President George Bush's decision to attack Iraq this week was unanimous at the Dorsey Road hall, where some 75 veterans and their wives showed up for bingo Thursday night.
"I haven't talked to any veterans who oppose this," said Hancock, whose son, Jerry, is a sergeant stationed on the USS Guam in the Persian Gulf. "Has anybody?"
Neither Ike Burroughs, a control-tower operator in the Air Corps during World War II, Harry Mounts a warrant officer during Korea, Krok nor anyone else within earshot of Hancock could think of any.
"Bush is doing right. The man'sgot gumbo, I like that. He's made me proud I voted for him," said Krok.
Krok's enthusiasm for the U.S. involvement is tempered somewhat, though, by strong resentment of the way he was treated when he came home from Vietnam.
Though his friends try to calm him, Krok was emotional while describing how he was mistreated after returning from19 months of duty in the jungle -- in contrast to the heroes' reception he said soldiers returning from Granada, Panama have received.
"(Protesters) threw rotten tomatoes at me when I got off the plane,"he said. "How do you think that felt after I fought 19 months for them?
"These guys," he added, referring to soldiers in the gulf, "are heroes already and they haven't done nothing yet. Didn't used to beyou were a hero until you got the Congressional Medal."
Krok alsosaid he resented the actions of peace demonstrators -- a sentiment shared by others around the bar, who reacted violently when reports ofprotests appeared on the television screen.
One vet was incredulous that any American would be "fighting to protect Iraq."
"Let them try what they're doing there. They'd be shot," another said.
All agree, however, that the reason they fought in the first place was to protect those rights.