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Two War Vets Finally Feel At Ease To Celebrate Memorial Day

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Veterans Charlie Rodriguez, left, and Dimar Vasquez relax at VFW Post 5079 in Chicago. (CBS)

Veterans Charlie Rodriguez, left, and Dimar Vasquez relax at VFW Post 5079 in Chicago. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Membership is dwindling across the table at VFW halls across the country. One post, down 25 percent from its membership high, is trying to buck that trend in the form of new faces with new stories.

CBS 2’s Brad Edwards reports.

On Monday, war stories were exchanged over brews and the guitar riffs of George Thorogood as they marked a resurgence.

“I became a member today. I’ve been home for three years,” Sgt. Charlie Rodriguez said while sitting next to staff Sgt. Dimar Vasquez.

Two new war vets, both home for years, had not celebrated.

“I didn’t feel comfortable being in an environment where everybody’s like OK, let’s go to the beach and party, let’s go out and grill. I felt like we were taking away from the guys who actually this day was for,” Rodriguez says.

It’s for the heart they wear on their wrist, in honor of Round Lake Sgt. Bob Weinger, who served in Iraq and then volunteered  to return to Afghanistan. An improvised explosive device took him in 2009.

“It was something that really, really hit home,” Vasquez said.

Weinger knew Vasquez in Iraq and knew Rodriguez in Afghanistan.

Memorial Day is for Sgt. Weigner.

Coming home is a process. Vasquez returned five years ago, but took part in his first parade this weekend.

“It felt really good, it really did,” he says.

Rodriguez was home, too, for years, but not fully until he found VFW Post 5079 in the city’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

“I feel at home, I feel really at home here,” Rodriguez says.

It’s a place where everyone knows his name — and his story.

Across the country, the number of VFW posts is disappearing, in large part through the passing of World War II veterans. More than 1,000 die daily.

Membership in the VFW is down more than 20 percent in the past 20 years.

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