By THOMAS HARGROVE
Scripps Howard News Service
November 09, 2005
According to the Veterans Administration, there are places in rural Idaho where 1 in every 4 residents is a retired member of the Air Force, Army, Navy or Marine Corps. Then there's the Bronx - New York's fabled tough-guy borough - where only 1 in 25 have ever served in the military.
This Veterans Day, the number of Americans who've put on a uniform will be the lowest in decades, down by 2.4 million since the 2000 Census when 26.4 million vets were living. The Veterans Administration estimates that only 21.8 million will be alive five years from now.
Veterans have assembled in force in some unexpected places.
Twelve percent of Nevada's population are veterans, the highest statewide concentration anywhere in America. Not far behind are the Western states of Montana and Wyoming and the popular retirement state of Florida, all with veteran populations totaling more than 11 percent of the general population.
Leading America with the highest countywide concentration of vets is Elmore County, Idaho, home of the Mountain Home Air Force Base and the 366th Fighter Wing. There are slightly more than 7,000 vets in a county with only 29,000 people. The reason is that many retired Air Force personnel have decided to raise their families in rural Idaho.
"We have an international city here, with someone from just about every country, culture and religion in the world," said Mountain Home Mayor Joe McNeal, himself a 27-year Air Force vet. "These people have married our service men and have settled down here."
Although the celebration of Veterans Day has generally been waning throughout the nation, it's still a big deal in Mountain Home. "We will have a memorial service at the military part of our cemetery. Then we'll all go to the American Legion post to have a party," McNeal said.
At the other end of the scale are New York's Bronx and Brooklyn boroughs, where only 4 percent are veterans.
"What is happening in many inner city areas is that our people have moved out and are living in the suburbs," said World War II vet Al Carpenter, now administrative assistant for the New York American Legion. "Now there are a large populations of people who've never been in the military, a lot of whom are also non-citizens."
So great has been the wave of immigration into the Bronx that 53 percent of its residents speak a language other than English in their homes. The population transformation in many urban centers has had an enormous impact upon veterans' groups like the American Legion.
"The American Legion posts in that part of New York used to be among the largest in the nation. Now they are among the smallest," Carpenter said.
New York State also has the lowest statewide concentration of veterans at only 6 percent of the population, followed by the District of Columbia, California and New Jersey, all with less than 7 percent of the population who've served in the military.
The Veterans Administration estimates the number of World War II vets, who once numbered more than 16 million, is now at 3.9 million. Vietnam War-era veterans account for a third of all vets with more than 8.1 million, followed by veterans who served during the Persian Gulf War with 4.1 million.
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