American Legion canteen fighting to remain open

LAYTON — The Layton American Legion is in need of a miracle.

Because of insufficient revenue and declining membership, Legion Post 87’s canteen — a daily gathering place for local veterans — is set to shut down May 31, officials say.

Toni Wehus, manager and daytime bartender at the Legion, said she wants to keep the canteen open, but acknowledged that doing so will likely take a major stroke of luck. Wehus said simple math explains the reason for the impending closure: Expenses to keep the canteen open outweigh the money coming in.

“We’re in trouble,” she said. “We’re trying really hard to keep it open because we really believe it’s something the community needs, but right now I don’t know how it’s going to happen.”

The canteen serves as a bar, restaurant, coffee shop and overall daily gathering place for local Legionnaires. Members of the Legion are required to have served or presently be serving in active-duty status in the U.S. military. According to the Legion website, the organization was chartered by Congress in 1919 and serves as the nation’s largest wartime veterans’ service organization.

“It’s a place veterans can call home,” said Dennis Howland, a combat veteran of the Vietnam conflict.

Wehus said the Layton Legion — headquartered in an iconic log cabin-style building at 128 South Main St. that has stood in south Layton since the 1940s — has a small group of regulars who visit nearly every day. They swap stories with coffee in the morning and beer in the evening. On Wednesdays, Wehus brings them a homemade lunch.

“A lot of these guys don’t have family close by,” Wehus said. “So this is a place where they can come and have that type of setting.”

Wehus said the American Legion owns the building, free and clear, so members will still be able to organize activities there. However, the canteen is the daily draw, and without it, you essentially have a reception center that will be used as needed.

Wehus has set up a GoFundMe page in what she calls a desperate attempt to keep the canteen open. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/ahtmp3cc.

Howland, who also serves as head of the Utah chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said changing demographics are contributing to the Layton Legion’s demise, as well as many others across the country.

“Less and less, we are seeing younger veterans (at Legion posts),” Howland said. “And then we’re losing the older veterans every day. Even guys from my generation, Vietnam, we aren’t going to be around forever.”

Howland said veterans from his and earlier eras have traditionally viewed veterans organizations like the Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars as the logical next step in their post-active duty life. But the same doesn’t seem to be true with the younger generation, he said.

“For whatever reason, today’s generation are just less inclined to join,” Howland said. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but that’s just the way it is.”

Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson said the city will keep an eye on the situation.

“That building has been around ever since I was a kid,” Stevenson said. “And I’ve always known it as the American Legion.”

Wehus said if she can’t manage to keep the canteen open, whatever funds she raises will go toward unpaid bills and to American Legion charities.

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