The Veterans of Foreign Wars, always at the center of any Memorial Day celebration — as well as Veterans Day, Fourth of July and any number of civic parades throughout the year — faces an uncertain future.

The service organization is suffering from declining membership across the country.

In Laguna Beach, VFW Post 5868 is struggling for survival after 68 years in operation.

"It is frustrating, and it's worrisome," said Arnie Silverman, the outgoing commander in Laguna Beach. "This is a concern of every post, every military organization. The older people are becoming immobile, ill or, frankly, dead. And we're just running out of people to run the post."

In 15 years, Silverman, a Korean War veteran who's now 85, has seen his post drop from 150 members to about 110 currently.

"But only about 10 or 12 members are really active in the operation," he said.

Nationwide, the VFW has about 1.4 million members and wants to boost that number by a million or more.

Since 1899, the nonprofit VFW has been dedicated to veterans issues. In the community, members respond to the needs of returning veterans and their families in hospitals and in their homes.

Laguna Beach members recently volunteered for duty at the Paralympic-style Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton. The eight-day athletic competition for wounded and disabled active-duty Marines and veterans welcomes wounded warriors from other nations as well.

Other service projects include regular visits to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Long Beach and educational public speaking.

The work is rewarding and, Silverman said, essential in filling in the gaps in government services.

In Washington, the national VFW has historically been concerned with legislation that affects veterans.

"The VFW is very well connected in Washington," Silverman said. "Whenever a congressman talks about cutting back a benefit, the VFW and [American] Legion jump in there. You go to Congress with two and a half million people that want this or want that, they'll listen to them."

With tens of thousands of troops returning from conflicts in the Middle East over the past two decades, the membership pool would seem fertile. Public appreciation now is far greater than it was for those who returned from Korea and Vietnam, the vast majority of VFW members now.

But there's a generational disconnect that Silverman said he completely understands.

"The difficulty is young people want to get on with their education. They want to get on with their careers, and they want to get on with their families," said Silverman, who didn't join VFW until he was 70. "These little organizations here, well, they know we do good, but they don't have a significant relevance in their lives at this point."

The national VFW points to Internet technology as another reason posts have a tough time recruiting. Social media connections lessen the need for a formal meeting hall.

Silverman mentions a newer organization, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, founded 10 years ago, as competition of sorts. It claims a membership of 200,000.

"I mean what would you do if you came home from Iraq, what would you join?" asked Silverman. "Associate with a bunch of old guys, or associate with young guys?"

Across the country, local VFW posts are merging. In an effort to preserve the heritage in Laguna Beach, Silverman said the post will continue to look for creative ways to recruit new members.