A 15-second remark about banning smoking made by a former Iron Range veteran in his acceptance speech as Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States commander-in chief is drawing national attention.
"It was one of several suggestions I made about what we have to do," Gary Kurpius said Monday. "I threw out a cadre of ideas and that was one of them."
Kurpius, from Babbitt, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1967-69 and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars and the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal. He also was Vietnam Veteran of the Year in St. Louis County.
In his speech in August, Kurpius suggested that VFW posts consider banning smoking to help attract younger members and their families.
With VFW national membership dropping, Kurpius said posts needs to look at providing new attractions such as daycare or health club facilities.
"That's what our young people want," Kurpius told the News Tribune. "They're not looking for a beer and a Friday night fish fry anymore."
Surveys of young military personnel show that 60 percent would favor smoking bans within VFW posts, he said.
"For us to become stronger, we need to change," said Kurpius, a lifetime member of VFW Post 1539 in Babbitt. "We are still stuck back in the '60's and '70s with our programs. I'm favorable to a change in programs, and I'm promoting it (a smoking ban). Ever since I made that comment, I've been getting phone calls from newspapers and television stations across the country. It's one of many issues that are out there."
Still, Kurpius says individual VFW posts would have to decide whether to ban smoking in their post. "We are not making it mandatory," he said.
Kurpius was elected VFW commander-in-chief at the 107th national convention in Reno, Nev. He lived in Babbitt from 1956 to 1985 and worked for Reserve Mining Co. He now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, but occasionally visits his mother in Babbitt.