SERVING OUR VETERANS: Veterans serving veterans
In 2019, the American Legion will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. Today, it struggles to attract new members. This is also true of other veteran’s organizations like the VFW and AMVETS. In a broader perspective, it seems like the young adult generation of today does not have the interest in joining any organization, whether it be for veterans or for community and civic organizations as well. It appears they all are having difficulty recruiting new members. As a 40 year member of the American Legion and a member of Rugby Post #23, this is quite apparent. The majority of our active members are well beyond 60 years old. I am sure many of our Legion members, including myself, often ask, “Why do I stay involved and why do I do what I do?”
A few weeks ago I once again was reminded of the answer to this question. As a member of the Post’s Color and Honor Guard, I participated in the funeral of a Vietnam War veteran. This veteran had lived a solitary and quiet life. He had no immediate family in the area. He lived alone and died alone in his home. Although he had lived in Rugby for over 25 years, few people knew who he was, including those on our Honor Guard that day. After his death, a small frame was found on a wall in his home. On the frame was mounted his military service medals including a combat infantry badge and a Purple Heart. His war experiences had caused both physical and mental problems that he struggled with the remainder of his life. His funeral was attended by less than ten family members, four other acquaintances, and nine Honor Guard participants. With the situation being as it was, six of those on the Honor Guard were asked to serve as pallbearers, including myself. It was a reminder for me that not only can veterans serve other veterans in life, but they can also serve them in death. When we carried his body in the casket, all wearing the same Legion uniform, from the funeral home to the hearse, we were there for him. When we carried the casket from the hearse to his final resting place at a small rural cemetery, we were there for him. When we fired the gun salute, when Taps were played, and when the flag was ceremonial folded and presented to his family, we were there for him. At the end of his life, in a small way, we were able to give him the honor, respect and dignity that he had earned. The sacrifice he made for our country resulted in his struggles and suffering the remainder of his life. Hopefully, at the end we were able to provide some final peace for him and comfort to his family.
So as an American Legion member, this experience once again reminded me of one of the main reasons I do what I do. I am sure the other eight members of the Honor Guard that day feel the same way. It is about veterans serving veterans. It is about respect for each other. It is about duty and honor to those who have served our country; especially for those who have sacrificed the most. Let us continue to always find a way to serve them in both life and death.
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