There are many young veterans in our midst who have experienced unspeakable horrors and endured the violence of war, or who have served a supporting role to those in combat. We in the American Legion aspire to connect with these veterans and invite them to join our ranks. As a veteran myself I think I can understand their apprehension to become involved in a military organization so soon after leaving active duty. War changes a person. His perspective of life is no longer that of his dreams. His reaction to society is guarded, vigilant of any hint of his inner thoughts. So, what happens to a soldier when he or she no longer is in the service? What happens when he comes home?
When I returned home from flying helicopters in Vietnam in 1971, I knew the army was not for me, but I had two more years of my obligation to serve. At the end of my service, after over a year of not flying, I missed it so much I joined the Air National Guard just so I could fly. Well, that didn’t last long after a near fatal overnight cross-country flight. I left the service for good and never wanted to look back, having no qualms about a complete transformation into civilian life with a resolve to achieve the dreams I once had. I spurned any connection to the army or what I had been through and hastened to try to forget. News reports of armed conflict blew past me in a pall and any mention of the armed services fell on my consciousness with indifference.
It took over 40 years for me to realize the significance of my military service and the importance of what I had done while in uniform. I began to see a change in the patriotic spirit of America and was disheartened by its decline. Fewer Americans are willing to serve in the military and protect our country; our freedoms. I felt that we had become very effective at building nonessentials and offering praise to icons of entertainment instead of honoring those brave men and women who preserve our freedom to build and praise such superfluous things. That rekindled the fire of patriotism that had smoldered inside of me for so many years.
These young veterans I feel are caught in the middle ground between duty to their country and what society offers as consolation. They are busy trying to build for themselves the lives and families they once envisioned. I imagine it will be some time before they, too, realize the significance of what they have done for their country and look for a means to renew their patriotism. This is the point at which many of our members have taken the step to become Legionnaires.
We are struggling to find ways to unleash the latent patriotism hidden in these young men and women. They would add so much to our organization and the community. It is our hope that one day this will happen.
It is said:
In the military, you learn the essence of people. You see so many examples of self-sacrifice and moral courage. In the rest of life, you don’t get that many opportunities to be sure of your friends.
Such is the plight of the American soldier.