After serving in Vietnam, I worked at Edward’s Air Force Base. My friend and battle buddy, Doug, was living with us at the time.
We decided one day to go to the local VFW. It was 1972 or 1973, as I recall. We walked into the building and sat down, and everyone there was looking at us, like, “Who are you guys?”
We introduced ourselves as Vietnam veterans.
They didn’t really embrace us, the World War II guys.
“Awe, Vietnam wasn’t even a war,” they said.
They said this to us as I sat down next to Doug—the man got hit eight times in Vietnam! I thought to myself, They better not get ole’ Doug riled up. He’s six foot three!
“Well, I was in a real war,” Doug replied. “I got shot here, here, and here.”
“You weren’t very squared away then, were you?” The old World War II veteran replies.
We left angry that day, saying we would never join one of these organizations if that is how they would treat us.
Years later, in 1996, I was on the phone trying to acquire a flag for my father-in-law’s funeral; he was an Air Force veteran. A guy from work overheard me on the phone and said, “I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but are you having a hard time getting a flag for your father-in-law?”
I told him, “Yes.”
“I’ll take care of the flag,” he says. “I will do a few other things, too, if you don’t mind. I will get a full honor guard team to the funeral,”
I asked him how he could pull all of this off, and he shared that he was a member of the local VFW and a Vietnam Veteran.
That man and I are still friends to this day. I remember thinking, Wow, maybe they’ve had a change of heart at the VFW.
I decided to join because of that one simple act of kindness and I have been a member of VFW since 1997.
I never wanted to see any other veteran treated the way we had been treated that day. Now, when a young person comes into my Post, I make sure they are embraced and honored.
A Point of View
As a fortunate member of the American Legion and VFW, I affirm that both organizations actively strive to embrace post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Larry’s story is one of many attributed to the organization’s reputation as an old guy club in a smoky bar with cheap drinks. Larry’s story proves that this reputation stems from real experiences.
However, just like in Larry’s story, there is redemption. We ask you not to judge these organizations based on old stories. Embrace them and create new stories. Make them what they need to be to remain relevant to veterans and their families nationwide. That is what Larry has done. He joined VFW and made a lasting impact through faith and service.
The Vietnam Veteran is now the one sitting in the room, the old guys, just like their predecessors from World War II back then. Now, the Vietnam-era veteran holds the torch of leadership as our World War II heroes have mostly departed.
Don’t let these great organizations die. Yes, it is up to you, the Gulf War and post-9/11 veteran, to take the torch being passed to you. Please take a moment to learn the history of your VFW and American Legion and the reasons they were founded. These organizations are becoming more family-oriented and inclusive through innovation, but they need you.
Your local American Legion Post 108 has many opportunities to share in camaraderie and service to the veteran community. Post 108 has an Auxiliary for spouses, daughters, and granddaughters of service members.
The Sons of the American Legion is for sons and grandsons of service members. The Post also offers American Legion Baseball and the American Legion Riders.
Reach out your hand and take the torch. Help to make these organizations relevant to younger veterans. Remember, these organizations are the most prominent advocacy groups in the country for veterans, and they speak on behalf of every veteran.
—Toni Hedstrom, Auxiliary Member American Legion Post 108 and VFW Post 4412
Your Friendly Legion
Jacksonville boasts the “friendliest Post in Florida,” American Legion Post 137, with over 700 members including the regular Legion, the Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Riders, and a “Rod & Reel” club.
Post 137 offers a full calendar of daily events including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, dances, parties, and live music. 137 also boasts a tiki bar, a “moon room,” and an Olympic-size swimming pool!
It is the members, however, that make Post 137 such a special place of fellowship. The men and women veterans and their families of Post 137 are a richly diverse cross-section of America, from many backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. They come together in shared experiences and brother/sisterhood to enjoy each other’s stories and friendship.
For more information about American Legion Post 137, Jacksonville, Florida, visit www.post137.com.
-E.J. Christy, U.S. Navy veteran; member, American Legion Post 137
America Depends on its Veterans
“Without a strong membership, the Legion wouldn’t be able to organize town hall meetings, survey VA medical centers, sponsor job fairs, or help veterans start a business. Without a strong membership, the Legion wouldn’t have the funds to assist wounded warriors, children of U.S. servicemembers killed on active duty, and victims of natural disasters.
“In short, the American Legion—and by extension, America—depend on wartime veterans uniting in great numbers under our banner.”
– 2014 American Legion National Commander, Daniel M. Dellinger