When I was born, everything in my family was rather normal. Or as normal as can be expected in 1980. I stayed my traditional 3 days in the hospital, my father beaming with pride at his first birth-born daughter since 1964. However, where most families tended to go visit other family members after the departure from the hospital, I was introduced to another type of family – one that stays with me even to this day.
The American Legion. Created in France in March of 1919 by the American Expedition Force and chartered by Congress on September 16th, 1919. Created as a mutual-help to war-time veterans, by 1931 there were already over one million members in various posts about the country. Now, that number is well over 3 million men and women, with more joining all the time.
Every Memorial Day, all around the country, the American Legion leads the parades that we have all become used to viewing or hearing about. Everyone sees them, they’re donned in heavy, wool uniforms generally, with the American Flag, a State Flag, perhaps or even a POW/MIA Flag. Behind the colorguard can be found other veterans – donned in their branches best uniforms if they can still fit in them. Most of the time they lead the parade up to a cemetary or park where they perform a small memorial service for those who died and for those who never came home.
When I was old enough, I used to ride on the junior auxiliary float that we would decorate specifically for one parade a year. Sure, it wasn’t much and it was more of a thrill to be in the parade on a float than any actual pride in what we were a part of, but, there was pride in it. The Legionaires were proud of the work we did on the float and had hope that as we grew up, some of us may even enlist in the military ourselves.
We learned to respect the American Flag, as well as a respect for all and from that, as well as seeing exactly what the American Legion stands for and all that they do for the communities outside of veterans affair, we discovered pride.
These men and women who stayed stateside or even those who went overseas did this without so much as a selfish thought. They did what they felt was just and right – and were willing to fight to the death for something that they truly believed in. Some came back and some didn’t, sadly. Some had no choice in certain situations and some wanted to start a new life based on what happened while they were away. As sad as it seems, they did what they felt was right – defending others as well as our country as if it were a child. Protecting it as we still do to this day from those that wish to harm her.
It never seemed a shameful thing to be proud of the legion, as well as having pride for the country. It came naturally to me, perhaps because I saw how these men and women treated each other with mutual respect and love. I saw every year and every function that I went to involving them how they looked at the flag with love and a true respect in their eyes. And as I grew up I knew that it didn’t matter what others thought of my pride for the country, what mattered was that I cared. I may not have liked how others treated things, but I could only hope that someday they would see things differently.
One of the more fun aspects of The American Legion were the friendships I got to witness first hand. The friendship between most of these members was so close that often times you would swear they were family. I, thankfully, got to witness this from first a childs aspect to now a grown up one. In many ways, I still feel like a child to those who still pass through the doors of the Legion.
Men who were just barely men went to war way before I was even created came back home only to create these tight-knit relationships with others under the Legion’s Roof. My father had a friendship that I recall was merely himself and three other men, who were more like brothers than aquaintances at a post. They would talk to each other every chance they got, play cards, go out and have a good time and take care of each other and their families as if they were one in the same. But time progressed on and soon enough the foursome was three. And still as tight-knit as ever, only old men by now, they would still talk of the old times, where they went and what they saw, experienced and remembered of their service days. I saw the true brotherhood after my father grew ill. Moreso with one of the men then both, perhaps because they saw each other more than the other two or perhaps they felt kindred in spirit. Jack was one of my dad’s best friends. If not the best one he had. When my father was in the hospital, my family could almost count on weekly phone calls from Jack – who, himself, was not in the best of health and had not been for years. But he would call, asking mainly how my father was and if we needed anything. He would ask how we were doing and how we were holding up – even though he barely had the strength or breath to talk for long. But he did this out of respect and love for my father and us. When Jack fell deathly ill and passed away in February of 2005, I knew I had to go to the funeral parlor and pay my respects to this man who looked out for my family like we were his own. And it was then that I saw the other remaining man of the original four, heartbroken and shaking at this new loss.
I, however, did not understand or realize his bond to these two fully until a week later when my father unexpectedly pased away. Don, now the only living member of the foursome, was so broken up that he could not bear to be in the parlor room when the funeral service was happening. Instead, he stood off in a side room where he could hear everything and see only the priest and my father’s body. Nobody acknowledged it during or after the service, but you could hear his sobs and gasps for breath just as if my father had been his own flesh and blood. Don remained behind after the service, in fact, I believe he stayed until even after the family left the parlor. He was crushed. I saw then that the brotherhood was a stronger bond than I could have ever imagined.
Most people go by the American Legion each day without seeing anything other than a private club for veterans. But perhaps if people paid closer attention to what the Legion is about and what they do for the public each and every day, they would understand that the Legion is not about drinking at all, but about brother and sisterhood as well as a family.