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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Commander Salutes Some of Us

By Richard J. Klade of Gabby Geezer

The national commander of the American Legion, Jimmie L. Foster, is:

A: An expert at flip-flopping

B: A man with a very short memory

C: A blatant liar

Just in time for Veteran’s Day 2010, my local paper published a lengthy letter from Foster under the headline, American Legion Strives to Represent All Veterans.

Headlines sometimes misrepresent stories they introduce. However, in the fifth paragraph of his letter, Foster said, “. . . from its inception, the Legion always has maintained that a veteran is a veteran.”

Bullshit!

The Legion denies membership to several million honorably discharged veterans because they did not serve during the Legion’s definitions of “wartime.” I am one of those. My two years of honorable service (1958-1960) in the U.S. Army don’t mean a thing to the American Legion.

Neither would 20 years of service by a Marine whose enlistment ended on December 6, 1941. How ridiculous is that?

Was I not exposed to danger when men in my unit were being sent to serve as “advisors” in Laos and Cambodia, even though officially we were not at war in Southeast Asia? I could have been sent just as they were.

One sergeant in my unit gave a speech at a class I attended in which he described how he directed artillery fire onto the Chinese mainland. When’s the last time we were at war with China? Was my hypothetical pre-World War II vet never at risk during two decades of service in which he pledged to serve his country however and wherever he was ordered to do so?

Perhaps Foster just forgot the facts for a moment. Two paragraphs later, he said, “If you honorably served our country during wartime (emphasis added), you have a home in the Legion, period.”

Hmm, he must suddenly have remembered the Legion’s membership rules. Or, more likely, he knew them all along and just tossed in the corrected definition because the thrust of his message was not to reconcile with veterans like me who the Legion sees as “second class,” but to try to recruit women and minority “wartime” vets whom the Legion tended to ignore for many years.

Foster could spearhead a drive to correct the injustice of the irrelevant dates of service restrictions. Because the Legion is suffering significant membership declines, such an effort by the organization’s leader would have a high chance of success. Don’t count on him doing that. Many Legionnaires, some of whom served much of their active duty time in the Officer’s Club, are not eager to have their heroic images sullied by allowing any second-class vets into their club now.

Foster concluded his letter with the final insult to what the Legion perceives to be second-class veterans:

“On this Veterans Day, let us thank God for the gift of freedom made possible by those who served our nation with honor, courage, and commitment in our armed forces during all wars (my emphasis; he uses the Legion’s definitions here, no doubt, again ignoring the Cold War period) that enabled so many of them to earn that coveted title of an ‘American veteran.’”

How nice of him to imply that we “peacetime” vets are not veterans at all and did not serve with honor, courage or commitment. Whatever Foster is, A, B, C or something else, I did not salute him on Veteran’s Day. But I did salute ALL my fellow veterans, regardless of gender, color or dates of service.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Shocking omissions. I had no idea. All who served, regardless of dates or labels, should be honored and saluted. I salute you.

Richard:

My very dear friend was a United States Air Force Pilot and was stationed at Enewetok Island in 1958 (Peacetime).

It was at this time that the nuclear testing was going on and hydrogen bombs were detonated with not a great deal of thought to safety.

My friend was there for many tests over the course of his posting at Enewetok and died of Melonoma 20 years later when he was 43 years old as a result of his exposure to the radiation.

I have no idea whether or not he would have been accepted into the American Legion.

An outrageous oversight! It seems to me I remember signing an email petition a couple of weeks ago. Was there one being circulated? And what can we do?

Nancy. . .If your friend started his active service on or after Feb. 1, 1955 and it ended on or before Feb. 27, 1961, he was not eligible to join the Legion. BUT, if his active service started on Jan. 31, 1955 or ended on Feb. 27, 1961, he was eligible.

The requirement is that the veteran must have served just one day during the times the Legion defines as "wartime."

Lyn . . . Thank you so much! I didn't know about a petition. Googling "American Legion Petition" got me to "Eligibility for Cold War Vets in the American Legion." That link delivered me to the petition, which was created by the son of a "peacetime" veteran.

I signed in about six seconds!

A veteran is a veteran If they served, they served. They were ready and willing to go where needed. Don't think I'll be supporting any AL projects.

I would not want to be a member of a club who would have me as a member.
(Groucho Marx) Most guys joing the American Legion for the beer and pigs' feet.

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