Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Commander Salutes Some of Us

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.”


As the Geezer pointed out last Veteran’s Day (11/12/09 and 11/16/09 Posts), 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 Dec. 6, 1941. How ridiculous is that?

Was I not exposed to danger when men in my unit were returning from service 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.”

Hum, 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 will not salute him today. But I will salute ALL my fellow veterans, regardless of gender, color, or dates of service.

Thank you for your honorable service, my comrades.


Jayhawk23 said...

I remember when I wrapped up my own military service in late 1971 (yes, I did see a year or so in a "combat zone") that the Legion seemed just so ... irrelevant to the experience of the Vietnam vet. It always seemed to me they weren't a bit interested in representing anyone but the WWII crowd, and it doesn't look like anything has changed. Of course, Vietnam wasn't a declared war, either.

As for experience in a "war," well, many who served in wartime did so without ever seeing a shot fired in action; while as you point out, many who didn't were nonetheless PREPARED to put their lives on the line or could have been called on to do so. I recall in the late 60's when it was considered safe to join the National Guard because they would "never" be called up (George W. Bush remembers this) a couple of friends of mine got the surprise of their lives when a local Guard unit WAS called up (one of the few during that war).

So once you're in the service, your fate isn't in your hands any longer - where you serve, or whether it happens to be in a time of formally declared war or not, shouldn't make any difference to organizations like the AL.

johnnyBnike said...

i served from 84 to 92. no VA benefits for me. sitting next to russia just waiting for the action to start. It never did. I'm not a veteran because it didn't, hogwash. give the honorable veterans the medal for being there. It was an honor.

Dick Klade said...

Bill Hamilton commented via e-mail:

Today I received documents that I believe support fully your assessment of the American Legion and its National Commander, Jimmie Foster. I received an "Important Notice" that, as a veteran who served most honorably during wartime, I and my dependents are eligible for many services and benefits from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Included was a most impressive "Certificate of Nomination" with my name prominent, and a Legion "Acceptance Certificate" that shows my active duty dates make me eligible for membership.

In none of this information nor the cover letter is there mention that my honorable discharge (caused by the end of my extended enlistment) occurred almost 60 years ago--in early February 1952!

I remember my Dad (a WWII Legion member) told me when I got home I could not ever join the Legion because I served during a "police action" that was not considered "wartime"!
Nor was there any mention that my 1+ year of service in Japan was during the Korean War in the active Naval Reserve. What a way to treat an old man.

If you could view this enormous recruiting envelope, I am sure you would repeat the expression "bullshit"!

Dick Klade said...

It's good to know you think my assessment was OK, Bill. It appears that Legion membership continues to decline, and they now are pandering to all those they slighted in the past. Every now and then I get an invitation from them, but whenever I've followed up at all I am told my two years of service and honorable discharge do not qualify me as a veteran. Perhaps this year they'll decide I qualify, and I can cheerfully tell them where to display that "Certificate of Acceptance."