Al Heidenreich's NH Veterans' Views: Vets' organizations are about you
End of Summer? Forget about it, as there is plenty of great New Hampshire weather on tap and many of us think this is the best time of year, as do the thousands of others who cross our borders (legally) and bring their wallets. Welcome to the tax free (yeah, right) Granite State!
First item of business is to respond to all who responded to my last column about our national anthem — kneeling, standing and whatever. Comments were 100 percent negative (no surprise) and proved my point exactly.
I cannot resist telling about the photo sent in by one of my regular readers (yes, I do have a few). The photo showed a woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “When North Korea bombs us our military should kneel and let the NFL handle it.” See what I mean?
The situation takes on a life of its own and nobody wins. It only widens the division. Politics and religion should be private matters to be discussed intelligently in groups of like minds and not forced on mass platforms to mostly disinterested audiences.
Of course we have the choice of changing the channel but why should we be put into this position in the first place?
Believe it or not I do have a relatively simple solution. You dare to doubt me? Read on.
During the playing and singing (and what they sometimes claim to be singing) of the beautiful love song to our great nation at any national sporting event or production (do not just blame the NFL), the networks should focus on a waving United States flag and/or shots of our military personnel who are the real people we should be looking up to, and avoid the athletes themselves, some of whom do not know the words anyway (watch their lips). Blow off the show-off. Problem solved. Fat chance the media will do it!
Item number 2: Veterans’ organizations are showing a decrease in membership and this is disturbing to those of us who have belonged to one or more, and it is up to each and every one of us to take up the cause and do something besides moan and groan about it. We have to dismount from our mule and get the message out to the guys and gals out there for why they should sign up.
First and foremost is what is in it for them and their families. Every organization has many benefits to offer on a local community level and while they may differ somewhat from one another the bottom line is they all have a similar purpose, the well-being of all who have honorably served.
Your elected officials look at numbers and the veterans total is enormous. I urge every former service member to at least investigate an organization in your area and find out for yourself.
The smoke-filled places of beer swilling and foul language are long gone (OK, for the most part, anyway) and are family friendly. It is worth a look.
I personally belong to five veterans’ organizations and most of their goals and benefits are similar. They all have different qualifications for membership and I sure am not going to explain them. Sometimes you have to wonder how and why they came about and why these groups cannot (will not?) make changes and keep up with the times.
I am a multi-year member of The American Legion and my qualifications are that I served in the U.S. Army from 1951-1954. These were the Korean War years but my tour of duty was in the Army of Occupation in post World War II Germany (where else with a name like mine?). In other words, I served in Germany but am considered a Korean War veteran. Make sense? Actually, yes.
Now hear this. I have a friend who went to college from 1950-55, spent four years in ROTC, received a commission and spent three years in Germany, and was honorably discharged, but cannot join The American Legion because he served between January 1955 (Korea) and February 1961 (Vietnam), when there was “no war.”
Crazy? You bet! His life was in danger thanks to our Russian friends but no matter.
Now comes the kicker: Should he pass away, the U.S. Government will provide a full military funeral (in a veterans’ cemetery if desired, spouse also) with taps, a flag ceremony and a bronze plaque, but he cannot transfer to the Eternal Post in the Sky because he did not belong! Are you freaking kidding me?
There is more. This same scenario applies to those whose service period falls between Dec. 31, 1946 (World War II), and June 25, 1950 (Korea). How about May 7, 1975 (Vietnam), to Aug. 24, 1982 (Lebanon/Grenada)? Throw in Panama and the Gulf War and ... oh well, you get the point by now.
These eligibility gaps (gaffs) add up to more than 20 years of potential American Legionnaires — numbering untold thousands, if not millions. Too late for this year’s new slate of officers but plenty of time to lay the groundwork for 2019-20. What a great 100th anniversary present to ourselves! You’re welcome.
On Sept. 1, 1975, a schoolmate of mine flew a rescue mission in ’Nam and was never heard from again. His name is on the Vietnam Wall and is forever in my POW/MIA prayers. God keep you, Gerry. (Gerald Robert Helmich, West High School ’50, you are not forgotten.)
A 100 Nights of Remembrance ceremony will take place at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Manchester on Sept. 8 and at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen on Sept. 9.
Did you celebrate VJ Day on Aug. 14? That’s OK, but to be historically correct the actual formal surrender was on Sept. 2, 1945. You’re excused.
Have a safe, sober and sane Labor Day.
Al Heidenreich is past commander of Henry J. Sweeney American Legion Post 2. Write to Al with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.