At first sight, a visit to many a local VFW or American Legion post may reveal some common themes: aging membership, nostalgia, facility maintenance concerns and a wistful sense of fading into history. As if this were not enough to induce melancholy, the challenge of maintaining a post is compounded by reports of increasingly rigorous surveillance by health department officials promising fines for the ice machine that pegs the establishment as a restaurant or other telltale signs (to such officials) of nefarious business going on behind the benign facade. Many posts, for rising costs and declining membership, can no longer afford their own upkeep.
This scene, of course, is not universal. Some posts – not without considerable sacrifice of time, talent and treasure – have succeeded in attracting younger members by developing various forms of socially conducive increments like game tables, videos and other familiar furnishings of sports bars. What may have in recent years been most neglected, however, is the inestimable value of the life stories of so many veterans whose identities may only be known through names etched on a bronze wall plaque in the back of the hall. Young people need to know their stories!
We commonly hear it said that “our youth are our future.” That has always been true enough. During any parish planning process, it is inevitable that deep concerns are raised about the vulnerable state of our youth, the challenges and pitfalls that surround them and the dire need to help them develop their leadership potential and discern their vocational direction. Engaging them in the lives and histories of our vets would not be a bad place at all to start.
Good veterans are made not born. Not everyone who went into the service did so with the same degree of enthusiasm or clarity of purpose at the time of their initiation. Time, training and teamwork, however, would eventually separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. What has always been a hallmark of service in America is loyalty to both God and country. To this day that dedication – and the bond with one’s colleagues in the service – remain etched into the fabric of those enduring relationships which have much to teach younger generations.
This Memorial Day will feature the usual panoply of parades, sales, outings and other familiar staples of the inauguration of the summer season. We hope that it will also be a time of reflection and prayer. First of all, a prayer of thanksgiving for our vets who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that we so easily take for granted. Neither do we want to forget those who today put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the values and principles that unite us as a free people.
An important connection that is easily overlooked, as we have been intimating, is the more personal communion that needs to be fostered among our vets and our young people. Whatever can be done to encourage and enhance this conversation will serve all of them richly as well as our Country and our Church. We want to encourage our vets to show no hesitation in speaking with pride and conviction to our children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, sharing their stories, reflections and memories.
Most of our service men and women are people of considerable reserve and humility. We recognize, as they do, that their reward is simply in having served loyally and generously. They do not seek adulation or special distinction. However, they have a vital role to play even now and we wanted to do more than just say “thanks again.” We want them to know we need their service still – right in the heart of our families, churches and communities – the service of remembering for tomorrow!