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A Place For Veterans

Long ago, the United States shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. We sell products, but for the most part, we no longer make them. However, one thing we continually produce with regularity is veterans. Veterans organizations are almost as old as America itself. The first such groups sprung from the Revolutionary War, when local charities were established to help ex-soldiers with disabling wounds and injuries. But it wasn’t until after the Civil War that vets got organized nationally and started to wade into politics. Union troops formed a group called The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).

Their philosophy was if the government wasn’t going to help them, they’d help each other. They fought to provide care and pensions to former troops. In 1899, when troops coming back from the Spanish American War were excluded from The Grand Army of the Republic, they formed the VFW. The American Legion came along twenty years later, opening its membership to anybody who served in uniform during times of armed conflict.   

Thousands of troops coming home from the trenches of World War I joined because many had a tough time re-adjusting financially to civilian life. That led to a mass mobilization and march on Washington. These guys set up encampment for several weeks and sort of sat in the shadow of the Capitol and protested daily. They became known as the “Bonus Army,” and their persistence led to fears of a revolt against the federal government. 

To prevent similar discontent after World War II, the veteran organizations pursued one of the largest social welfare programs ever proposed: the G.I Bill of Rights. To historians, its passage marked the peak of the American Legion and VFW’s power. Both organizations in World War II saw the GI Bill as a great recruiting opportunity and an opportunity to make their organizations something intergenerational, something long-lasting.  

The divisive politics of the Vietnam War, along with a sharp drop in the size of the military, led to a decrease in the groups’ membership, a trend that continues to today as the organizations struggle to remain relevant to modern veterans. More than 2,000 Legion and VFW posts around the country have closed. Many more are on shaky financial ground, putting communities in danger of losing institutions that for decades sponsored parades, youth baseball games, and other civic events.

That being said, one of the great things about our community here in Broad Channel is that unlike many large urban centers where residents are brought together by the materialistic desire of gain and an accompanying carelessness of their neighbors, our little hamlet in the middle of Jamaica Bay is blessed with a strong sense of community and caring for each other, steadfast in our belief that the impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor. That sense of community extends to our veteran organizations as well.

Case in point, pictured here are members of Broad Channel’s VFW Prince Wynn Post #16 who spent this past Sunday afternoon hosting a BBQ for disabled veterans residing at St. Albans Hospital. The day was filled with great food accompanied by live music. For the disabled vets who must call this hospital home, the day was indeed a special one, filled with friendly faces, great conversation and, most importantly, a display of genuine concern for them by all of your neighbors pictured above who routinely take time to ensure that their neighbors, who opted to wear a uniform, leave their family and friends are never forgotten.

This is one story where I find my weekly close to this column most appropriate—Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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