Traditionally, this space is reserved for American Legion national commanders to sound off on global issues, or to raise awareness of important programs that advance the organization's mission. I have something a little different in mind this month, but it's equally significant.
My message is this: remember the value of saying thanks.
In volunteer organizations like The American Legion, that's often the only compensation for a job well done. To those currently serving our country in uniform, a little bit of unsolicited gratitude can go a long way toward easing the often lonely tension of wartime service far from home. As for us older veterans, I recently learned that a company interested in learning what makes Legionnaires tick found that it wasn't money or fame, but gratitude and remembrance. This makes a lot of sense to me. I see it everywhere, and I know my fellow Legionnaires do, too.
We see it in the way the same post historian carefully assembles a scrapbook of photos, news clips and event programs year after year a half-century after fighting at the frozen Chosin Reservoir. We see it at the front desk of the VA medical center, where the same clutch of Legionnaires and Auxiliary members can always be found helping patients and families get where they need to go. When U.S. flags magically appear for patriotic holidays along your town's main street, chances are that some unassuming veteran with a good pickup truck made it happen, wanting nothing in return other than the satisfaction of having done something that needed doing.
When I was elected to lead this great organization, I stood before our national-convention delegates and thanked them. Then I directed them to go back to their hometowns across the land and express gratitude to those who make a difference in their communities. Mark Twain wrote that "kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." An unknown author wrote that "the two most important words are ‘thank you.' The one most important word: ‘we.' The least important word: ‘I.'"
With that in mind, please think about that special person in your community. It might be a veteran or a member of the National Guard who's never complained about the number of deployments that led to missed birthdays or anniversaries. It might be a family member who weathers the stress of a loved one at war or struggles to find a job in this difficult economy. It might be the teacher who always does a great job preparing students to compete in The American Legion Oratorical Contest, or the local newspaper reporter who never forgets to publish stories about it. It's certainly that young man or woman in a military uniform pacing nervously at the airport or train station, in transit from one training installation to another, or from a training installation to a combat outpost.
Please walk up to them and thank them. Remember to drop them a card from time to time. Let them know that when good people humbly sacrifice their time and energy - or even risk their lives - for the benefit of others, we have a couple of words we'd like to share.