As a Vietnam veteran, Fang Wong remembers how veterans of that war were treated when they returned home. It's those same veterans' responsibility to ensure a similar homecoming doesn't await the men and women who are fighting the war on terror.
That was part of the focus of Wong's acceptance speech in Minneapolis Thursday after being elected The American Legion's national commander for 2011-2012. The New York Legionnaire and member of Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291 in New York City said the future of the organization depends on welcoming younger veterans into the fold, as well as advocating on their behalf.
"Most of us will never forget the way veterans were treated as they came home from the war and as they fought for recognition of their unique war-related health problems in the years that followed," Wong said. "As the largest bloc of veterans represented in this organization today, those of us who served in Vietnam are duty-bound to ensure the same mistakes will not happen to the next generation of veterans. It is our duty to uphold and defend the rights and benefits of today's new generation of wartime veterans and welcome them into The American Legion with open arms. They are the future of our organization."
Wong - who was sworn in by Past National Commander John Brieden and presented the colors by Past National Commander Ron Conley - promised to represent and advocate on behalf of all Legionnaires, as well as the policies of the organization. He presented a list of priorities for the year.
Membership: "We all know that training and leadership are two of the key ingredients for a successful organization," he said. "In order for the Legion to survive, we must develop and provide meaningful training so that we all can do our jobs better.
"During the recent membership workshop meetings, I asked that the new department commanders, in addition to having a plan for their committed membership goal for the coming year, to also review and consider the adoption of recommendations from The 21st Century Committee Report. There is a lot of good information in this report, and solutions that are accurate and valid for our situation today. I asked your commanders to start a process review concentrating on what's needed at each level of the organization to improve or rebuild your mode of operation. We need to know how we operate. We need everyone to understand why the Legion exists. We need to have our priorities in line with the Four Pillars."
Job Training and Employment: "Opportunities for our returned heroes are key ingredients of our success," Wong said. "They deserve the full support of our nation as our veterans return to their normal life. We need to work hard with the Department of Labor and America's major employers to ensure the market place will consider and hire veterans, especially in the federal, state and local government sector."
Health Care: "We must stay on top of both DoD and the VA to ensure medical facilities are well-staffed and funded for those who require treatment," he said. "We will continue to study the PTS and TBI issue so that the best methods can be determined and provided to those in need.
"Last year, The American Legion took the lead in conducting a Women Veterans Survey. The findings and results were released during the 2011 Washington Conference. We must now continue to focus on women veterans programs and issues. They deserve no less."
Military Families: "The Family Support Network is one program we perform very well at almost any level, to help the families of those who defend our freedom," Wong said. "Especially in this time of tight budgets and reduced manpower, these families need our help more than ever. I ask that you continue your magnificent work in helping to care for military families. I also ask that you coordinate and document your activities so that we can collectively demonstrate and report to the DoD of our capabilities. As a VSO, we are relevant in this issue, and they must understand this."
Veterans Benefits: "With the federal deficit crisis, we all expect government services and benefits to be on the chopping block for years to come," he said. "While we certainly are willing to take our fair share in helping this great nation back to the road of recovery, we must also be vigilant and proactive for our rights and benefits. We must stand strong against any disproportional cutback of services and benefits to the veterans' community. Active forces, veterans and national security should not, and will not, bear the major burden of any government reduction plan."
The Flag Amendment: "A proposed constitutional amendment to protect Old Glory from physical desecration has been introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 19 and House Joint Resolution 13 this year," he said. "You need to contact your senator's and your representative's office and ask them to become co-sponsors in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them. Let's push for the long overdue passage of this bill during this Congress."
Wong said his projects this year will be the Child Welfare Foundation and The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. He also presented his theme for the year - "We Serve With PRIDE" (People-Research-Ideas-Develop-Execute) - and his membership incentive program. Any Legionnaire who signs up, transfers from DMS, or renews a combination of eight Legion members will receive a "Super Eight" eagle PRIDE pin.
"I look forward to an exciting year working with you," Wong said. "I look forward to meeting you in person, and I look forward to visiting your great departments again. I am excited at the opportunity to share our views on many issues. I cannot promise you that I have answers for everything. I know I don't. But if we work together, I am sure we will find the right answers."