New Jersey Legionnaires give veteran ‘best medicine’ with a Buddy Check

American Legion Post 184 Commander Norman Marlin was sitting in his office at the post home in Wildwood, N.J., when department and national leadership walked in the morning of June 8. They were there to do a Buddy Check on him.  

“We know you’ve been through some tough times, we love you, we love what you’ve done for The American Legion here in New Jersey, Cape May County, this post here for many, many years,” said Chuck Robbins, a past Department of New Jersey commander and National Executive Committeeman, to Marlin. “We know you’re a valuable part of this whole department and everything The American Legion does for our community, our veterans, our programs. We just want to show you how much we care about you and love you. We’re here for you.”

Marlin was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in November 2021, and recently completed radiation and chemotherapy.  

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming. I appreciate it. I appreciate it a lot,” said an emotional Marlin. “You don’t know how much it touches my heart.”

Those surrounding Marlin for the Buddy Check included Robbins, Department Commander Daniel Dunn, National Vice Commander Cory Bates, Department Assistant Service Officer Judith Morales, NECman Berley Hanna Jr., Alternate NECman Eugene O’Grady, incoming department commander Steve Fisher and Master-at-Arms Randy Grizzard. Leadership was in town for the Department of New Jersey’s convention at the Wildwood Convention Center, located just a few blocks from Post 184.

“You were one of the guys who got to mentor me and show me some of the things, and that’s why I appreciate everything you’ve done, everything you continue to do,” Dunn said to Marlin.

“In good times or bad times, you know that your comrades are here for you,” Morales reminded Marlin. He responded, “Absolutely.”

Accolades for his dedication to The American Legion and Sons of The American Legion were given by others, which left Marlin speechless and filled with emotion. As his fellow Legionnaires left, Marlin reflected on the Buddy Check. “That was awesome. I will be paying that forward too. It meant a whole to me.” And for his fellow veterans to take the time to check in on him “means something … that will always mean something to me.”

Besides the Buddy Check visit to Marlin, the Department of New Jersey held its second annual 1K Buddy Check Awareness Walk on June 8. Legion Family members walked along the busy Wildwoods Boardwalk that overlooks the ocean while wearing T-shirts that read, “Buddy Check: Looking out for each other and our fellow veterans.”

“We want not just our Legion members to know about (Buddy Checks), we want to get the general public involved,” Dunn said. “When you see a group of people coming down the boardwalk all wearing a shirt like this one, it gets their attention and then they want to ask questions. I know that (Buddy Checks) work because of me making phone calls and the responses that I get from people.”

About 100 Legion Family members registered for the Buddy Check walk and donated $20 for the T-shirt. A portion of the proceeds benefited Dunn’s suicide awareness initiative project as department commander, which supports homeless veterans, counseling for veterans and their families, and suicide awareness training for Legion Family members.

“These men and women served their country with pride and honor, and they come back here and all of a sudden, they can’t keep a job, they end up losing their place of residence, they feel like they can’t provide for their family and (suicide) is the only solution they can come up with,” Dunn said. “We are here to make sure that (veterans) understand how important they are to us.”

As Legion Family members gathered in a circle outside the Wildwood Convention Center to start the walk, Bates said, “This is an amazing opportunity to gather all the Legion Family together to show their support for Buddy Checks and suicide awareness. This (Buddy Checks) is for any veteran in your community; they don’t have to be a Legion member. We are here for everyone, whether they choose to be a member of The American Legion or not.”

Dunn reiterated to everyone that “it doesn’t matter if they’re a Legion member or not, you need to talk to people, try to be nice to people. If you see someone walking down the road with a military cap on say, ‘How are you doing today? Thank you for your service.’ One little sentence like that could change their lives. Please remember that.”

New Jersey Legion Family members walked along the Wildwood Boardwalk on a sunny, warm Wednesday where “Thank you for your service” was said and Buddy Check awareness was visible.   

Buddy Checks are an opportunity “to let our comrades know that we care about them and that we are here for them,” Robbins said. “I just feel it’s really important. There’s a lot of people that are lonely out there, a lot of veterans that are lonely who just need somebody to say hi to them (and ask) ‘How are you doing?’ You never know what could be troubling a comrade and a Buddy Check can go a long way” as seen with the one made to Marlin.

“I think it gave him (Marlin) a little boost of ‘Hey, people care about me, people are showing me that all of this work I’ve done over the years for The American Legion and for my fellow veterans, it means something to somebody,’” Robbins said. “I think that was good for him. I think that was some of the best medicine he could have … us going down there and doing that Buddy Check on him.”