(Photo by Clay Lomneth)

Raising awareness and offering thanks

A contingent of more than 30 Legion family members and supporters, ranging from Vietnam veterans to teenagers, participated in a 1.3 mile Veterans Awareness Walk May 18 in Bellevue, Neb.

The walk originated at Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church and moved along South 36th Street, getting plenty of honks and cheers of support from passing motorists. Legion Riders held U.S. flags as the walk departed and stood along a flag line waiting to arrive at its final, and very fitting, destination.

The walk came to a finish at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home (ENVH), where National Commander Dale Barnett and other participants visited with the residents, passed out American flags and thanked them for their service. Many of the residents are World War II veterans.

Walk coordinator Jim Costello, a member of Post 339 in Bellevue, said visiting the home was a perfect conclusion to the walk. “They do not have a lot of family in the area, and we basically become their surrogate family,” he said. “We go visit, we have ice cream socials, we have bingo for them. We interact with them and keep them active, and continue to remind them that we really appreciate what they’ve done for our country as veterans.”

Louise Nichols, Nebraska’s American Legion Auxiliary representative to the ENVH, called Barnett’s visit to the home “fantastic. What a nice gesture on his part to come here and honor our veterans.”

And Patti Howe, the volunteer coordinator for the home, said the visit meant a lot to the residents. “It means that they’re not forgotten,” she said. “It means that people know that there are veterans that live here and that Nebraskans care about their veterans.”

The Legion family had a strong relationship with the home before the walk arrived. “We could not do what we do without … the Legion and Auxiliary,” Howe said. “Pretty much everything we need, I can … make a phone call and get what we need, no matter what it is. They’re there for us.”

Having Bellevue as the site for the walk also made sense, Costello said. “We have Offutt Air Force Base here, we have a lot of veterans and their families who live in this area, and our post (does) a lot of work with the local veterans and their families,” he said. “I thought it was a great venue.

“The awareness walks … (show) that The American Legion is in the forefront of helping our veterans (and) their families with their benefits, and the awareness of what The American Legion can do for them.”

Legion family members from all over the area attended the walk. District 11 Commander Gary Wooten drove 100 miles to participate.

“It’s an honor for us to have the national commander here, but it’s also a chance for us to raise awareness for the veterans, The American Legion and The American Legion family,” Wooten said. “I think many people don’t know what The American Legion does. They see is in the local community … but they don’t understand what we do for veterans. I think if we can have them see us doing something that’s a little different, then we can raise that awareness and start talking to them about our other programs.”

Bellevue is part of Nebraska’s Area A; the area’s vice commander, Rex Sears, drove 65 miles to walk alongside his fellow Legion family members. That the walks help raise money for the Legion’s National Emergency Fund (NEF) was one of the reasons Sears chose to attend.

“I’ve been (involved with the NEF) for quite awhile. When we had a flood in 2011 in Nebraska … I also helped three individuals get National Emergency Fund (grants). It’s a super good benefit. I know every one that I got (a grant) for … they really needed it.”

Barnett set a goal of raising $1 million for the NEF during his tenure as national commander. “It helps so many people who are in need at critical times in their lives,” he said. “We know that a (natural disaster) might happen to any of us at any given time. We want the funds there … to be able to help.”