In their book “The Bonus Army,” authors Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen pay tribute to the thousands of World War I veterans who marched to Washington to petition for benefits they believed were owed for their service, only to be chased away by soldiers under federal orders.
“American history is punctuated by moments and history that become prisms through which larger events are better understood – the Boston Tea Party, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the Alamo, John Brown’s Raid,” they write. “The march of the Bonus Army belongs in such company. But its significance has been obscured by time, even to its direct beneficiaries – the millions of later veterans whose bonus would be the GI Bill and the benefits that have followed to the present day .... Millions of
Americans have since peacefully marched on Washington in support of various causes, their way paved by the veterans of 1932.”
As a former high school history teacher, it is in this spirit that I am calling on all departments to conduct their own American Legion Walk for Veterans. Though far less contentious than what many of our Legion founders experienced 83 years ago, these events can send a similar message of support for those who have served.
We kicked off this initiative in Manchester, N.H., Sept. 12. Clad in distinctive gold T-shirts, dozens of American Legion Family members and supporters joined me on the 2.5-mile round-trip walk from Post 2 to Veterans Memorial Park. The youngest was a 12-year-old Sons of The American Legion member. The oldest was 90-year-old World War II veteran Lionel LeBlanc, who fought in the South Pacific.
A retired Air Force master sergeant, LeBlanc wanted to honor not just his fellow veterans, but those men and women fighting today. “They’ve been shortchanged,” LeBlanc said. “We allow refugees to slip into the country to receive benefits while veterans sleep under bridges.”
Most Americans have genuine appreciation for veterans and desire to help them. They just don’t know how. By joining us at our walks, they can help raise public awareness about a variety of veterans issues.
We walk to bring attention to those who struggle daily with hardships related to traumatic brain injury or PTSD. We walk because we know that VA reform will happen only when Americans hold elected officials accountable and demand veterans be treated with the respect they’ve earned. We walk to remind employers that the best way to thank a veteran is to hire one. We walk because we believe recent defense cuts have been dangerously irresponsible and threaten to send our military into harm’s way without the proper training and resources.
If you’ve participated in one of our walks, thank you. To see if there’s one happening near you, contact your department headquarters or visit www.legion.org/walkforveterans.
I strongly believe we should walk not for ourselves but for those who have marched before us. In war and peace, America’s veterans have sacrificed time and again for our freedoms. An American Legion Walk for Veterans is the least we can do for them.