It didn’t take long for American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt to see the impact of Wednesday’s Awareness Walk for Veterans in Montville, Conn.
“One of the law enforcement officers that helped us along the way this morning, (I) got to talking to him and he’s a United States Marine veteran, served in Afghanistan, and he is a brand new Legion member this morning,” Schmidt said after the walk. Daniel Witts of the Montville Police Department spent a few minutes after the walk talking with Schmidt and other Legion family members.
“When we signed him up to join the Legion, (a) young man, that’s why we’re out here,” Department of Connecticut Commander Louie Robinson said. “We’re out here to let people know who we are, what we do. Then to get this young police officer to join our ranks, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to reach the younger veteran now. We’re trying to get them to join The American Legion.”
It was an enthusiastic group of Legion family members joining Schmidt and Robinson on the 2.1-mile walk to Post 112 in Montville. But they were met along the route with enthusiastic and grateful waves and honking horns by those passing the group.
“It’s very gratifying,” Schmidt said of the response. “Some folks, particularly in the Vietnam era, came home and didn’t get a warm reception, as we know. Any time the public recognizes those men and women that served this country, it is truly gratifying. It lets you know that there are still folks in America who appreciate what the veteran has done and continues to do for this country.”
Robinson, who helped organize last year’s Connecticut walk by Past National Commander Dale Barnett, said the walks are “invigorating.”
Schmidt, echoing this year’s theme of “Carry the Legion Forward,” is carrying on Barnett’s nationwide awareness walks. He’s already participated in a walk in Kansas and has another scheduled in St. Joseph, Mo., on Oct. 29.
“They’re very important because we obviously want to get The American Legion name out there, we want to tell people about all the good things we do, because there are veterans still yet to hear about The American Legion, to know what we’ve been doing for a number of years,” Schmidt said. “As we see people drive by, they knew we were there with our banners, our flag … honking and giving us the thumbs up. We’re making an impact, being out there and being visible, because sometimes we’re in the post and we don’t get out among the population.”
The walks not only raise awareness of veterans’ issues, but all the issues The American Legion is concerned with, Schmidt said. That increased awareness can help lure younger members like the police officer who joined Wednesday morning.
“We’ve got some youth programs and this young officer, his eyes kind of lit up when we talked about the Law Enforcement Cadet program, which is fairly new in The American Legion," Schmidt said. "So there might be a place for him in here. And of course, he also understood that The American Legion concern is veterans as well."