As the population ages and the Greatest Generation dwindles in numbers, more veterans find themselves in retirement communities and nursing homes. In Cushing, Okla., Post 108 realized this, and implemented a program honors veterans who might otherwise go unnoticed. Since 2008, the Payne County Forgotten Warriors has brought gifts, help and recognition to veterans in local assisted living facilities.
"Quite a number of these veterans don't have any family close to them or at all," said Bobby Bryant, Legionnaire and program coordinator. That means at holidays, especially, these veterans can become isolated, he said. "It comes down to the American Legion idea that we're just veterans serving veterans. ... The ones who can't come to us, we want to go to them."
During the recent holiday season, the Payne County Forgotten Warriors recognized nearly 70 local veterans, many of whom are World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans.
Gathered together for the celebration, each veteran is presented a blanket emblazoned with his own branch of military, as well as gifts from local businesses and a personalized card.
"It's very emotional. Some of them of course they thank us profusely. A lot of them will have tears in their eyes, just the thought of somebody remembering their service," Bryant said. He also hears from families who reiterate the importance of the program, he added. "A lot of us are getting up in years, too. Recognition never hurts."
But the program's benefits don't stop with veterans.
Payne County Forgotten Warriors connects active duty personnel with vets through individualized presentations of gifts during the holidays. For instance, if the veteran served with the Marines, a Marine in full-dress uniform hands him his gifts. Bryant coordinates with local military recruiters and retirement centers to facilitate the affair.
"Once active duty personnel do it one time, they will never forget it. Then they want to do it every time each year while they're here because it is so great to be able to talk to these veterans in these homes," Bryant said.
Specially-struck coins that commemorate deceased Post 108 member Tom Maloney, a WWII fighter ace, are given in thanks to the active duty volunteers.
For Bryant, who also helps by leading Veterans and Memorial Day ceremonies at the local retirement centers, meeting veterans at the retirement centers to apply for VA benefits and so on, there isn't one memory that stands out. Instead, it's the cumulative feeling, he said.
"It's the camaraderie of all the branches coming together the active duty people coming together with us, the veterans to recognize veterans, the majority of whom are the Greatest Generation. There's just no way to honor them enough," Bryant said.
The project costs about $2,500 to put on annually, he said, and most of the funds are put forth from local businesses that have some sort of military affiliation.
Bryant said he hopes other posts will pick up similar programming, and he would be happy to help them. For more information or to donate, please contact him at (918) 399-3026.