Memorial Day is just a few weeks away, and some parade planners in Ardmore, Pa. are worried that this year's parade may not last very long, due to fewer and fewer veterans signing up to march.
The parade organizers say older veterans are dying off or are too frail; as for the younger soldiers, they can't seem to get them involved. The organizers contacted the local VFW and American Legion ... only to find their numbers are dwindling too.
Why is that? If you’re a young vet, let me know what's keeping you from participating in a Memorial Day parade, or joining a veterans' group — from work or family obligations, anti-war sentiments, busy schedule, apathy, I want to know.
I also want to hear from other town parade planners facing the same challenge — why do you think fewer vets are taking part? Is there some sort of generation gap?
Email me — I want to hear from you.
You can contact me by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you put my name in the subject line!
I did not expect such a tremendous response from this blog — I am incredibly grateful to all those that did write me. I have read all of your e-mails, but unfortunately, I can not post the hundreds that we received. Again, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and keep checking FOXFan.com for upcoming speakouts!
Here's some of your reactions:
"I'm not a young vet — but after returning from Vietnam, I was treated like a pariah. The veteran organizations of my father and uncles were so self-absorbed, that joining them was out of the question. I see this happening all over again. The country has the attention span of a two-year-old. Politics trumps reality and the soldiers pay the price. This country doesn't understand the history behind Memorial Day." — Fred
"I believe the VFW and the American Legion have little to offer most veterans. A case in point: in March, I spoke to the leaders of the local chapters of both organizations in regard to getting up a group of veterans to travel to Washington D.C.. for the Gathering of Eagles counter protest on March 17. They were not aware of the event and expressed little interest and even less enthusiasm for an opportunity to ensure that our military monuments in the nation's capitol were protected and our voice was heard. I had to talk to these gents in smoke filled bars in mid-afternoon while they were having drinks. I left very disheartened and eventually just made my own arrangements for travel to Washington D.C. Bottom line here is I found no common ground. That and many of the chapters have become far too liberal." — Dan (Belleville, IL)
"After returning home from the 1999 Kosovo gaggle, I began receiving literature and invitations to join different local veterans organizations but stopped at only reading about them. Why? Part of me felt I was too young to be part of group of people more than twice my age. I didn't think that what I had gone through was 'war.' It was tough on me personally, but I didn't think that qualified. My wife questioned why I'd want to 'sit around dinking with a bunch of old men telling war stories.' I was offered an honorary membership to a Vietnam vets organization when I was close friends with my step-daughter's in-laws, but turned that down as well. Time, albeit weak, is another reason. I'd rather spend time doing something I feel is constructive. And that leads me to this question: what is it that these organizations really do? Now, while in my 22nd year in the Air Force, I still feel that way. I've been asked to march along with other vets but just didn't want the notoriety. It's not that big of a deal to me. I mean, I volunteered for this. I wasn't drafted or forced to join up. The men and women of WW2 or Korea and Vietnam, they deserve the publicity, I think. They are the one's whose government called them to active duty to fight. They should have the recognition for their service. I volunteered for this so why should I get something 'special'?" — Greg (Tucson, AZ)
"I am a WW II veteran (Co. K, 355th Inf Regt, 89th Inf Div, Patton's 3rd Army). It seems to me the military is, now, and may always have been, a tool for self-serving, incompetent politicians of the world, who manage to bumble and stumble, again and again, their way into causing world problems that require them (politicians) to send fine young people to die for them. So, while I have nothing but the highest respect for the military and all the personnel who serve therein, I choose to remain in the background. This is my peaceful protest against present day politics … which I despise. And, incidentally, my active protest is to NEVER vote for any incumbent, regardless of party or ideology, whether in city, county, state, or federal elections, and to encourage as many voters as I can to do likewise (term limits)." — James (College Station, TX)
" I am a Vietnam era vet. I did join the American Legion for a while, but dropped out for personal reasons. Although I'm 66 years old, I still work and there wasn't time left for me. One of the main reasons I get discouraged to join anything is the lack of patriotism in this country. I hear some much complaining and criticism of our elected leaders and our policies. No one takes pride any more; the news media has a subliminal way of ridiculing things of this nature. I become of the opinion that they are subversive and am out to destroy this country and what it stands for. I no longer buy or read a news paper any more." — William (Mojave, Cal)
"I am a younger veteran (actually I'm 40-years-old, but that is relatively young as far as veterans go), and I don't intend on going to a parade or participating in one. I'm not angry with anyone or embarrassed by my service. I'm not against the war in Iraq, or the Global War on Terror. So, why am I not attending or walking in any parades? When I joined the Marine Corps I did it because of a sense of duty and love of my country. I didn't join to make a statement or an anti-statement. I wanted to serve because there are many who can not. It was my responsibility to give up my comfort and well being for the benefit of the people of this country. And I served with others that accepted that same responsibility. What I didn't join for was any type of attention or spotlight. I didn't want to be noticed for just doing what needed to be done and I think many of the men and women I served with would say the same thing. For the most part us military people have broad shoulders and thick skins. We understand that there are aspects to the job that are unsettling to some and many don't understand our willingness to put ourselves in harm's way for a cause we may or may not agree with. But if people with agendas continue to want to use us for political bantering please allow us the dignity to serve in anonymity." — Jack
"After boot camp and school, I arrived at my first duty station (Washington D.C.) on May 1st, 1971. That was the day that the largest anti-war demonstration of the war was held. I was proudly wearing my Navy uniform as I made my way through Washington. I was spit on and called a baby killer at least a dozen times that day. I will never forget or forgive those stupid people for their actions that day. If I was to sign-up to march in a local parade as a proud veteran I'm sure some of those baby boomer anti-war people would be standing along the parade route holding an American flag. I helped (in a small way) ensure the freedoms they still have to bash our president, call him names, provide comfort to our current enemies and become surrender monkeys. I'll stay home on Memorial day with my family, toast the fallen and disabled vets, and pity the current group of morons that just don't get it." — Steve (Milwaukee)
"I am a member of The American Legion and a past commander of my local post. I am a Vietnam era vet. Most of us who came back in the late 60's and 70's did not take part in the Legion or VFW because they did not have any activities that appealed to us. In addition, there was that whole Vietnam thing and we didn't get involved in veterans activities of any kind.
Now some of us from that era are getting involved, but not enough of us to keep the activities going like the older WW II and Korea vets did in the 50's through the 80's and many of my age group are getting involved in other ways. Look for example of Rolling Thunder in Washington, DC where hundreds of thousands of veterans turn out and West Coast Thunder in Riverside, CA where thousands come out for a local ceremony.
The younger vets from the Gulf Wars are busy going back to school or with their families. It is up to the generation ahead of them to keep the spirit alive until they can get settled and have time to devout to community service." — Art
"I appreciate your interest in why veterans are not showing up for parades and joining veterans organizations. Since the end of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, I believe that most vets take a dim view of their countrymen's true feelings toward them. For the WWII vet, there was never any doubt. There were loved. They are heralded as the 'greatest generation' and where welcomed back as heroes. That's not always so for all of us who followed after them.
I joined the U.S. Army in 1974. It was a defeated and demoralized force. Not beaten by any enemy, but by U.S. politicians, its own people and its country. I recall people telling my mother she was crazy to let me enlist. (She had to sign for me as I graduated high school at age 17.) The 70s were not a good time to serve one's country. For the most part, we in the military stood alone, separate from the American people. Why don't veterans show up for parades or join veterans organizations? Americans did not care for us while we served. Why should we believe they care about us now?" — Kent
"As a veteran, I am very proud to have served my country. Though I am not as active as I'd like (mostly due to family and work obligations) I am a member of the American Legion. As far as Memorial Day, I have never been contacted, asked, or known about the lack of participation by veterans. I would love and be honored to be involved if asked to do so. " — Dean
"As Memorial Day approaches, the list of things keeping me from participating in a good ol' parade or American celebration is ever growing. For starters, I am stationed in Germany, recently returned from deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. I am in a transition phase to my next duty station, still in Germany, with plans to get shipped straight back to Iraq for my third tour. I think my wife might be sick of it already, but she is just as tough as me and understands that I do this job to protect the freedom of my children, family, and my country. " — SSG Donald
"It is hard to step up and be a part of an honoring event, especially when you are intimately aware of the price you and others have paid for the freedoms this country enjoys, and then also be witness to the intentionally DIS-honoring behavior directed at you and your brothers and sisters, some of whom gave up life itself, so that some outrageous people here can be free, even to behave so poorly." — Pastor Bob
"I may not qualify for what you want to know, as I am a 49-year-old veteran. I have never belonged to a veteran's group and have never participated in or viewed a Memorial Day celebration. Why? I have never even wondered. My father, an old veteran, belongs to the VFW. I served during the Cold War and never saw combat. That might be one reason why. Having never served during war time maybe I don't think my service warrants any type of recognition, or celebration. My entire family has served in the military and I have a nephew who is on active duty as a linguist like I was. I look at my service as just something I did. I thought it was expected of me. I am proud to just have served in some small way. The recognition and celebration should be for those who gave their all in service to their country. Maybe that is why, because I am still alive and enjoyed the benefits of serving and did not pay the ultimate price." — Tim (Gulfport, MS)
"I'm a former Marine. I would have to say apathy prevents me. I'm not an anti-war nut, and far from it. I think that our military is being misused. The Marines are fighters, not security guards. If I got called up I want to go there and soundly defeat the enemy and then leave. I don't want to sit for years waiting to get blown up by insurgents all the while knowing that if we just bombed the mosque we'd kill most of them. The WWII vets had something to be proud of. They went there, they destroyed the enemy, they saved the free world and then they came home. We owe our freedom to those guys. The younger vets have been involved in 'peacekeeping' efforts and guard duty to a bunch of people who don't appreciate what we do for them." — Rod
"Ms. Foster, I am a "young" vet. I joined the Marine Corps in 1982, did 12 years on active duty. I left active duty, joined the National Guard, and did 12 more years (ok, maybe I'm not THAT young). I am a veteran of Somalia and OIF. There are several things that keep me from the legion, VFW, etc. I am busy still raising a family, and starting a law practice. The ongoing debate over the current war, the lack of respect that I perceive from a major portion of the community also contributes. I want people to judge me by what I am doing now, not what I did in the past." — Lyle
"I have always kept my celebrations of Memorial Day and veterans day private. I choose to visit the grave sites of my fallen brothers and sisters rather than participate in large, public celebrations. Just my own personal preference." — SKC(SW) Kyle (Norfolk, VA)
"What keeps me from participating in a Memorial Day Parade is a conflict — for 14 years I have participated in Rolling Thunder - the motorcycle ride held on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend in Washington, D.C. to remind the government and the American people that there are still U.S. service members unaccounted for — POW and MIA — from wars and conflicts that we have served in. Two U.S. service members are unaccounted for in Iraq right now. Because I, along with tens of thousands of others, participate in this event on Sunday, we, including a lot of young vets, are not available to participate in a Memorial Day Parade in our communities on Monday." — Chris
"My name is John. I am a veteran of the first gulf war. I was in the Marines. I got out as a Sergeant after 6 years of service. I am now 100 percent total and permanently disabled in the VA. I stay away from such things because of the way I have been treated by WWII, Korean, and Vietnam vets. According to many of them the war I was in was not a real war because of the apparent ease of victory. I got sick and tired of the "I had it worse than you did" mentality. This view was not universal but I saw it enough to turn me off of Veteran Groups." — John
"My reason is that I feel those parades are for the real heroes: from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I'm 30, have deployed three times, but I definitely don't deserve a parade. I do plan on joining veterans' group when I separate from the military next month, though." — Steven
"Why do younger vets not get involved in parades and activities? Those of us that are reservist are busy juggling two lives and do not have time to give any more time. I currently juggle a civilian career, a family, and a military career. The few hours left in my day are spent sleeping. The Reserve force is being called to do more and more, and we have less people to do it with. This means we are giving more time than before. Would I like to be involved — yes. But, where do I get the time?" — Kevin
Kathleen Foster is a general assignment Field Producer based in New York. She started at FOX as an intern in 1996. She has covered the Iraq war, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fight for Anna Nicole's body.