Veterans organizations need us
America's last known World War I veteran, Cpl. Frank Buckles, shown here in his enlistment photo, died Feb. 27 at the age of 110. Each day, thousands of veterans die. By joining veteran organizations, veterans can help preserve their history even after death.

Three weeks ago, during my monthly Veteran of Foreign War (VFW) meeting, our organization signed a card for one of our departed members.

Having been a member for less than a year, I didn't know the man very well. I saw him a few times at our meetings before he became hospitalized.

He was an elderly black man, wheelchair bound and supporting an oxygen tube, a far cry from the young man who once took up arms against America's enemies.

While his passing may not have influenced me as much as others in the post who knew him, throughout the following days I felt a tug inside, like there was something his life and death imposed upon me I had to share and to speak out about.

More so than his life, it was his death that struck me. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than 1,200 World War II veterans pass away each day. Likewise, veterans of the Korean conflict are passing away.

VFW statistics cite nearly 400 Vietnam veterans die each day. Each one of these deaths is like a tick on the clock bringing our country closer to the inevitable day when veterans of these conflicts are gone forever, just as America lost its last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, Feb. 27.

While it will be a sad day for the country when the last veteran of each war dies, when I look at the membership of my post, VFW Post 3650 in Riverdale, I wonder what effect the loss of veterans will have on the post.

I am the only veteran from the current conflict enrolled, and the next youngest is a Desert Storm veteran 15 to 20 years my elder.

When I first joined, I wondered what this generation gap would do for me. Would it make me uncomfortable' How would these older veterans see me' How would I see them' Surrounded by people old enough to be my father and grandfather was a strange feeling at first.

However, as time went on, despite our differences in age, branch of military or the job we performed, I came to realize that such differences were minute compared to the one thing we all held in common: we answered our nation's call and fought overseas in its defense.

While, like me, they no longer wear the uniform, they still fight on. They fight on to ensure the memory of their deeds live on even after they've passed.

They also fight on to ensure that veterans receive compensation for injuries sustained during service, having just recently joined with organizations like Veterans for Common Sense, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans to fight against proposed Congressional cuts to VA benefits.

Just as each generation's warriors take up the fight after the previous, I encourage more of my generation to likewise take up the fight on this new battlefront. One day, people will point out that Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans are dying off.

Just as it was our fight on those battlefields, it will be our duty to ensure our legacy and accomplishments are remembered, our injuries and illnesses are taken care of and we build a foundation for other veterans to follow on. We all once answered our nation's call to fight for it. Now we should answer the call of our veterans organizations to join with them and fight for veterans rights and the memories of their service.

Although the time when our achievements are compared to those of "The Greatest Generation" may be decades away, we can't wait. I encourage all of today's veterans to seriously consider joining a veteran's organization. It is the first step to helping preserve our legacy. And, like America, these organizations are losing veterans every day and need new people to step up.

By stepping up, not only are you replacing numbers, but adding youthful energy to an aging organization and helping making it easier for other younger veterans to join.

Page last updated Wed March 16th, 2011 at 09:00