Memorial Day

MacArthur once said that old soldiers fade away. Nowhere is that more evident than at a Memorial Day service.

On Monday, former soldiers and their families gathered at Sunset Hills Cemetery for the annual holiday ceremony. Speakers extolled the virtues of sacrifice and dedication under a half-mast flag and rainy skies.

One this was noticeable about all the veterans, however: they are old, and getting older.

Certainly, there are Iraq war veterans and Gulf War vets and Afghanistan vets, but they were the minority at Monday’s service. For the most part, the veterans who come to services like these and join veterans groups date from the Korea and Vietnam wars.

That’s according to Irv Page, the VFW post commander in Three Forks. Page has a hard time getting young vets to join the group–he also serves as post commander for the American Legion in Bozeman. He said that once many of them are discharged, they want to put distance between themselves and the uniform.

But that’s not the whole story. Page said that older vets have stopped coming to meetings too.

He attributes the dwindling attendance to the veterans’ reticence to talk to anyone about their experiences, except other veterans of the same conflict. So they don’t gather in large numbers with people who don’t understand exactly what they went through, Page said.

Are the veterans groups we have in danger? Have enough young soldiers joined the groups to keep them alive? Do they still serve a valuable function in society, or are they remnants of a different America that are no longer needed?

I look forward to writing and researching a longer story on this some time in the future.

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