A Community of Support for Veterans and Families…Then, Now, and Tomorrow

By Joyce Raezer, Executive Director

Veterans Day Softball

Tucked away in my grandmother’s attic was a family treasure: a battered old box of letters and photos chronicling a young man’s wartime journey. My uncle, Keith “Buddy” Fisher, was a Navy diver in World War II, and my grandmother kept every letter he sent her from the time he entered basic training until he was demobilized in early 1946. She also kept letters from Uncle Buddy’s childhood friends, scattered around the world by war.

My grandmother’s box of letters also contained one particularly special postwar memento—a photo of my uncle and his fellow vets taken when they won a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) softball tournament.

When Uncle Buddy and his friends came back to Howard County, Maryland, after winning the war, they began building their postwar lives—finding jobs, starting families, going to school. Their community welcomed them home, but they needed something else. Not finding a place where their war experiences were understood, they created one—the Yingling-Ridgely VFW Post 7472. They met in each other’s houses and barns before raising money to buy land for the post. At the post “canteen”, they could gather and tell war stories. My cousin remembers, “It would start with one person and then everyone would have input.”  She realized, “It was very important for Vets to talk about their experience, the good and the bad.” But my uncle and his fellow vets didn’t just sit around sharing war stories. They gave back. The VFW Post sponsored Little League teams, adopted nursing homes, and welcomed community events. Their wives and children joined the auxiliary and made serving the community a family affair.

Uncle Buddy and his friends approached life after war with determination. By taking care of each other, these veterans developed the capacity to support others. Their community nurtured their skills and encouraged their desire to serve. As a result, it continues to reap the benefits of their service.

Like Uncle Buddy and his fellow vets, the veterans of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need the nurturing support of each other and their communities. And so do their families. Many of today’s vets came into the military with families. Many more transition to civilian life with a family beside them. After 11 years of war, veterans aren’t the only ones telling war stories—their spouses and children are as well. Participants in our Association’s Operation Purple® camps and family retreats talk of the strength they find from being with others who have dealt with a loved one’s time at war and their return. We hear the war stories around the campfire and see the hugs because words are unnecessary. We celebrate when children and families of different military backgrounds come together because of shared experiences. They tell us how important it is to be with others who understand.

One million service members will become veterans over the next five years, a small number compared to the 16 million who served in Uncle Buddy’s war. If we’re not vigilant, many of today’s veterans and their families will simply disappear into their communities, invisible and feeling alone. We can’t let that happen. Communities must reach out to them, not just to thank them for their service, but to help them build healing relationships with others at their workplace, school, or faith community. That outreach must start as soon as the young recruit signs up to serve and continue through the many different experiences they and their families will face.

Family folding flag

Everyone can help our military families—our future veterans—build connections in their community that will pay off later. Check out our Community Toolkit to learn how you can help. Start a support group or offer a job. Understand the need to share war stories even when the war is over. By helping our military families and veterans connect and heal, you empower them to serve. Uncle Buddy would be proud.

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