A lot of activity this time of year focuses on Royal Canadian Legion branch halls right across the country, and rightly so.
Although Legion branches support a wide range of community activities including minor sports and services for seniors, their primary function is to assist military veterans and their families, and to ensure no one forgets the sacrifices made by those who served. The Legion holds Remembrance Day ceremonies and cares for monuments to honour the fallen. But it goes beyond that.
Many a returning veteran over the years has turned to his or her local Legion for comradeship – a place to spend a few hours with people who understand, as no civilian can. In fact, that was the reason the Legion formed in the first place. Large numbers of war veterans were finding the return to regular life was not a simple matter of setting aside the rifle and uniform, and putting on a suit, overalls or whatever and getting back on the tractor or heading to the office. A person cannot watch friends die in mud-filled trenches and emerge unscathed.
The comradeship of fellow military people helped ease the challenges they faced in those days before post traumatic stress disorder was recognized and treated. Even now, the special comradeship found at Legion halls serves an important function for veterans. Outsiders who joke about Legion halls being places to tell old war stories fail to realize how important it is for people who have seen and experienced things none of us would wish on our worst enemy, to be able to share those experiences.
Although the declining number of veterans in recent years has led most Legion branches to open membership to the wider community, the mess hall atmosphere remains, a comfortably familiar environment for a veteran. In a small town, the Legion hall might serve the general community as a place to hold a wedding reception, hockey banquet or all-candidates meeting. In fact, it might be the only place in the community large enough. But make no mistake, it is not just another bar with a meeting room attached. It is a place where a veteran or a serving member of the armed forces can go and feel a sense of belonging. And the Legion itself is so much more than just another service club.
A lot of Legion branches are struggling to survive. Those Legion halls that serve both veterans and the wider community so well do not heat and light themselves. Someone has to pay for utilities, repairs to the roof, and renovations to ensure the buildings meet today’s standards.
For decades, that “someone” was a veteran. Now the “someone” is us.
Today’s Canadian military is far different from what it was in bygone days. As with everything else, technology has meant fewer, much more highly trained personnel. Our troops have been involved in conflicts around the world in a number of countries, but the war in Afghanistan was the first since Korea in which large numbers of our people have served. It all adds up to declining Legion membership.
However, just because today’s military is a streamlined, modern force, does not mean the role of the Legion is any less important. Members of the armed forces continue to serve, and to get injured or killed. The ones who come home safely, and the families of those who do not, need the Legion as much as they ever did.
For as long as Canadians don their country’s uniform and risk life and limb in the service of this country, the Royal Canadian Legion will not be an anachronism, a useless remnant of wars long past. The organization fills a vital function, and must continue to do so. And if it needs our help, so be it.
We can show our support by participating in Legion functions, buying draw tickets, making a donation or better yet, joining. And we can proudly wear the poppy that has come to symbolize Remembrance Day and the Royal Canadian Legion.
Let this be a salute to members of the Royal Canadian Legion.
- The Wingham Advance Times