County Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is calling the gathering the “Pass the Torch” effort. The passing of the torch refers to the aging veterans of Vietnam passing the responsibility of taking care of fellow veterans to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the meeting room of the New Hope Christian Church, across the highway from the Bee County Exposition Center.
Rodriguez said it’s time for the younger veterans to step up and take the lead from the older vets. Most of those who served in WWII and Korea are gone now. And the veterans of Vietnam are entering their 70s.
Veterans of the nation’s wars have been forming organizations for decades.
One of the oldest veterans organizations formed in the 20th century was Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was launched in 1914 when two previous veterans groups merged.
Both of those groups, the American Veterans of Foreign Service and the National Society of the Army of the Philippines, had originally formed in 1899.
The American Legion was launched in 1919, shortly after the end of WWI.
Since then, veterans organizations have formed on the local, state and national levels after each of the wars this country has fought.
Today, other than the American Legion and the VFW, the Thomas Gonzales Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America is the most active veterans group in Bee County.
“Your obligation to take care of each other doesn’t end when you leave the military,” Rodriguez said.
“The best healing process is for veterans to sit down together and talk to other veterans who have been through the same thing,” retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Armando Musquez said.
For veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, a national organization has been in existence since 2004. But today, there is no local chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Rodriguez said that, now, most veterans of those wars are in their late 20s or early 30s. Some are already in their 40s.
Veterans organizations can have an important effect on the nation’s politicians, Rodriguez continued.
When Bee County’s new congressman, Filemon Vela, came to town recently, only about 15 residents showed up to meet him.
Vela told Rodriguez that he wants to help local veterans. And this week in Washington, Congress will be voting on a new budget. The commissioner said federal representatives need to hear the concerns of veterans over proposed cost of living increases for those who are on government pensions.
Musquez said the most important aspect of belonging to a veterans’ group is the fellowship it offers.
“It reduces a lot of pressure inside of them, I think,” Musquez said.
Those veterans who attend the April 4 meeting will have a perfect opportunity to learn what it takes to begin a local chapter of a veterans organization which represents them.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.