To the Editor:
Last year I was honored to be nominated and elected to the high office of Commander for the New York State American Legion. The position gave me a unique perspective of life in many of the communities within the sixty-two counties of New York State. I was able to visit each of the counties and visit with fellow veterans that share the same enthusiasm as me to care for the returning service men and women and the families of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice.
To say that I am deeply humbled by some of the things I experienced would be an understatement. On two separate occasions, I visited Fort Drum in Watertown, NY, home of the 10th Mountain division. The 10th Mountain division has endured many casualties over the past 2 years both in killed and wounded service men and women. I was invited to the Warrior Transition Unit for a tour and met several soldiers that were severely wounded while deployed and were receiving medical treatment for injuries ranging from loss of limbs to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The treatment that they are receiving at this unit and others like it around the country is excellent. Of all the soldiers that I spoke to, they all had something in common, the wish that they could return to their respective units that were still deployed. I know that Tom Brokaw called our World War II heroes “the Greatest Generation,” but our current all volunteer service members can be called that also. The horrors that many of them have witnessed in this non-conventional war will leave scars that consequences and may not be known for many years.
I also had the opportunity to join some of the soldiers for lunch on the base and was amazed by the dialogue. Most of these soldiers have been deployed multiple times and have families they are supporting at home. What struck me was how young many of them are.
After the two visits to Fort Drum, my resolve was strengthened to make sure that through my position at The American Legion, I would do my part in ensuring that our service men and women and returning veterans receive the best services and opportunities that the government and the local community can provide.
As I visited other areas through the state, I was amazed by the outpouring of local community support for our service men and women, veterans and their families some of which utilized the Family Support Network, Heroes to Hometowns Temporary Financial Assistance and Legacy Scholarship programs that we administer in The American Legion. Legion members as well as other Veterans Service Organizations donate thousands of hours of their time to programs that enhance the lives of our veterans. These services are not contained to holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. They are ongoing 52 weeks of the year.
At a visit to the New York State Veterans Nursing Home located on the grounds of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt VA Health Care facility in Montrose, NY, I met a World War II Veteran who was so proud of the treatment he was receiving from the staff and the volunteers from the local Veterans Service Organizations, he got up from his wheelchair, shook my hand and broke down and cried. I had similar experiences as I traveled throughout the state visiting the other Veterans Nursing Homes and VA Health care facilities.
I also had an opportunity to visit a young man from Carmel, NY that was a patient at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center who had just arrived from Germany who had lost both of his legs when an Improvised Explosive Device blew up under him. To witness the resolve of this young man not only to go back to his unit but his will to make sure that he would walk again was an inspiration to me.
Whenever I think that I am under stress at work or at home, I think about our service men and women who are out there defending our freedom. I am reminded about my visits throughout our state and the work that goes on to care for these wonderful people.
With Memorial Day upon us, remembering our fallen once a year is not enough. The families of those who have died defending our freedom must be remembered every day.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying and celebrating our American way of life on Memorial Day, but we must keep in mind those that made our way of life possible. I know that after my unique experience as Commander, I will always feel indebted to our heroes.
V. James Troiola
Past Department Commander
The American Legion Department of New York