Veterans' Appreciation Day Offers Snapshot of Life after War

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Norm Maxwell

Stand down: The term has been around at least since the French and Indian Wars.

The sentries would awaken the troops before dawn so all hands would be up in arms and facing away from their bivouac to repel attack from the Native American allies of their European enemies, who liked to engage in close-quarter combat at first light.

After the sun had risen and darkness was no longer an element of concealment, the troops would "stand down," and most would cook breakfast and prepare to get on with the day while the rest stood guard.

Here at the Armed Forces Readiness Center on Pierce Parkway in Springfield, the term has evolved to mean Veterans' Appreciation Day.

The week before Stand Down Saturday last weekend, a steady current of activity flows through the readiness center and the community. A hot breakfast and lunch is scheduled for the day. Transportation is arranged to bus veterans to the event from as far as Albany. Surplus military clothing is trucked in for needy vets. Many organizations volunteer their time to help connect veterans to medical, dental and vision services.

Tables are stationed around the drill hall floor with information on employment and housing opportunities. Alcohol and drug counseling stations are there, too.

On Stand Down morning, veterans trickle in on foot and in vans, on bicycles and in automobiles. Some of us work here.

Undoubtedly, Stand Down is infiltrated by a few non-vets, impostors seeking to scarf up a few handouts. All are welcome. Old-style sleeping bags are handed out to vets who jungle up in the bushes. Showers and haircuts are free for the asking.

Winter isn't far away. Former Maj. Thomas Eagan of the National Guard froze to death on the streets of Eugene a few winters ago. He was eligible for a military pension that he never applied for, which might have provided him with a modest apartment.

Chow is served. A hot breakfast is a novelty to many veterans here. Some of us get too many hot meals, and it shows.

The Cascade Chorus, a men's glee club, sings "The Star- Spangled Banner" and renders the various services' anthems with alacrity. "The Marine Corps Hymn." "The Caisson Song." "Wild Blue Yonder."

I guess the Coast Guard must have to share "Anchors Aweigh" with the Navy. …