I’m always awed by the patriotism of older Americans, especially at veterans events.
On Saturday, at the annual banquet of Lehigh Valley Chapter 190, Military Order of the Purple Heart, I looked around during the playing of taps and saw aging warriors in their service caps, some in their 90s, standing as straight as they could and saluting. Earlier they stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “God Bless America.”
Old-fashioned? Yeah, I guess so. Corny? No.
I’ve been going to the Purple Heart banquets in Fullerton since 2003, missing only one for a family wedding. Naturally, there was a more robust crowd back then, many of them World War II vets who were still doing all right health-wise. But there are far fewer now.
Some of the chapter’s members became subjects of my series “War Stories: In Their Own Words,” among them Woody Woods, Charlie Kowalchuk and Whitey Eschbach, who have since died. Others, like Joe Motil, are still going strong. Joe is 93 and still works on the Williams Township farmland he grew up on.
The backbone of the Purple Heart chapter now is a core of Korean and Vietnam War vets. They seem no less passionate about their country than the World War II guys.
In a nod to frailty, the banquet’s program focused on benefits available to survivors of veterans. The speaker was Dale Derr, director of veterans affairs in Berks County, where 800 veterans die each year. He said most survivors don’t know what benefits they’re entitled to, and told how the feds, the state and counties can help.
Groups like the Purple Heart chapter provide vets and their families a venue for camaraderie and purpose. For an outsider like me, it’s inspiring to witness their spirit and devotion to country.