A couple weeks ago Zoe came to me and said, “Do we have any veterans in our family?”
I said, “None who are alive.”
“NO one? We don’t know ANY veterans that I can bring to our assembly?”
“No. Papa Bill was too young to serve in Korea and too old for Vietnam. Plus he was in college and was a father. Papa Jim didn’t serve as far as I know. In fact, the only person in our family that I can think of is your cousin Kurt, and he’s serving the Coast Guard down in Oregon.”
“Can’t he come for this?”
“That’s the thing with military service, you don’t get to come and go as you please. He has to stay there and do his job.”
She was pretty peeved at me, and insisted that even if we didn’t have anyone she could bring, that I attend the assembly.
Their music teacher’s husband is an officer in one branch of the military, so she makes sure that every year there is a Veteran’s Day assembly. They begin practicing their songs early on in the school year, which is why you could often hear Zoe going around singing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
One day as she was singing I said, “While I understand that you need to practice, could you maybe move on from the halls of Montezuma and the shores of Tripoli to another branch of service? I got enough of that song when I dated a Marine20 years ago.”
I am really glad that I attended the assembly, though. Besides the fact that Zoe would be upset if I didn’t, I have to admit that veterans are close to my heart. As they called out the conflicts in which the guests had served, and I saw these men and women stand, particularly the two World War II vets, I couldn’t help but get emotional. What are hunched over little old men now, who go about their day like anyone else, were once brave soldiers; Young men who were probably terrified and didn’t know if they would ever make it home.
My grandfather, Captain Jack Bomke, served in the US Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. It was a Sunday morning, and he was having breakfast at his mother’s house when the attacks happened. He raced down the hill to the harbor to help wherever he could. He, alongside his fellow men, worked to rescue as many as they could.
When I was 13, my parents and I drove down to visit my grandfather in Southern California. Along the way we stopped off in a small town and I grabbed their local newspaper. In it, there was an article, that I’m pretty sure I still have somewhere, about an event that had recently taken place. It was an event to raise money for the needs of the veterans in their community. The organizers had spent a lot of money on food and party supplies. Hardly anyone showed up. One of the veterans was quoted as saying, “It feels like no one cares.”
That article devastated me. I thought about the sacrifices these men and women had made, and that they felt like no one cared about their struggles. I saved the article because I intended to write to them and let them know that people DO care… And then I forgot about it. For a while. But I have never truly forgotten about that missed opportunity to show my appreciation.
I am thankful to have the legacy of my great grandfather, John R. Quinn, to look towards in the care for and advocating of veterans’ issues.
John Quinn was working on his father’s ranch in 1917 when word about the war reached him. He immediately left for San Francisco and enlisted. He was sent to France and served as Captain of Battery F, 348th field artillery, 91st division and fought in the Meuse Argonne offensive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meuse-Argonne_Offensive
He stayed until 1919 with the Army of Occupation.
When he returned to California, he became active in the newly-formed American Legion. In 1920, when he realized that the closest AL post was in Bakersfield, a day’s drive for the men in his home town, he organized Merle Reed Post 124 in Delano, California so they could have a place to gather.
In 1921 John became the California Commander of the American Legion.
In 1922 he was placed in charge of the veterans’ welfare board in the San Francisco office.
In 1923 he became the Chairman of the Board for Veterans Welfare of the state of California.
That same year, due to his tireless fight for veterans’ issues, he was elected National Commander of the American Legion.
Starting in 1921, there was a push by the American Legion for veterans’ compensation. A bill placed before the Senate was vehemently protested by President Harding and eventually failed. It regained momentum and was finally passed in 1924 under the leadership of President Coolidge and National Commander John Quinn. The American Legion was a driving force in getting The Adjusted Compensation Act into law.
http://www.unz.org/Pub/Forum-1924mar-00354 (This is an article written by National commander Quinn arguing for this bill)
It soon became apparent that veterans’ issue didn’t stop with the veterans themselves, but their wives, widows and children. John was a strong advocate for these families as well. http://www.unz.org/Pub/Outlook-1924jul09-00397
The World War Adjusted Compensation Act didn’t give immediate help to veterans, however. The act, passed in 1924, delayed payment to veterans until 1945. When the Great Depression hit, people were struggling, veterans in particular.
In 1932, the Bonus Army March was a movement to demand the payments no longer be delayed. Some sources report as many as 17,000 veterans, along with 26,000 family members and supporters, marched into Washington DC. President Hoover, who really should have known better, sent in 500 infantry soldiers, 500 cavalry, 6 tanks and 800 police officers to quell the revolt. In the end, 4 were dead, over a thousand were injured, including 69 police officers.
Hoover lost the election that year to FDR. While FDR opposed the veteran’s demands, Hoover was the one to turn the army on them. (Am I the only one who reads about Hoover and “We’d like to thank you Herbert Hoover” from “Annie” pops into your head? No? Just me?)
I don’t have an explanation as to why my grandfather supported Hoover in spite of this incident, but he was a progressive Republican (who knew there was such a thing), and FDR was a Democrat.
John Quinn spent his entire adult life fighting for the rights of veterans. He believed strongly in the obligation of our nation to pay the debt of gratitude to those who have served.
He went on to be honored by President Truman
And President Nixon
for his efforts on behalf of those who have served in our armed forces and their families.
The American Legion was instrumental in creating the US Veterans Bureau, predecessor to the VA. they continue to fight against the bureaucracy that is preventing the needs of veterans being met.
They created the “Flag Code” for proper treatment of the American flag.
They supported a fledgling organization called “The American Heart Association” and helped it become the force it is today.
The AL supported and pushed for the GI bill, which has provided higher education to millions of veterans.
If you’d like to learn more about veterans’ issue and the American Legion, please go to
And to the veterans… thank you isn’t nearly enough. But still. Thank you.