WWII vet meets Legion commander

RaeLynn Ricarte
Staff Writer

American Legion National Commander Paul Dillard visited Northeastern Washington last week and took time to talk epic battles with Marvin Rose, one of the last living World War II veterans, who lives in Kettle Falls.
“If it wasn't for the veterans, you don't know what it would be like now,” said Rose, 96, of the fight to stop Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan from establishing a new world order.
World War II was by far the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in 70 to 85 million fatalities, the vast majority civilians killed by genocide, starvation, massacres and disease.
In the two theaters of war, America lost 405,399 troops.
“I don't know what we would have done without our Greatest Generation,” said Dillard to Rose, who served in the Navy, after presenting him with a special commander's coin.
Dillard said there are less than 300,000 veterans still alive out of the 16 million who served in World War II, so time is running out to honor them.
Toward that end, the American Legion is urging members of Congress to pass the WWII Veterans Hospital and Medical Eligibility Act, which eliminates a means test for Veterans Administration medical care. The same was done in 1996 for veterans after the Spanish American War and World War I.
“We owe this to our WWII veterans, it's a way we can thank them,” said Dillard.
He and Rose met on Nov. 3 at Kettle Falls Post 146, where Commander Chris Ory had arranged for a special lunch to be served by TJ's Bar & Grill.
Dillard told local veterans that, while he and state Legion leaders were traveling to Kettle Falls from Oroville, his last stop the day before, he had heard the terrain referred to as “hills.”
“These are not hills, they are mountains,” he said. “I'm from Texas and hills are something you can easily walk over.”
Since being elected to his position in September, Dillard has visited multiple Legion posts in nine states and still had several to go before heading home for the holidays. His theme as commander is “No vet left behind” and Dillard said it was important to get out and motivate Legion members to engage in the Legion's “Buddy Check” program.
He also wanted them to push for passage of federal legislation that requires Department of Veterans Affairs to also get engaged in the outreach effort to save lives.
“There are so many consequences for a veteran who is left behind,” said Dillard.
He said the trauma from war, combined with isolation, lack of decent housing, unemployment and denied benefits brought many to the tragic outcome of suicide.
“More than 114,000 men and women who have served in our armed forces have taken their own lives since 2001,” said Dillard. “That is double the American lives lost in Vietnam.”
He said, by 2030, it is estimated that veteran suicide will be 23 times the number of post-9/11 combat deaths.
“Each statistic represents a real man, a real woman, and impacts thousands of real families,” he said.
The Buddy Check program was developed to stop these tragedies by having veterans touch base with their peers to show their support. “It's about getting vets who are struggling through that next minute, that next hour, that next day,” said Dillard.
In 2019, every Legion post was asked to set up a peer wellness check program. The need for that type of connection became very clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dillard.
Elderly veterans worried about the disease were given help in shopping and food delivery, getting prescriptions refilled, and more.
The U.S. Senate has proposed legislation that will make Buddy Check a national program under the umbrella of the VA, said Dillard.
He said the U.S. House must now act before the holiday recess or the momentum will be dropped.
“We cannot let this legislation linger in Congress,” said Dillard.
If House Bill 3405 is approved, he said one week a year the VA will organize outreach events and educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks.
“It's very, very important,” he said.
Dillard is asking all Americans to voice their support for HB 3405 by contacting their elected congressional representative to urge its passage.
“With a week dedicated to Buddy Checks across America, we will be able to reach even more veterans and save even more lives,” said Dillard.
He said the Legion serves a valuable purpose in a society where less than 2% of the nation serves in the military.
He said veterans need to be around others who understand what they have been through and the struggles they have.
Dillard is a Navy veteran with four campaigns in Vietnam, including the Tet offensive. He recalls veterans coming home to abuse at the hands of their fellow countrymen and said the Legion is determined to make sure that never happens again.
Although younger veterans aren't joiners, Dillard believes they will take their role as the next generation of Legion members because as they age, they will be ready for that connection. And, because they have been trained in the military to give back others, he said the Legion is a natural fit because there are many opportunities for service.
“We advance our legacy by sharing our love of this country with the next generation,” said Dillard.
When he testifies before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees next year, Dillard plans to update members about what the Legion does on a large scale.
He said visiting states and so many posts is necessary to gather information about programs and to encourage Legion members to stay active in their respective communities.
When Dillard left Kettle Falls, he stopped in at Frank Starr American Legion Post 47 in Colville for pie and coffee before winding up the day at Post 144 in Metaline Falls for dinner.
The next morning, Nov. 4, he headed out for Post 217 in Cusick before leaving the state on the journey to Nevada, Arkansas, New Mexico, Indiana, and Mississippi.