Older veterans are active veterans. Why is that? Sure, young vets are active too, but older veterans seem to be very active in their communities.
None of them earn a salary, compensation, or special benefits for their work. They get up early in the morning and head out to visit other veterans, work helping others, fix a vets’ home, visit the sick, and raise money for their churches, schools, local teams, and veterans.
An each University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill home game you will find a 92 year-old Army Air Corps World War II veteran sitting on a street corner downtown. “Have a Poppy, Wear a Poppy… Wear a Buddy Poppy for a Veteran…” He repeats this over and over again. No he doesn’t sell them, he just gives them away. The VFW never sells a Buddy Poppy. We do, however, pay hospitalized veterans to produce them.
Quite often a gathering from a nearby sorority will see him and the young ladies will gather around him. Many times they poise for personal pictures. Elmer Hughes has a ball. You never see him without a smile. Come rain or shine he is there. His reward is the sound made when canister emits the sound of a dollar or two ruffling as it is pushed into the can. Sometimes it is a $20 bill.
Sitting just across from Elmer, on the other side of the walkway, is his son, Elmer. He is a veteran who served during Vietnam. He drives 35 miles to join his dad on game day. He watches him draw a crowd and just smiles. They have a friendly competition and dad seems to always do better. It must be his smile, his kind word, and or maybe his pleasant voice.
We watch in awe. We can’t figure it out. Could it be his fancy western boots? While we ponder, the girls keep coming, gathering, chatting, and posing with the Buddy Poppy guy.
The Hughes family raised over a thousand dollars for the Chapel Hill Post’s Veterans Assistance Fund last year. That money put a new roof on a house for an aged Korean War vet and a laptop in the hands of a recent sand box vet as he entered college. Elmer also motivates our younger veterans to get out and about where they can make a difference.
That’s what we do best–help others. If you are a returning vet, give the Veterans of Foreign Wars a look. We need you and our North Carolina veterans need you too. Give us a look. Stay awhile. Maybe you will get a chance to watch Elmer in action on game day.