The “Young Guns” of VFW Post 1115 are looking to light up Hillsville’s Main Street as part of Walmart’s “Green Light a Vet” Campaign. Consider it an electrical twist on the Tony Orlando and Dawn song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon around the Ole Oak Tree” focused on follow through.
“Two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do this event,” said Young Guns President and Post Manager Mike Lara, “I was sitting there at home watching the TV and saw the commercial for the campaign. I thought, ‘That’s really cool.’ Then I thought I’d string some lights at the post. Then I thought If I could get the merchants to participate, we could light the way to the post.”
He noted a shift of veterans and public attitude as well as pride in service evidenced by the group as well as the post, which boasts no less than six district level officers and three serving as state-level honor guard members. Lara decided he would spend a little shoe leather and began asking downtown merchants if they would like to participate. He said every one asked agreed.
Lara’s next step was to contact Walmart in Galax. He said Store Manager Todd Taylor enthusiastically backed the effort and donated $75 worth of green bulbs for the Young Guns to distribute to participants. According to information at www.greenlightavet.com, Walmart mounted the effort to draw attention to the fact transition doesn’t end when veterans arrive home.
The company notes contemporary veterans are more camouflaged than ever before once they return home and say one goal of the drive is to support a national conversation about opportunities, success and service united behind the visible symbol of a green light. The company has officially committed to hiring 250,000 veterans nationally by 2020.
Lara said it was exciting to see so much community support for what amounts to the post’s more inclusive effort to open its doors to the community and to veterans. For him the lights are there to show vets the way home and to the VFW, which serves as a sanctuary, a place to decompress and to fellowship with like-minded individuals.
Participant Lesley Catron of Hillsville’s “Hair Shack” said she wanted to participate to demonstrate thankfulness for veterans’ sacrifices.
“If we can show we appreciate their sacrifice and support, it’s a powerful message,” Catron said. “I don’t think there are many around here who can’t say they have someone in their family or social circle who hasn’t served. It’s something we can all relate to. I hope the (Veterans Day) parade and other events get us to celebrate in a different way this year. It starts with only one.”
She said she has uncles who have served in the United States Air Force, Navy, the Army and a brother-in-law who served in the Army. Catron said she also has many clients who are veterans.
“The way I envision this, the green lights on (Route) 52 lead to the VFW,” Lara said. “That’s why this is so important to me. For years I didn’t know where to go and what to do. Transition is hard. The post feels like home. We are all brothers. Someone has our backs once again. You don’t have to look over your shoulder. I’m so excited about doing this with everyone involved together.”
Post Commander Jack Easter and Lara said the effort reminds them of Thanksgiving, where family not regularly seen gets together to share a meal. They stressed that transition and healing for veterans “takes a village.” Lara said he looks to the day when the post opens its doors, offering a respite “for everyone having a bad day.”
“We’re not doing this for recruiting and as I said at a state convention once, ‘It’s what you do after recruiting that counts.’ Retention is crucial. What you do afterwards makes the difference. The road leads you to the VFW – to home.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]