By Greg Laychak
Local youngsters are the future of the Agassiz Legion Branch 32.
That’s the vision of Jim Johnson, youth chairman for the organization.
“These are future legion members,” he said following a visit from six Agassiz Centre for Education (ACE) students last week. “They’ll look after our veterans in the years to come.”
Johnson gave the class a tour of the legion and let them handle war artifacts, describing them while the students passed them around.
“I used to take stuff into the classrooms but now… I prefer to take them in there,” he said. “There’s so much more for them to see.”
He’s been conducting tours for the last two years since the government loosened regulation on rules allowing children in the legions the year before he started, Johnson said.
This year only two classes came through, but it wasn’t for a lack of interest. Johnson already gave most of the local classes a tour, with half a dozen making the rounds last year.
It’s all about the history, according to Johnson. With the visual and tactile props, the stories and facts stick in their minds more readily, he adds.
And he uses honesty to try to change the reputation of legions.
“I start my talks off with those groups with why legions were formed in the first place,” Johnson said. “Basically because they knew nothing about post traumatic stress disorder – the only thing they could tell people to do was go to the legion and get drunk.
“And that’s the reputation that a lot of people still have of the legion.”
But that’s not what they are today, he said.
There are more non-veteran members today than veterans and it’s a much more social place to be, Johnson said.
“Whereas the only ones that a lot of these guys from World War I would talk to were other veterans that were in the trenches with them,” he said.
And it’s also difficult to get younger veterans in these days, according to Johnson.
However, getting the local youth in seems to be having an impact.
Bonds formed with ACE stretch into other activities throughout the year and the Legion holds occasional senior teen lunches like the one coming up next week.
That kind of inter generational interaction is beneficial for both parties according to Johnson.
“Any time I see kids working with adults it really pays dividends,” he said.
Johnson thinks that all the attention the Legion gets at this time of year is good even if it’s all at once.
“Sure we should be looking at veterans more than once a year, but I think to bunch it up like we do on Remembrance Day is a good thing.
“I think it’s beneficial, I really do or I wouldn’t be doing it.”