“One kid says, ‘What? You’re outside all the time? When it’s raining, you don’t have to work, right?’”
That was a question posed to Raggl on Thursday as he and several other members of Grand Haven’s VFW Post 2326 visited Peach Plains Elementary School.
“I tried to explain to them, but they don’t know what war is,” said Raggl, the post commander. “I told them in Vietnam it rained for four months straight, and we never quit.”
Raggl said he and other veterans visit schools in an attempt to let today’s youth realize that the nation they live in was shaped by veterans — many of whom gave their lives to ensure the freedom we enjoy today.
“On Veterans Day, we like to go to a school, welcome them to school, do the Pledge of Allegiance, and then talk to them about our experiences,” Raggl said. “Our goal is to let the kids know what veterans did for our country. We want them to know that freedom wasn’t free. If you want freedom, you have to fight for it.”
Raggl said he doubts most people living in the United States today realize how good they have it. He recalls an uncle who was also in Vietnam, who married a Vietnamese woman. When she arrived in the United States following the war, she was shocked.
“She thought everything we told her about the U.S. was bologna,” Raggl said. “She got here and she couldn’t believe it — we really do have big houses and cars everywhere. We take that for granted.”
Raggl said some of the Peach Plains students asked excellent questions during his visit.
“One asked what we thought about the football guys taking a knee,” he said. “Our response is, I’m not in that position where I feel I have to protest to get my rights taken care of. But in my opinion, I understand they want to be heard, but I don’t think that’s the place for it.”
Thursday’s visit came at a time when the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is facing a membership crisis. When Raggl first joined the VFW nearly 50 years ago, the Grand Haven post boasted close to 1,500 members. Today, that number has dipped to less than 200.
That’s a problem that VFW branches across the nation are faced with.
“The World War II guys are almost gone and the Korean (War) guys are next,” Raggl said. “Now we’re getting down to Vietnam, and I’m almost 70.”
Raggl said part of the issue is the divide between the World War II and the Vietnam War veterans.
“We were never accepted by the World War II guys,” he said. “They didn’t want us there. ... The way the Vietnam guys were treated, a lot of them won’t come. We feel really lucky our post is open. Because of our location, we can have 3-4 decent parties a year and that keeps us open. That, and we have some very generous people in Grand Haven who support us.”