When I was a little girl, my parents always spoke of how my late father served in the Korean War and of how my late great grandfather served in World War II. Being a kid, I never understood what serving in a war truly was. I knew that soldiers went to foreign countries to defend our country, but that was about it. I never took the time to process the atrocities they witnessed or the grueling days they spent away from home.
Dan Buksa is an active member of the American Legion Post 16 who was in the Army pre-9/11. While Buksa was never in combat himself, the need to give back to those who served in combat was still present. A few years after coming home, Buksa found the Legion and has been an active member since.
“So I had gotten home from the Army and I finished up my undergraduate degree and then I went to law school and I graduated. I then started my career, but I kinda felt that there was something more that I needed to do to get involved in my community and kind of a personal feeling of mine, something I feel very strongly about is gratitude. And even though I served myself, just my brothers who’ve also served and continue to serve that the expression of gratitude to them by being a part of an organization that takes care of primarily the men and women who are out of the military at this point and to a lesser extent, those who are still in. I joined as a way for me to express gratitude,” Buksa said.
While some may think the Legion was just a local hangout, it was far from that. The Legion was started in 1919 to help veterans returning home from war.
“Too many people think that the Legion is just that little building down on the corner that has a bar where old veterans go to tell war stories while they’re having a beer. Obviously that fraternity, that comradeship is part of the Legion, but it’s only a small part. The Legion has so many programs ranging from Boy Scouts to a Constitutional speech contest to the rehab programs that we do to help our men and women who are just getting out of the military that are wounded either physically or mentally. The Legion is so much more than just that corner bar,” Buksa said.
Buksa and members of Post 16 host Veteran’s Day presentations at schools around the Region, a big topic Buksa focuses on is the true reality of being in the military.
“Being in the military is really a unique and very tough job because it is virtually the only job that perhaps you can make a case for first responders like police and firefighters, but it’s the only job where there’s a good likelihood that when you go to work, you might not come home that day,” Buksa said.
Buksa has been a member of the American Legion since 1995. When he first joined Post 16, the post was based in Hammond, Indiana. It has since been moved to Munster, Indiana. Before this large transition and for a small time after, Buksa had a very active role in the Legion. He served various officer positions and was a Commander for the Legion for almost ten years; however, as his family began to mature, Buksa stepped down and became a less active member of the Legion. While the change was made in order for Buksa to spend more time with family, he has become an active recruiter for the Legion, pushing membership whenever and however he can.
“I just kind of forced myself to do some things that I find personally challenging and that is going up to people who are complete strangers. I had some people help me too, that was not something I did on my own, but we had a very successful membership quota in the last four or five years where I was the membership chairman also we exceeded our 100 percent quota,” Buksa said.
As a long-time member of the Legion Buksa saw his role in the Legion as essential to sending the message from fallen veterans to the upcoming generation.
“I think that it has provided that outlet for me to again not being a combat veteran, I think my effort to re-acclimate to civilian life was not nearly as great or had as many challenges as some of my brothers who were in combat. With that being said, there’s certainly a component in that fraternalism of the Legion; of the men and women who make up the Legion. In being there to lend that ear, to listen, to understand what you’re going through and how you’re getting back. It’s definitely fulfilled my need to express my gratitude through hearing out community service, a service to my brothers and sisters and it’s been a way to be a part of my community; to be a visible part of my community. To be able to pass on to this upcoming generation what I’ve learned, what I believe is important and again to express that gratitude; to send a message to that upcoming generation from those who never came back, that I’m their voice to this next generation,” Buksa said.