Nevertheless, the flag, the day and uniforms are very much part of the bond that has brought some 30 men to the posh eatery nestled in Central Park.
The veterans, who collectively have survived four decades of conflict, have mustered for the traditional last meeting of the year of American Legion Post 209, known as the "Admen's Post." The Flag Day meeting for the 1994-95 year is even more special because the Admen's Post is celebrating its 75th anniversary, just a year younger than the American Legion itself.
As with any 75-year-old, the Admen's Post has endured its measure of change. For one thing, most of its members are no longer admen. The post was founded in 1920 by men in advertising or related fields. But today, only about a third are in ad-related disciplines; 60% of the members are retired. Membership once topped 800; today it's around 100. In its heyday, there could have been 200 at today's lunch instead of 40 including guests.
Outgoing Commander Warren Goodwin proclaims at the meeting that the post "is 75 years young this year." And indeed, 75 does not automatically label one "old" here. Most of the current members served either during World War II or Korea; the youngest are from the Vietnam era, and there are only about 10 of them.
But if there's less fire, there's still plenty of warmth. And promise for the future as new officers are inducted-if not a passing of the torch, then at least a firmer grip on the torch by a younger generation.
The Admen's Post is an "affinity post"-no traditional American Legion hall, no geographic anchor, more bound by profession than location, though no qualified veteran is turned away. Affinity posts aren't unusual in the American Legion. Post 20 in Washington is the National Press Club Post. There are affinity posts for police, firefighters, the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon. In Cincinnati, there's an all-women post for former military nurses.
In the Admen's Post, outgoing Commander Goodwin is a senior VP at New York agency Brian Cronin & Associates, but on this day he turns over that title to Robert A. Corrigan, who's a property administrator at J.P. Morgan & Co.
Mr. Corrigan isn't the first non-adman to command Post 209. Where the passing-of-the-torch part comes in is that he's the first Vietnam veteran to head the post.
Mr. Goodwin may also be on the young side for an Admen's Post member, having served in the Air Force during the Korean War period. A half-century after V-E Day, most of the members are World War II veterans.
Of the American Legion's 3 million members, "the World J. Leiter Bamberger Jr. was among the World War II influx into the legion. In fact, Mr. Bamberger says, he joined before he was a veteran. His uncle, very active in a post in Philadelphia, signed the nephew up while he was still in the Army. Later, Mr. Bamberger moved to New York and joined the Admen's Post. At the Flag Day lunch, he's receiving a pin for 50 years membership in the legion.
Mr. Bamberger was drafted in 1944, but he never saw any action. He was at Fort Ord in California, steeling himself for the invasion of Japan, when the atomic bombs fell, an event that "as far as I'm concerned, saved my life."
Outgoing Commander Warren Goodwin served during-but not in-the Korean War; he was stationed in Okinawa. That's a quirk of membership in the American Legion. You have to have served on active duty during a military conflict but needn't actually have been in the shooting.
American Legion membership is holding steady, Mr. Wood says, and there have been eight straight years of growth since the late 1980s. He attributes that, in part, to more sophisticated use of databases and computers in direct mail solicitations for members.
Some members have suggested opening the legion to other veterans, he says, "But it would be changing the whole character of the organization ....The motivation for the formation of this organization was what's going to happen to us who have fought and been wounded or gassed in the trenches of France [in World War I]? What will happen to us when we get home? There has to be someone who will look out for our families, for veterans benefits....The cost of the war does not end when the shooting stops. It goes on because of those who do not come back whole, whether it be from gas in World War I or Agent Orange in Vietnam."
For those who were not actually on the front lines, Mr. Wood uses the rationale that anyone in the military during wartime could have ended up in the fighting-"You are displaced and at any time you could be sent into action."
Mr. Goodwin says: "The main reason I joined the post was because of my brothers. I lost one in World War II in the Army Air Corps and the other was shot up while in the Marines. I always thought of my brothers and was hoping someone would do something for them."
For the future, attracting more Vietnam vets seems crucial. The American Legion currently has 750,000 Vietnam era members, and Mr. Wood says the legion is the largest Vietnam veterans organization in the U.S. "The Vietnam veterans are now in their 40s. A lot of the animosity has disappeared, and he will look around and see the American Legion programs and see that it has been on the point of the Agent Orange thing for years .... the things we've stood for for 75 years are now the things he believes in."
The Admen's Post's new commander has no such animosity, even though he served two tours of duty in Vietnam. Mr. Corrigan enlisted in the Marines at age 17, in August of 1963. Then, he recalls, "We went from Camelot to chaos .... I thought I'd go around the world and [instead] all hell broke loose."
A year after enlisting, Mr. Corrigan was in Vietnam. He pulled two tours because he wanted to be there for the war's end. Mr. Corrigan left the service in July of '67 with a sense of sadness because he thought the end was at hand. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
"The majority of Vietnam veterans don't want to bother [joining the legion] because they have bitter memories," he says. "I don't have that, perhaps because I was there early. If you were there before '68, it was like being there in the-I hate to use the football analogy-first half, and after '68, it was like being in the second half .*.*. I have no regrets or hard feelings. I went on with my life and was proud."
More and more, it will be up to the Vietnam vets to take the Admen's Post, and the American Legion, into the next century. "We can't be a good old boys' club," Mr. Wood says. ".*.*. The attrition is beginning to be felt now among World War II veterans, and I would expect membership will be going down."
The legion could end up evolving like the wars that will supply its future members-more compact but no less intense.
"It's really the World War II veterans who are still around and are the real backbone of this organization," Mr. Corrigan says. "They take it really serious, they are truly dedicated. I'm not in their class, but I hope to be someday. And to be honest, the younger veterans have to keep the organization strong."
"Unfortunately, the American Legion is somewhat of a dying breed," says Mr. Bamberger, who's an energetic 681/2, "unless they can attract more young people, people in their 40s."
And as far as Post 209's "affinity" for the next 75 years, regardless of where members draw their paychecks, "We'll never change [the name] because there's so much tradition," says adman Warren Goodwin. "We had so many of them in there after World War II. We had over 800 members."
After all, who was it who first started persuading non-advertising people to join the Admen's Post? It was the professional persuaders, the admen.