Once a month, on the Friday before our weekly meeting, my American Legion post members meet for lunch at the local Mission BBQ. The restaurant favors military members and veterans. Its walls are filled with pictures of us in uniform (including one of me), its décor stressing everything military. From the look of the patrons, I assume they’re mostly active duty, retired, or former armed forces members. We go there because we’re proud of our contribution to our country and cherish the brotherhood we formed with other soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
The active duty and former combatant population is thinning. Since the end of the draft in 1973, our numbers have been on a downward tilt. Whereas men my age are virtually all veterans—if we didn’t enlist, we’d have been drafted—there are far fewer veterans among men fifty and younger.
That said, there are still enough of us to keep Mission BBQ in business. There are two different Mission BBQs that I frequent, one here in Columbia, Maryland, the other in Ellicott City where I used to live. No matter what time I stop by, the restaurants seem to be busy. And, as I just learned, the two Mission BBQs that I know about are not the only ones. There are dozens of them, all over the U.S.
The fact that the Mission BBQ chain is prospering is good reason for me to put aside my concerns about the diminishing veteran population. We may be becoming fewer, but we’re still numerous enough to keep a military restaurant chain thriving.