May 3, 2011
GRAND CHUTE — Red-faced and plaintive as the words pulsed from his body with a heavy staccato, John Bourassa, commander of the American Legion Post 38, said what everyone in the hall was likely thinking.
“This was a momentous weekend for America,” Boursassa told his post members Monday evening. “With what took place last night, I just want everyone to think about what happened.”
As he reminded the three dozen veterans of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s death, the opening chords of Lee Greenwood’s pseudo-anthem, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” gradually enveloped the room.
Once the melody snapped into focus, several veterans began to hum along, as if by instinct, while others dropped their heads in silence.
During the song, members passed around wicker baskets, collecting $162 for the family of Matthew Hermanson, 22, of Appleton, who was killed Thursday in Afghanistan.
Commander-elect Laurel Weyenberg mouthed the lyrics as she sit at the front of the hall, squinting her eyes and pumping her fists when the chorus swelled.
“I’m proud to be an American, and I’m proud that I was an American soldier,” Bourassa said when the music ended, his voice trembling. “In the last 24 hours, hopefully there might be a beginning to the end. I can’t guarantee it, but I’m proud to be an American and proud (of) what America did.”
The post’s chaplain Bob Johnson, 65, of the Town of Center, picked up that theme in a prayer for the troops who stormed bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan on Sunday.
Johnson said he decided to include the special prayer after he heard the news.
“I was elated,” Johnson said. “With all the flashback to 9/11 and all the things that bin Laden had done to us (including) the USS Cole bombing (in 2000), which he was the mastermind behind — I was very grateful to people in uniform that we have serving our country today that they accomplished this mission and got the job done.”
Shoulder back and a grin on his face, Navy veteran Garrick Eppinger, 59, of Neenah, was almost giddy with pride.
“It just proves that if you’re relentless and you just stay at it, sooner or later (the enemies) slip up and make mistakes,” Eppinger said. “We have the most awesome armed forces. We may not be doing anything right now, but it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about you.”