VFW Post 7621 Commander Matt Bugland fully acknowledges that the circumstances of this week’s Americanism event were far from ideal given the cold weather, ongoing pandemic and it falling on a weeknight. However, he was determined that the annual celebration continue.

“It’s a legacy event and it has to happen. And we’re going to make it happen even if it is 10 people,” he said. “It’s just needed because as long as they are a member (veterans should know) they’re not forgotten.”

Due to safety concerns about COVID, this year’s Americanism event in Three Forks occurred outside instead of inside. It was attended by veterans and community members who gathered to cruise their vehicles on Main Street, sing patriotic songs and award the winners of the Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy essay contest with plaques.

The competitions are part of an annual national program from the VFW that encourages middle and high school students to engage with patriotic topics by writing an essay for a scholarship prize, sponsored by their local VFW Post. This year’s theme for the middle schoolers was “What Does Patriotism Mean to Me?” High school participants were tasked with answering the question “Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned?” in their essays, as well as providing an audio recording of themselves reading it.

This year’s Three Forks winners are high schooler Allyson Kamps and middle school student Aislynn Gifford. The essays were reviewed and selected by VFW Post 7621 members. Bugland said that they were excited by Gifford’s submission, which was “amazing to read.” He also said Kamps has won every year she has participated, and he always looks forward to reading her entry.

In recent years, the essay contest has become an important component of the Americanism event. Bugland said the past few winners have read their speeches during the evening.

“It’s been awesome bringing those kids in and their families and watching them speak,” he said.

He also added that hearing younger individuals’ perspectives on the country and patriotism is important and helps “bridge the gap of our generations.”

“It doesn’t matter what we think about Americanism as the older generation. What truly matters is what the current and future generations think,” Bugland said. “Seeing what their perspective is helps us grow.”

Bugland said that he hopes the Americanism event and the students’ essays will encourage people to give back to their community.

“We’re trying to find a way to inspire folks to get involved in their community,” he said. “If you want a younger generation to get out and be more patriotic ... you have to set an example.”