By LOIS KINDLE
The country’s largest wartime veterans service organization turned 100 this month and has begun a year long celebration of its history.
Chartered March 16, 1919, the American Legion was formed by World War I veterans who wanted to honor the fallen, help surviving spouses and children, support those who were wounded in battle and protect democracy.
“We’re actually comrades in arms, a militia for the U.S. government if ever needed,” said Navy retiree Jay Allen, 15th District commander for the American Legion’s Florida Department. The district includes 46 posts in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Hernando and Pinellas counties. “All of us took an oath to defend the country, and we take that very seriously.”
Over its century-long history, the American Legion has impacted the nation in many ways. The following are only some of them:
• Influencing the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau in 1922, the Veterans Administration in 1930 and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989
• Creating the American Legion Baseball program for kids, one of the nation’s most successful amateur athletic programs
• Conceiving, drafting and steering the passage of the GI Bill signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944
• Presenting a then struggling American Heart Association with a $50,000 grant
• Forming the American Legion Endowment Foundation, now operating as the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation
• Establishing its National Emergency Fund in 1989
• Donating $1 million to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Vietnam Wall
• Creating the American Legacy Scholarship Fund for children of military members killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001
American Legion volunteers work on behalf of veterans, youth, the nation’s defense and promotion of Americanism.
Here are some examples:
They mentor youth by going into schools and educating students about the American Legion’s efforts in the community, flag etiquette and the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. Literacy and the understanding of the American democracy are among the legion’s highest priorities.
Locally, legion posts serve youngsters by donating patriotic-themed coloring books to first and second graders and backpacks filled with supplies to area schools for children in need, Allen said.
The legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program provides nonessential items and support to help the hospital stays of wounded warriors and their families to feel more like home.
Through its local, state and national fundraising efforts, the legion helps veterans and their families during times of need and provides college scholarships.
“We just received permission to go to mustering out stations on base for all military services to discuss the American Legion and what we do for veterans and youth,” said Allen, commander of American Legion Post 389 in Ruskin.
Allen is proud to be a Legionnaire.
“I’ve been a member for 10 years,” he said. “I joined after I saw how a veteran I was trying to get assistance for was helped by the American Legion. I liked what it did for him, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
For information on joining the American Legion and its more than 2 million members, call Allen at 813-545-4623.