In December, a Louisville resident approached me about his concern that memberships in the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars were significantly declining because the young soldiers returning are not joining.
These organizations were very popular with soldiers who fought in World War I and especially those from World War II.
In fact, the history of the organization goes back to March 15, 1919, when it was formed in Paris by three officers of the American Expeditionary Forces. Congress granted it a charter on Sept. 16, 1919.
One of its most significant roles came about with the drafting and passing of the GI Bill, more formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
The bill provided immediate rewards for almost all World War II veterans. Benefits included payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college or vocational/technical schools, low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business and one year of unemployment compensation. World War II veterans who had served at least 90 days were eligible for these benefits.
My dad was lucky when he came back from the European Theatre, because J.C. Penneys had a job waiting for him to fill. He had started to work for that company when he was 14 sweeping floors.
Not all veterans found a job when they returned home, so the benefits the GI Bill provided gave them hope that they could get back on their feet and earn enough to raise a good old American family.
Veterans who fought in the Korean Wars and Vietnam War joined the American Legion and other military organizations as well, maybe not in as high a number as the World War II vets, but still enough to keep these groups going.
Many who served in the Gulf War and War on Terrorism, however, have not joined for one reason or another.
Maybe, it’s because when they return home, they and their spouses have full-time jobs to ensure their children have food on the table and a roof over their head.
I grew up when mothers stayed home and tended to the children. Now it takes the two incomes to make ends meet.
And yet, these organizations have many programs for younger veterans as well as their children. In Cass County, for example, there are three American Legion baseball programs – Plattsmouth, Louisville/Weeping Water and Elmwood-Murdock/Nehawka.
Baseball keeps young men busy during the summer practicing and playing the game. One of my favorite pasttimes in my youth was to walk to the field from my house and spend the summer evenings watching the teams play. Really, who doesn’t enjoy a good baseball game?
The American Legion also sponsors Boys State/Nation, a program in which high school students learn about their local and national governments up close and personal by meeting county attorneys, county treasurers, judges, police officers and other officials and learning what they do in their jobs.
Students who have a knack for speaking can compete in the American Legion’s oratorical contest and earn scholarship money for their post-secondary education.
For veterans, American Legion also sponsors Operation Comfort Warriors, which provides much needed items to wounded soldiers while they heal.
Those who attend the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies know it is the members of the American Legion, VFW and 40&8 who participate in them to keep patriotism alive and remind those who have not served that freedom is never free.
If you’re an American veteran wanting to make lifelong friends, consider joining one of these groups. They’d be proud to have you.