“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy
The American Legion was created in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization that focused on service to veterans, service members and communities. President Kennedy’s quote above perfectly captures the Legion’s mission of living by our words of gratitude to our service members. It’s been five years since Congress proclaimed Sept. 16 as American Legion Day, so I thought on the anniversary of the proclamation I would share some information about the Legion’s long and important history.
While members of the very first American Legion first convened in Paris, the convention was held later that year in Minneapolis, interestingly enough. One of the Legion’s first successful efforts was the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau in 1921, a forerunner of the Veterans Administration. A few years later, in 1925, the Legion created the American Legion Baseball program, which today, started the careers of more than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players.
By the mid-1940s in the midst of World War II, the Legion’s single greatest legislative achievement was crafting what would later become the ‘GI Bill of Rights.’ In 1944 President Roosevelt signed into law the original GI Bill, which allowed eight million veterans to go school, find better jobs, buy houses in the suburbs and raise families.
Toward the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Legion voiced great concern over the fate of prisoners of war overseas. Today, the Legion urges a full accounting of all POWs and troops missing in action. Years later the Legion presented a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for the construction of the Wall in Washington, becoming the largest single contributor to the project. Even decades after the last American troops left Vietnam, the effect of Agent Orange (one of the herbicides and defoliants used in Vietnam by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program) on veterans remained an important issue to the Legion. In fact, in 1990 the Legion filed suit against the federal government for failing to conduct a Congress-mandated study about the effects of Agent Orange.
In 1990, the group created the Family Support Network to assist families of service members deployed for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East. Through local posts the network offers a wide range of services including financial assistance, mowing lawns, baby-sitting and more. The Network continues to help families affected by military activation and deployment. Five years later, the Legion formed the Persian Gulf Task Force to help enhance service for the newest generation of wartime veterans.
Since Sept.11, 2001, the Legion has been incredibly active in supporting service members, veterans and their families in a variety of ways. They have also been instrumental in lobbying Congress to pass essential reforms and laws that help take care of veterans and their families. We have several American Legion posts right here at home like Post 39 in North St. Paul and Post 168 in White Bear Lake. These posts together with area VFW posts 8901 or the Lawrence Kaiser Post in Maplewood, Post 1350 or the Arthur O. Haukland Post in North St. Paul and the VFW Post 1782 or the Keep-Zimmer Post in White Bear Lake, and others in the surrounding area have been wonderful at supporting our community and family members affected by war. It would be remiss not to mention the service efforts of the American Legion Auxiliary. This organization serves and supports the American Legion by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military and families.
I hope you will keep in mind the incredible work of the American Legion and its impressive network of support throughout their nearly 100-year history in our country. It is dedicated groups like this that help make our country great. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, as we celebrate and honor those who have dedicated themselves to our veterans on American Legion Day this week, let’s not forget that the highest form of gratitude and appreciation, “is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
If you would like to learn more about the American Legion visit http://www.legion.org/history.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 651-296-6820.