The American Legion: Patriots with a Purpose

Article excerpt

Today, some would have you believe that cynicism is in vogue and patriotism out of style. They're wrong. Yankee Doodle lives, and you don't have to go far to find him. Just stop by any American Legion post, and you'll discover do-or-die nephews (and nieces) of Uncle Sam ready to go to bat for Americans anytime, anywhere. These citizen-soldiers are neither uncertain about what they stand for nor shy about declaring it to the world.

Drop in on Banner Day at a local elementary school, talk to a teenager at Boys or Girls State, judge a Legion-sponsored high-school oratorical contest, chat with the American Legion Scout of the Year, watch the real national pastime at a Legion baseball park, or just wave Old Glory the next time Legionnaires parade down Main Street, U.S.A., and you'll see what patriotism and service to community and country look like.

The concepts and values upon which our country is founded are alive and well in these places--and in the hearts and minds of some three million Legionnaires across the land. They cherish the old verities of honor, courage, vigilance, service, sacrifice, and the rule of law. To a Legionnaire, these words are not merely old-fashioned ideals consigned to the neglected pages of outdated history books. They are words to live by.

Strength through Diversity

The men and women of the American Legion come from all age groups, ethnic origins, socioeconomic classes, and political parties. This wellspring of human talent keeps the organization strong and vital. What keeps them united is one immutable common bond: they are all Americans--and proud of it.

"We believe a veteran is a veteran, and benefits and rehabilitation are nonpartisan issues," says E. Roy Stone, Jr., chairman of the South Carolina State Agency of Vocational Rehabilitation, who has served the Legion on the national level for 48 years. He holds firm to the tenet that those who have served our country, often at great personal sacrifice, deserve the nation's appreciation and support.

"If something is good for veterans, the Legion will be for it," Stone says.

In return, the Legion established its mission to serve not only veterans, but also the community, American youth, and the nation. And this self-supporting veterans' organization, which recently celebrated 75 years of service, has raised countless millions to deliver on that promise.

Veterans' Programs for All Americans

Each time the winds of war subside, returning veterans must face the often-difficult adjustment to family and community. Since 1919, the American Legion has done battle on the homefront to provide programs and services to ease veterans' reentry into a peacetime America, a peace secured by their hardships and sacrifices on the battlefield.

Their achievements are impressive. They lobbied for the World War Veteran's Act of 1924, which established, among other things, standards for veteran rehabilitation. Legionnaires launched national campaigns to influence Congress to construct hospitals, provide financial and medical assistance to disabled veterans and their families, set up unemployment services, and establish a federal Veterans Administration.

In Memoriam: Those Who Sacrificed for America

Ever important to the American Legion is the appropriate honor and dignity with which Americans remember the debt this nation owes those who have fallen in battle.

In large measure, credit goes to a special Legion project for beautifying and dignifying the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. When the tomb was being chipped away by souvenir hunters in 1937, the Legion pushed for a 24-hour military guard. In addition, the Legion (and its auxiliary) raised funds for permanent lighting of the tomb.

On November 13, 1982, a memorial was finally dedicated in the nation's capital to honor Vietnam veterans, who had often encountered disrespect and scorn when they returned home from battle in that unpopular war. …