Imagine no American Legion Post #191 in Webster City. Imagine no Memorial Day tributes, no Veteran's Day observances. Imagine no sweet corn feed or other dinners. Imagine no one to present the flag to the family at a deceased veteran's funeral. Most of all, imagine another empty downtown building.
That's because over the years, Post 191's membership has dwindled from about 1,500 members after World War II to approximately 300 members today. That number continues to fall.
The American Legion, which was founded in 1919 following World War I, saw its greatest membership increase after World War II when an estimated 18 million men and women wore a uniform in this country's military. The Korean and Vietnam Wars, plus other short military actions, brought more members, but natural attrition from these periods is beginning to take its toll.
Yet, a great wealth of membership potential exists today.
That's because, since Aug. 2, 1990, due to the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism, until the present, anyone who is serving or has served in the United States Military for at least one day, and received a discharge other than dishonorable, is eligible to become an American Legion member. This includes those who are serving in the Reserve and National Guard or are veterans of these.
Other eligibility time frames are: World War II, Dec. 7, 1941 through Dec. 31, 1946; the Korean War, June 25, 1950 through Jan. 31, 1955; Vietnam War, Feb. 28, 1961 through May, 1975; Lebanon/Grenada, Aug. 24, 1982 through July 31, 1984 and Panama, Dec. 20, 1989 through Jan. 31, 1990.
"Unless we get younger veterans to join Post 191, it will cease to exist as we know it today," said Post Commander Doug Johnson, a retired Army Reserve Command Sergeant Major.
"The Legion, along with the other Veteran's Service Organizations fight for veteran's causes and it is a good place for them to gather and share experiences with those most capable of understanding them," Johnson said.
It was the American Legion that led the fight for the G.I. Bill which included advanced education, home loans and the like. But the most important thing the Legion does is through its service officers. These service officers help veterans apply for benefits they've earned. They do this by making sure applications are correctly filled out, thus expiating approval.
Recent reports note that worldwide the Legion has seen some renewal, especially around military bases, in military retirement communities and larger cities.
"The problem exists in smaller towns such as those in Hamilton County, with posts in Webster City, Williams, Jewell, Ellsworth and Stratford," said Johnson. "With so many younger veterans working and raising families, it has become increasingly difficult for them to find the time to become active in the American Legion, and it is these younger members who will come up with ideas for growth and someday lead the Posts."
If any veteran is thinking about joining American Legion Post 191, wonders if they are eligible, they are invited to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month or contact a Legion member.
The American Legion: What a great way to reconnect with your band of brothers.