By: Pat Smith Department Adjutant – Article Published in Oct 2014
Do you remember the first time you attended an American Legion meeting? Maybe you have not been there yet. But if you have, did you feel a little out of place? It is kind of like going to a different church and not knowing all of the procedures expected of you – when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel etc. Well my first experience at an American Legion meeeting was like that.
I was young and new in the organization. I did not know what the words were to the preamble that everyone was reciting. What exactly did those words mean? When was I expected to salute the flag, when did I put my hand over my heart, what did three raps of the gavel mean? There are just so many questions – but no answers.
I was uncomfortable to say the least. But I stuck it out and asked questions. Today I know the words to the preamble by heart. I know the proper respect for the flag. I understand the difference between one rap and three raps of the gavel. I am comfortable in the opening session of an American Legion meeting.
How many more members could we get to attend our meetings if they knew they would be welcomed and did not fee out of place because of our traditions and ceremonies? That’s a rhetorical question. I don’t have the answer to it. But if it is an issue then maybe we need to look at a solution.
Our officer’s guide provides for an initiation ceremony. That’s ok but it requires the member to sit through that opening session. I would suggest that we do an open house orientation session. We could invite all of our brand new members into a social event with their families, and possibly their other veteran friends that don’t belong, to learn about who we are as an organization, our mission and our traditions. That type of event would be much less intimidating. Veterans love to talk to other veterans and bonds would be formed. Much like they were when you first joined. It wouldn’t have to be a long affair, maybe 1 hour social and 1 hour of orientation. At the end of the orientation we could go through the actual meeting with all of the participants so that next time they attend a meeting they will feel comfortable.
Look at your membership roster and see how many 1 or 2 year members you have on your rolls. These would be the members you would invite to this orientation. Don’t forget to suggest that they bring their spouse and other veteran friends. Make it a family affair; sign up members of the Auxiliary and the SAL. Our membership must increase if we intend to be a significant force for our younger veterans. Our history is proud, our traditions are important, our country needs us. Let’s be sure to teach our history and traditions to the next generation. We are the home of the free, because of the brave.