By: Neal Thomas, Colorado NEC
Last month we celebrated 94 years since the founding of The American Legion. This occurred following the cessation of hostilities at the end of World War I.
The founders of this great organization met with war weary soldiers seeking to return home as soon as possible, in Paris France. Once these veterans returned to the United States they set out to formally organize, charter and grow the fledgling new veterans organization.
Within less than one (1) year from its initial concept meeting in Paris France; the organization had grown and prospered beyond what most had envisioned. Consider the fact that they were working without modern telephones, few major newspapers, mail delivery which was by rail and pony express and before television or cell phones. Even faced with these obstacles they formalized what was to become the world’s greatest wartime veterans organization. They had finalized an organization name, designed an official emblem, written a preamble/constitution, secured a Congressional approved charter and conducted a National Convention. Membership had grown to approximately 1 million members and they had established an American Weekly Publication. In the July 4,1919 issue of the weekly they published an article titled “Spirit of the Legion”, it said; The American Legion is the epitome of that Americanism for which it stands, It’s voice is the majority voice of its members, Its will – the will of the many. Spontaneous in conception, it has been democratic in its development. There are no titles recorded on its rolls. It is free of rank, of cast – and of partisanship. If it seeks in a full measure to serve those who were in service, it seeks in fuller measure to serve America. In this spirit, The American Legion has entered its mission. The organization continued to grow and prosper in accomplishing the stated mission.
During WWII the Legion was busy planning the future of returning veterans. The GI Bill was drafted, lobbied, and passed by Congress in 1944. This is still considered the greatest accomplishment of The American Legion. Following the war, in 1946 The American Legion reached an all-time high of 3.3 million members. With the benefit of the new GI bill the country prospered but The American Legion did not continue to grow. Even after the Korean and Vietnam wars , the decline continued. There was a short period of increased membership growth with the election of a Vietnam National Commander. In 1988 the membership grew to 3 million but today it is at 2.4 million. My concern is that with all of the benefits acquired over the years for veterans; we are still facing a declining membership. The question that remains: Were the founding Members More Capable of Recruiting Membership Than We are Today? ? Is Our Mission The Same? ? ?