Members of the Lewis Clark Post 13 of the American Legion are hopeful a new law expanding membership eligibility will encourage more military veterans to join the organization.
Andy Jackson, the vice-commander of the post, said the legislation, signed by President Donald Trump in July, allows military veterans to join the American Legion whether or not they have served during times of war.
“Over the many years that the American Legion has been in existence, Congress has to approve who goes into the American Legion and who goes into the (Veterans of Foreign Wars),” Jackson said. “Until this new bill was passed, you could be in the American Legion if you were in the service during the war eras, like the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, etc.
“But now anybody who’s in the military and gets an honorable discharge can be a member of the American Legion. Now, many thousands of people can be members of the American Legion where they couldn’t be before.”
The bill, signed by Trump July 30, declares that the United States has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941. The American Legion sought the declaration as a way to honor the nearly 1,600 U.S. service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war, according to the American Legion website.
The L.E.G.I.O.N. Act, which stands for “Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service,” opens the door to about 6 million veterans to access American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously had not been eligible.
The legislation changes the American Legion’s criteria from seven war eras to two: April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941, to a time later determined by the federal government. No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed.
Jackson, 76, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1971, said it is hoped more people will become interested in the American Legion and seek membership. Currently the organization is hurting for members.
“We usually have 35 (veterans) pass away each year because of the age group, and there’s a lot of them that are in this doughnut hole that couldn’t become members of the American Legion, and they can now if they know about it,” he said.
Legion posts in Kamiah and Grangeville reportedly have had a few more inquiries about membership, Jackson said, and veterans are trying to get the word out whenever the Legion sells raffle tickets.
The challenges of publicizing the new rules, however, aren’t the only obstacle to increasing participation in the organization. Jackson said the local Legion post has about 300 members on the books, but when they hold regular meetings once a month, about 20 people show up. The Saturday of the Veterans Day parade in Lewiston last year, only about four members participated in the Legion’s float, even though 51 people were notified about the event.
“Well, most of them that aren’t active say they want to be a member, but they don’t want to do anything,” Jackson said. “When we get a new member, I usually call and welcome them to the post and ask them if they want to become active. And most of them say they want to be a member but don’t want to be active.”
Twice each month, the local post sets up booths at Rosauers, North 40 and Sportsman’s Warehouse to sell raffle tickets for items such as guns and cash drawings. These efforts help raise money for the five $750 scholarships the post awards to students of Lewiston High School each year. Veterans who are contacted at these sales are also asked about possible membership in the American Legion.
“When we sell tickets, we ask if they are a member of post 13, and, if not, ask if they’re military,” Jackson said. “I’ve had several say I would like to be, but I was not in the military in a war era.”
Jackson said anyone who is interested in membership in the American Legion may call him at (208) 791-9960 or Joe Tanner, who is the commander of the post, at (208) 790-3549.
Hedberg may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 983-2326.