Local American Legion Post courts new members and increased awareness of veterans’ service

George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

The American Legion has a long and storied history of service. Participation by veterans has ebbed and flowed over the years in Shelley, with wonderful strides being made in serving the community and contributing to the patriotism of new generations.

Lately, however, the David B. Bleak Post No. 93 has struggled to attract new members. With only about half a dozen active members, they take turns serving in positions of leadership and see their numbers decline, mostly due to death of their members.

“We continue to bury our veterans,” said Jim McEwen, who serves currently as Chaplain. “We provide military rites at seven local cemeteries: Hillcrest, Taylor, Firth, Riverview, Goshen, Woodville and Basalt.”

He said performing a proper 21-gun salute requires 11 people. Sometimes, they have to shorten the rifle volleys because enough participants can’t be found for the honor guard.

“We want to give a dignified burial for every veteran whose family desires it, but with the aging veteran population, the number of funerals can be a bit daunting for a bunch of guys who are getting older ourselves,” said Mike Spencer, who is the current Adjutant.

They are grateful for those who come and help during such times, but they want the legacy of the American Legion to become stronger and more vital as time moves on.

“Any person who served in the military and received an honorable discharge is eligible to be a member of the American Legion,” said Kim McGary, Finance Officer.

“I joined the Legion because of those in my family that were in the military. I like to honor them for their service. Personally, I’m grateful to this nation for all the benefits I’ve had both as a service member and as an American citizen. In the history of Shelley, we have had so many veterans and patriotic people who settled here.”

He noted that the Shelley and Firth communities sacrificed some of their best as they fought in World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and other military hot spots around the globe.

“We’d really welcome those who served since Vietnam,” said Commander Randy Miles. “We’ve been at war in the Middle East for the last 20 years, so if we could get some of those younger veterans to join us, it would be great and we’d be proud to have them.”

McEwen said the Legion is a great service organization that gives opportunities to service vets and their families.

“We offer an oratorical contest for high school students to speak on the U.S. Constitution and the Boys State program for high school juniors to help them learn the legislative process,” he said. “We help sponsor the American Legion Baseball

teams and decorate the graves of veterans on Memorial Day and do the Wreaths Across America program at Christmas.”

Originally founded in 1919, the American Legion is the nation’s largest organization of veterans. During World War I many officers discovered the deficiencies in defense, citizenship and education. After the war, they also realized how poorly prepared the United States was to assist a wave of disabled and unemployed veterans. The Legion formed a network of officers to help disabled veterans file for government benefits, free of charge. It helped to place half a million veterans in permanent jobs after WWI, campaigned to put veterans services under one federal authority, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs, and drafted legislation that led to the original GI Bill that transformed the U.S. economy and culture in the second half of the 20th century.

In more recent history, the American Legion developed programs and advanced research for post-traumatic stress disorder, and demanded government accountability for diseases caused by service-related exposure to Agent Orange and atomic radiation. The organization helped establish the first standard rules for treatment and respect of flag, the U.S. Flag Code. The American Legion raised funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Currently, the organization has pledged funds to help construct a National World War I Memorial. The group regularly supports Red Cross blood drives, natural disaster relief and lobbies to protect veterans’ benefits.

The American Legion also offers benefits to its members that include discounts for hearing aids, life insurance, auto rentals, moving trucks, airfare, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages and more. Legion members may join USAA with no membership fees and receive a full range of financial products like insurance, banking, and financial advice. The organization provides benefit assistance with the VA and lobbies for improvements in the VA health care system, improved processing of claims and decent quality of life for active-duty military personnel. The Legion is also the leading advocate for veteran entrepreneurs and job candidates who have service-connected disabilities.

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