By DON HEINZMAN – Gazette Columnist
Strong American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) posts and their auxiliaries are valuable for enhancing the welfare of veterans, promoting patriotism and enriching the lives in their local communities.
In many communities, Legion and VFW Post headquarters are the centers where many local events take place.
Minnesota is fortunate to have 112,000 Legion members in 590 posts, and 66,000 VFW combat veterans in 286 posts.
While the American Legion and its Auxiliary and the VFW and its Auxiliary contribute much in time, talent and funds to communities, their primary focus is the welfare of veterans.
Each organization is instrumental in having legislation passed that protects and enhances the lives of veterans.
The American Legion has five Veterans Homes in Minnesota where the host Legion clubs donate services, furniture and equipment to keep veterans satisfied.
Veterans Administration hospitals are the focus of the Legion and VFW, and particularly the auxiliary units who visit veterans and donate equipment and other items they may need.
American Legion members throughout the state donate blood and sponsor trips to blood donation centers.
Both organizations look out for the welfare of widows and orphans by protecting their benefits.
Both are active in passing national and state legislation that brings benefits to veterans. Veterans’ organizations were largely responsible for passing the GI Bill of Rights, perhaps the most significant law in the 20th Century.
Promoting respect and honor for the American flag and the United States is another major thrust of both organizations.
They sponsor Memorial Day, Flag Day and Veterans Day observances. Honor Guards set the patriotic tone for many local observances. Members march in parades, and participate in funerals of veterans, complete with a rifle salute.
The Legion and VFW instruct young people how to respect and treat the flag, and sponsor local oratory and essay contests.
Development of young people is a major priority for both organizations. Both sponsor sports teams; the VFW particularly has events for disabled youngsters.
The American Legion provides scholarships, sponsors Legionville, where youngsters learn how to be effective school patrol members. Boys and Girls State programs give selected high school juniors insight on how state and national government functions.
Partnering and funding research to cure diseases is another American Legion priority. Millions of dollars have been donated to research cures for heart disease and the Brain Science Foundation.
Because they both have many members with strong militaristic discipline, they usually are the most effective organizations in any community. Programs sponsored by both the VFW and American Legion are supported by charitable gambling proceeds.
Because so many are veterans of World War II, they have the heart of what is called the Greatest Generation.
Their memberships are going down because not enough veterans are joining to replace those who are leaving. Those veterans who are eligible and want to do more for their community and country should join either one of these effective organizations;.
Next time you see a veteran, thank them. They deserve it and there would be no better time to do so than on Memorial Day 2012.
Don Heinzman is an editorial writer and columnist with ECM Inc.