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American Legion holds membership drive

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frank Nicholson was discharged from the U.S. Navy on Sept. 9, 1972. He became a member of the American Legion on Sept. 10, 1972.

Nicholson served in the Navy from 1968 to 1972, working with search radar on A6 Intruder attack aircraft before serving a tour in Vietnam aboard the USS Constellation.

"I was in the Navy color guard in 1970, and I met some members of the Legion and the VFW, because we did funerals and parades together," he said. "They told me about the organizations, and I joined both of them after I got discharged, because I believe in what they stand for."

Nicholson, who is serving as department commander for the state American Legion this year, and some of his fellow members are holding a membership revitalization drive at the John Brawley American Legion Post 20 in Charleston.

Nicholson said that the Legion's lobbying for veterans' rights, its commitment to youth programs and its promotion of patriotism are what motivated him to hold the drive.

Since its creation in 1919, The American Legion has been an advocate for veterans' benefits, children and youth, patriotic American values, a strong national defense and quality-of-life issues for those serving in today's armed forces.

The Legion is the largest veterans' association in the country. It serves 18,600 veterans in West Virginia -- a number the group hopes to push past 20,000 this year by convincing at-large members to join a local post, like the one in Charleston.

Michele Steinmetz, assistant director for internal affairs and membership for the national American Legion's, said that the more active members the organization has, the better it can lobby for veterans' rights in Congress.

"We are the largest veteran service organization, and we have nearly 3 million members of the organization itself, as well as the American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion, so it's closer to 5 million," she said. "When we go to Congress to fight for veterans' benefits, we have those numbers behind us, for elected officials to listen to us."

The organization spearheaded the original GI Bill and has advocated reform of the veteran's health-care system under its GI Bill of Health. The legion was also instrumental in establishing the Veterans Home Loan program and programs that give veterans preference in hiring. They also worked to get compensation for veterans suffering from illnesses related to their military service.

Kenny Smith, membership chairman for the state, said that of the 12,000 military veterans in District 8 -- comprised of Kanawha, Putnam and Roane Counties -- roughly 1,200 are Legion members. Smith, who joined the Legion when he was 55, said many of the younger veterans are preoccupied with work and young families and don't consider membership to veterans' organizations until later life.

"There are a lot of veterans out there who aren't being counted when we go to Washington," Smith said. "If a veteran sees something we don't have, we want them to tell us what would make them join."

For Post 20's commander Gail Harper, the Legion and veterans' service organizations like it represent American values that he and his fellow veterans believe are important within any community.

"It's like a brotherhood," Harper said. "We try to continue the service to those who served in the military."

Post 20 plans to have its headquarters up and running for regular meetings in the coming weeks. The membership drive will continue today and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The American Legion sponsors several youth and community outreach initiatives, including Boys State and Girls State, American Legion Baseball, VA Volunteers and the Legion's National Emergency Fund for disaster relief.

For more information on the American Legion, visit www.legion.org.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.

 


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