The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919, according to www.legion.com. Its mostly World War I veteran members immediately began advocating patriotism and honor while promoting national security.
The high point in American Legion history perhaps is 1944, when members successfully pushed for legislation that became known as the first G.I. Bill.
Today, the American Legion has more than 2.4 million members, representing all branches of military service, from current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to World War II. Their mission, however, remains the same: mentor youth and sponsor programs within the community.
The website said the Legion, which is nonpartisan and nonprofit, consists of 14,000 posts organized into 55 departments. East Liberty County American Legion Post 321, which is 80 members strong, is one of many Legion posts serving their community.
Post 321 Commander Dennis Fitzgerald, a former Army Ranger, said he and several other members volunteer with local fire department and sometimes the County Emergency Management Agency. Other members volunteer with their churches, he said, and some members also are active-duty soldiers.
“We’re most proud that we got the Veterans Day parade established in 2009,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re also proud of our 9/11 patriotic observances.”
As a member of other veteran organizations, Fitzgerald said he couldn’t understand why there was not a Veterans Day parade, so he worked with other veterans and members of his post to organize one. He said he continued to work for a 9/11 observance in Midway or Riceboro even after Fort Stewart stopped its annual Sept. 11 Freedom Walk.
Fitzgerald said this year’s Veterans Day parade will take place Saturday, Nov. 16, and will be in conjunction with a veterans salute at Bryant Commons. That event is sponsored by the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee, which is composed of members of all local veteran organizations as well as civic and business leaders who support the military, veterans and their families.
He said other events and programs supported by Post 321 include Operation Holiday Basket for Thanksgiving, Midway Days, an annual 5K fun run/walk, teaching Americanism classes at schools and community events, posting flags on veterans’ graves, teaching and conducting flag retirement ceremonies.
These events aren’t the limit of what the Legion does, however. Fitzgerald talked about how he and three other Legion members recently responded to a call about a Marine who was traveling with his family to Parris Island, S.C., but became stranded at a Midway gas station when his car broke down.
Fitzgerald said they met the young Marine at the station, fixed his car for free and enabled him to get back to his unit on time.
Several days later, the Marine’s first sergeant called Fitzgerald, wanting to know where he could send a check for the expenses incurred. Fitzgerald told him to put the check in the unit’s welfare fund. The Legion doesn’t do things for money, he said.
He also talked about helping the wife of a soldier deployed to Afghanistan. The woman’s washer was leaking, and the dryer wasn’t working properly. Fitzgerald said Post 321 Legion members replaced the washer’s hoses and cleaned the dryer vents.
“We try to teach Americanism more so than other veterans’ organizations,” Fitzgerald said. “We try to be involved in the community. When you have churches calling you to get you to conduct honor-guard ceremonies, POW/MIA ceremonies or the Four Chaplain’s ceremony, it means a lot.”
For more information, go to www.legion.com or call 980-5204.