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Two million Legionnaires in service


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With nearly two million members and 12,000 posts throughout the United States, The American Legion is the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization, Bobby Thornton, Commander of the Wesson Drane-Prine American Legion Post 79, told the Wesson Lions Club


Thornton, a retired U.S. Army Colonel with honorary rank of Brigadier General, talked about the history and work of the Legion, which the U.S. Congress chartered in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization.


“The Legion was formed on March 15, 1919, in Paris, France, by a thousand officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces (A. E. F.) and has evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States” he explained.


The organization, he said, is founded on four pillars: Americanism, Children and Youth, National Security, and Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation.


“We are really a family,” Thornton pointed out. “Our veteran members served on active duty in the armed forces, but not necessarily in combat. Our Auxiliary unit includes the spouses of member veterans, including both wives and husbands. The Sons of the American Legion are children of veterans, but did not serve in the armed forces. A Riders organizations are motorcyclists, who participate in annual Legacy Run to raise scholarship money for students related to veteran members.”


The first post of the American Legion was George Washington Post 1 in Washington, D.C., Thornton related. Organized March 7, 1919, it obtained the first charter issued to any post of The American Legion on May 19, 1919. The oldest, continuously operated American Legion post is Tulsa's American Legion Post 1 chartered on June 19, 1919.


“The Legion played the leading role in the drafting and passing of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the "G.I. Bill," Thornton said. “In addition to organizing commemorative events, members provide assistance at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics. It lobbies on behalf of interests of veterans and service members, including support for benefits, such as pensions and the Veterans Health Administration. It has also historically promoted Americanism, individual obligation to the community, state, and nation; peace and good will.”


Other special ongoing concerns of the Legion, Thornton noted, are veteran cemeteries, veteran homes for the elderly and disabled, Boys and Girls states and Boys Nation that teach youth about government, honoring Prisoners and Missing in Action service men and women – some 82,000 still unaccounted in past wars and flag etiquette – particularly proper destruction of them when they are old and tattered.”


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