By Larry Grooms, special to Aerotech News
On March 15-17, 2019, American Legion Post 348 in Palmdale joined with the more than 13,000 Legion posts worldwide in celebrating the centennial year of being chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans’ organization focusing on service to veterans, servicemembers and communities.
Exactly one year after that 100th birthday celebration centered in Paris, France, American Legion National Headquarters staff begin a period of social distancing and work-from-home procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
American Legion posts, departments and facilities worldwide were instructed to temporarily close their doors to members and the public.
Although officially closed, American Legion Post 348 and its companion posts continue many service missions for which they are known. The organization responded with hundreds of Buddy Checks to assist older veterans; blood drives as needs increased; food-delivery services; supplies for parents suddenly forced to home-school their children; protective mask making and distribution; and hundreds of other acts of community support.
The pandemic led to cancellation or postponement of national meetings, including the 101st National Convention, American Legion Baseball World Series and American Legion Boys Nation.
But locally at Palmdale Post 348 and all other Legion Halls around the country, the organizational heartbeat continued as board meetings shifted to private homes of veterans, and membership social activity was modified and scaled to meet social distancing requirements.
Former Post Chairman, now First Vice Chairman Carl Hernandez notes that any rumors about the Post’s closing are greatly exaggerated. He says the adjunct reports dues-paying membership remains normal, and service activities by veteran members and the Auxiliary continue. One of the better-known traditional service and fellowship activities of the American Legion is provided by Legionnaires Riders.
Prior to the pandemic restrictions which reduced formal funerals and burial tributes, the 60 to 70 Legionnaire Riders would provide honor escorts for deceased veteran services, regardless of Legion membership.
In October, Post 348 riders held meetings in members’ homes and made weekend group rides following disruption from the summer’s wildfires. As is happening with nearly all meetings and conventions, the 2020 American Legion Riders Convention scheduled for late October in Hollywood was again cancelled due to virus regulations.
The Palmdale American Legion Family consists of the Veteran Legionnaires from all branches of military service. Spouses, sisters and daughters of the Legion make up the Auxiliary; sons and grandsons can become Sons-of-the-Legion (aka SALs or Sons); and all members can join the Harley-riding American Legion Riders.
Legion activities include community services, emergency support for members and veterans and promotion of National Security. Members provide financial support by organizing fundraising dinners, special events and donation campaigns benefitting veterans and schools.
In one respect, the pandemic brought the Legion back to its roots. Founded a year after the Armistice ending the First World War in Europe, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States.
In the beginning, Legion membership grew to more than 1 million. Local posts sprang up across the country. The American Legion today reports membership of nearly two million in more than 13,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.
On July 30, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service – the LEGION Act – which extends recognized wartime service to cover previously unrecognized periods of U.S. military conflict, back to World War II. More than 1,600 Americans were killed or wounded in armed hostilities during periods not previously recognized as wartime. The act allows veterans who served outside of the previously designated war eras to join The American Legion.
Hernandez says even with the Legion Post building temporarily restricted, joining the American Legion is fast and easy. Any veteran wishing to enjoy the company of other veterans and the benefits of membership need only go online with a copy of his or her discharge DD Form214 T and sign up.
Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced inspirational and educational programs and scholarships for children and youth.