BUCKFIELD — As the state’s American Legion organization prepares to kick off its Centennial celebration next week at the State House, some local organizations say they need a membership boost from younger veterans.
The American Legion is the largest “wartime” veterans organization in America and has served America’s veterans for the past 100 years since 1919, but as the organization has gotten older so, too, have its members.
“We’re trying to get younger people involved,” said James Lowell, commander of the American Legion Post John D. Long Post 58 in Buckfield.
For Lowell, 66, a Vietnam era veteran who leads the 92-member Post, the time has come for more of the younger veterans to step up and take the mantle.
“The older group can’t do what they used to,” said Lowell who said at least 50 percent of the Post are 70 or older. With only one World War II veteran left in the Post, the majority are Korean or Vietnam veterans, he said.
The Post 58 ranks have diminished from about 130 to 90 members in recent years but only 10 to 15 of those are active in Post activities, and most are more than 70 years old.
“It is common knowledge that the World War I veterans have all passed away, the World War II and Korean War veterans are getting fewer and fewer and now we are led primarily by veterans who served during Vietnam,”said Adjutant Paul L’Heureux of the American Legion Department of Maine.
But, he said, statewide, officials are encouraged that the younger veterans – those from the Gulf War and Post 9/11 veterans – are joining the organization.
“Some posts in Maine are currently led by these younger veterans with great programs. It is our challenge at every post to engage and challenge those who elect to join us in the American Legion; to provide programs that are of value to our newest generation of veterans,” L’Heureux continued.
The American Legion’s motto is “Still Serving America,” and that means still serving America by serving its communities.
The Oxford Hills, which hosts a number of American Legion Posts including the Anderson-Staples Post 112 in Oxford; Foster-Carroll Post 72 in Paris; Stone-Smart Post 82 in Norway and the Ring-McKeen Post 151 in West Paris is a predominantly older generation of veterans who participate in Legion activities.
American Legion members in Buckfield, who come primarily from Buckfield, Sumner, Hartford and a few from Turner, are involved in a number of activities including parades, blood drives, sponsoring the Boy’s State competition for high school juniors which provides learning activities in government, and many other activities throughout the year.
Most of the other Post also sponsor the same and silimar acitivities plus some unique special programs, but most say they have the same trouble, getting younger veterans involved.
“It’s about the same issue for everyone. They (younger members) say they don’t have the time and they really don’t have the time,” said Lowell.
Despite the concerns locally, L’Heureux said the American Legion is still the oldest and largest military service organization in America and statewide is attracting new members, including younger ones, all the time.
“We currently have over 18,000 veterans in the Maine American Legion, not counting the members of the Auxiliary, Sons and Legion Riders. It is still a very large group of veterans dedicated to serving veterans,” he said.
“Currently at the state level we have young veterans, serving as officers, who are actively engaged, bring new ideas and dedication to our organization. This is an exciting time to be a member as we enter our second century of service to veterans,” said L’Heureux. “At the state level, there are young members working diligently to continue the important work of the Legion, but times have changed the methods the organization now reaches out to veterans.”
The American Legion is online to attract younger members as well as highlighting its service programs to Maine communities. The Maine American Legion website is at www.mainelegion.org on Twitter @LegionMaine and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/maineamericanlegion,
Information on how to join the American Legion and contacts for the individual Posts, including Post 58 in Buckfield, is available on the website.
Lowell said anyone interested in more information about joining Post 58 in Buckfield should contact him at 890-4350 or Gloria Hall at 336-2385 (home) or 740-1537 (cell.)
On March 15, 2018, all Legionnaires, legislators and members of the community are welcome to come help us celebrate this special day and kick-off of our Centennial Celebration where the Governor’s Proclamation declaring the 99th Birthday of the American Legion as “American Legion Day” will be read and and information about the Centennial Celebration in Maine will take place.
The event will be held at the Welcome Center at the State Capitol Building in Augusta from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m..