By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The American Legion is the world’s largest war time veterans organization with a current membership of about 2.3 million.
The eight states that make up the Legion’s Midwest region – Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and North and South Dakota – are at about 89 percent membership.
Kansas itself is at about 90 percent, and the region’s national vice commander was at Liberal’s Salty Dog Restaurant Monday to talk to local Legion and Auxiliary members about the levels. Russell Henry said Kansas’ level is in the top 10 of the 50 states.
“You’re doing a great job,” he said. “I cannot talk to you about membership when you’re doing better than we are.”
The “we” Henry was referring to was his home state of Louisiana, and he said Kansas seems to have the answers to finding members.
“You’re doing great,” he said. “Just keep up the good work – get that other 10 percent. That’s what we are after. The veterans are out there. We just have to go get them. We have to tell them what it’s all about.”
Henry said the Legion has programs for just about anything.
“I can assure you that if they tell you what they like the most, we have a program that’ll fit that,” he said.
Programs the Legion offers include its baseball organization, the Boys State contest and junior shooting sports. The Legion also works with Special Olympics, and it is the premier sponsor of Boy Scouts.
“We service the veterans and their families,” Henry said. “That’s the first thing, and then we have community service and children and youth programs. We help homeless veterans. Just about anything in the community that needs help, we’re there to provide.”
A new program the Legion provides is Troops to Teachers in which soldiers returning from war are enrolled in education to become teachers. Henry said this is among many other services the organization provides.
“We have the Wounded Warrior program,” he said. “We have the Legion Riders program. The Legion Riders are the Legionnaires that own motorcycles.”
Henry said Legion Riders form chapters and ride to raise money. In the last two years, that group has raised more than $2 million for the Legacy Fund, a fund to provide college education for children of veterans killed in wars.
Henry said the primary purpose of the American Legion is membership, followed by veterans and rehabilitation and taking care of the spouses and children of vets.
The vice commander said as of July 1, 2010, veterans can renew membership online and print their membership card.
“It’s going to look different, but it is a valid card,” he said.
Henry said in order to become a Legion member, a person has to be a war veteran.
“There are dates on war veterans,” he said. “That is set by Congress. Each war era has certain dates. If you fall within those dates, you’re eligible to be an American Legion member. The American Legion is a war time veterans organization. It is the world’s largest – 2.3 million members.”
Henry said interested individuals also must have to have an honorable discharge.
“You visit any Legion member, and most of them carry an application with them,” he said. “The normal is around $30 membership. Some of them charge a little bit more.”