The American Legion turned 100 this past Saturday – and the Chris Kyle Post 388 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3894 got to celebrate it alongside former commander, John Brieden.
The American Legion is a national veteran service organization committed to mentoring youth and advocating for veterans' interests. Founded on March 15, 1919, Post 388 Commander Bill Coakley stated that the legion was formed by the veterans who had survived World War I.
According to Legion documents, 4,734,991 soldiers served in World War I. Of those veterans, 204,002 were wounded while in service, while 116,516 were killed in active combat.
Coakley stated the Legion was created to take care of the veterans who had survived World War I – and the families of those soldiers who didn’t.
“It’s not just about veterans,” Coakley stated. “It’s also about community.”
Brieden served as the guest speaker for the celebration. In the Legion’s early days, Brieden stated that the Legion published a newspaper specifically for members called “The American Legion Weekly,” which published its first issue on July 4, 1919.
The founders’ vision for the Legion, he said, was not to be a political organization, but rather an inclusive one that assisted all veterans.
“The Legion was something more than a veteran’s organization,” Brieden stated. “The American Legion was dedicated to the high purposes of putting something into the government because of a zealous desire to continue to serve after the uniform was laid away.”
Brieden expressed that in the 100 years since the Legion’s preamble was written, only one word was changed. “War” was changed to “Wars” to include other veterans in the American Legion family.
And throughout the past 100 years, the Legion has remained active, growing to over 37 million veterans who have served their country.
“We help our fellow veterans,” Brieden stated. “If we fail to help those who are suffering from mental or physical disabilities, or if we fail to help the widows and orphans of our fallen comrades, then we have failed in our mission.”
The four pillars of the Legion, Brieden stated, was for veteran affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism and youth development. Coakley stated that as part of their operations, the American Legion organizes the Boys State and Girls State programs, which puts youth through mock campaigns, elections and government to educate them on local politics.
“It’s the best program we’ve got, in my opinion,” Coakley expressed.
As a former commander, Brieden has been with the Legion for over 40 years. He said he often travels nationally speaking on behalf of the Legion. He said it’s been a distinct privilege he’s been able to fulfill for all these years.
“I remember one time when a guy came in, sits right next to me on the plane,” he recalled. “He turned to me and asks ‘Is this trip for business or pleasure?’ I said ‘Yup.’”
With over 12,000 posts throughout the United States, Brieden iterated that the Legion’s members are vast and wide throughout the nation. It is those members, he said, that has helped make America a better place.
“If the American Legion didn’t exist, what would things be like?” he asked. “What would America be like? I can tell you it’d be a poorer place than it is today.”
After Brieden’s remarks, the Legion and VFW Posts convened together and concluded the ceremony by retiring hundreds of tattered American flags. As for what’s next for the American Legion, Brieden iterated that the organization will continue to grow in numbers and in service.
“It’s not a 100 years and we stop,” Brieden expressed. “We’re now in the first days of the next 100 years, and we will continue to serve America. Flowers will wither, ceremonies will end and words will fade away. But our deeds will show what’s really written on our hearts.”
To learn more about the American Legion, go online at www.legion.org.