BLUFFTON — American Legions across the country are marking the organization’s 100th Anniversary.
In Bluffton, Post 382 held a celebration Saturday night at Bluffton’s Town Hall.
The event featured a number of historical displays about the local post and members heard from Robert “Bob” Schmitt, Department Commander of the Ohio American Legion.
Schmitt discussed the history of the organization which started March 15, 1919 in Paris, France.
“It was the very first caucus. It consisted of about 20 people,” said Schmitt.
After World War I, getting the troops back was difficult as the only way back was by boat.
“They also have armament they had to bring back and people were getting down in their mental attitudes and stuff because they couldn’t get home and so in the whole process, Teddy Roosevelt and some others were looking and saying ‘We got to do something’ and that’s when they decided they have to start an organization for camaraderie and stuff like that so that’s kind of how it got started,” said Schmitt.
In September 1919, Congress chartered The American Legion as a wartime veterans organization.
The American Legion started supporting the Boy Scouts, helped create the U.S. Veterans’ Bureau, which later became the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“In 1989, the American Legion got the VA a seat on the president’s cabinet. The first GI Bill of Rights was written in 1943. The American Legion wrote the flag code for the United States. The American Legion had a lot to do with formulating social security,” said Schmitt.
The biggest challenge facing the American Legion today has to do with attracting new members.
“The younger veterans today are not joining. In some cases, the veterans coming out today are starting their own little splinter groups. They want to help their fellow brethren that were in the war. They supported each other,” he said.
Veterans taking their own lives is also a challenge that needs to be addressed.
“We’re losing 20 to 22 [veterans] a day to suicide and that’s a huge issue with the American Legion, and in this whole process they [the splinter groups] really need to tie into the bigger organizations like the American Legion and the others because we’re the big boys. We could help them out, but they feel they don’t have a connection with us,” said Schmitt.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.