One of the most recognizable veteran organizations in the United States, the American Legion, is celebrating 100 years. Originally chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919, the nation’s largest wartime veteran’s service organization has been improving communities they reside in and advocating for patriotism and honor.
By Melissa Anderson
“Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country,” the American Legion states.
With posts worldwide numbering in the tens of thousands and membership of over 2 million, the American Legion has a recognizable presence. In North Dakota, there are 209 active American Legion posts with approximately 16,000 members. Cavalier County has around 300 veterans and has two posts, one in Sarles and one in Langdon. Langdon Post #98 contributes over 150 members to that number.
“The American Legion represents all war eras and branches including the National Guard. All National Guardsman in all 50 states have really become an intrical part of the U.S. military as we found out from numerous deployments that guard members have had to endure,” Post #98 Adjutant Leon Hiltner said.
Hiltner shared that at Post #98, community involvement takes many forms from teaching youth to assisting elderly veterans. The Post offers scholarships to graduating seniors, and this year gave a $500 scholarship. Youth interested in attending Boys or Girls State, educational programs focused on the instruction of how the U.S. government operates at all levels, are also sponsored by the Legion and the Legion Auxiliary.
“We will sponsor them; all they have to do is say they want to go, and we will pay the way,” Hiltner said.
The American Legion Post #98 hall was recently renovated and provides a location for small to medium sized gatherings whether they are reunions or weddings or fundraising events. Most recently, the building was utilized by the Cavalier County Cancer Crusaders for their bi-annual rummage sale fundraiser.
Post #98 is dedicated to helping and serving their fellow veterans. This dedication shows itself in many different ways- either assisting veterans and their families financially or through having members available to help veterans that still live at home with anything they may need such as cleaning, mowing, or any other chores that the veteran just can’t do themselves.
“We are always available to help veterans and their families if needed,” Hiltner said.
The color guard is also a source of great pride for the Langdon post. From parades to high school events, the members of the color guard try to be available. One type of request for the color guard that the color guard tries to fulfill to the best of their ability is when a veteran dies and the family requests military honors be given.
“I know their families appreciate that. Many times I’ve been thanked personally, and I pass it on to the members that it was a really meaningful experience and how much they appreciated that. The honor for us to do it is without words. It’s just a honor to do it for these families.”
The Legion also performs the duty of providing Memorial and Veteran’s Day programs to the community and surrounding areas of Langdon. These national holidays are of importance to the Legion to remind the general public of the sacrifice that military members have made for their country and how that is deserving of recognition.
“Memorial Day is for the veterans that have passed away, but Veterans Day is for all the ones that are still with us so we can personally thank them for the sacrifice and service that they give to us, as Americans, to enjoy the freedom that we have,” Hiltner explained.
For Hiltner, himself a veteran, having served over 20 years in the Marines and Marine Corp. reserves, the American Legion is a mechanism through which he can still serve his community and his country. Hiltner explained that anyone who spends time in the military in any capacity is serving their country. When they are discharged, most still have that innate sense of duty to serve.
“The American Legion personally, to me, allows me to serve. It also allows me to associate with like-minded individuals, in other words people that have had the same experiences I did in the military,” Hiltner explained.
From banter on which branch is the best, which Hiltner explained that they all are the best, to the camaraderie that allows veterans to associate with others like themselves- the Legion can provide this.
“It allows me to be myself and not be criticized for it,” Hiltner quipped.
As the American Legion celebrates its 100 anniversary across the nation, posts have been encouraged to hold their own celebrations. Hiltner shared that there will be a celebration held in Langdon, but they are still working on the idea. As Hiltner and the rest of the American Legion members look to the future, it looks just as bright as it did in 1919.
“The American Legion is an organization that people join because they like what the American Legion does. It represents veterans, fights for veterans’ rights and their families, is strong on Americanism, children and youth. It’s an organization that most veterans set their standards by,” Hiltner said.
Support your American Legion Post #98 on Monday, May 27 by attending their Memorial Day program at the American Legion in Langdon.