American Legion’s numbers dwindling after ’80s heyday
Veterans of war faced hardship in battle and different hardships when they returned home.
But now, South Lake Tahoe veterans are facing yet another challenge:
“We are desperate for members,” said Curt Emrie, member and past commander of the Stella Van Dyke Johnson Post 795 of the American Legion. “A lot of our members, quite simply, are dying, most of them being World War II vets.”
Chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion is the largest service organization in the world, with more than 5 million members. There are more than 15,000 posts around the world.
In 1920, the American Legion was instrumental in creating the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Near the end of World War II, the American Legion presented legislation called The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly know as the GI Bill.
Drafted entirely by the American Legion, the GI Bill expanded Veterans Administration treatment and provided other benefits.
Founded in 1957, the South Lake Tahoe-based American Legion post reached its peak in the 1980s with almost 600 members, most of them not living in Tahoe. But with the loss of membership and harsh mountain conditions, recruiting new members has been challenging.
“With the most recent war, and from past ones, we’re finding vets don’t know who we are and what we’re about,” Emrie said. “Part of our job, along with our many community service projects, is to educate military personnel on what services are available to them.”
American Legion member Paul Lyman echoes Emrie’s sentiments: “All branches of the military are welcome. We are self-supporting and spend a lot of time working in the community. We need more members.”
Despite calamities, such as half the Legion’s building collapsing in winter 1969, Emrie hasn’t given up hope.
“We’ve faced our difficult times and are in one now, but we’re looking to the future and new ways to bring the vets in,” Emrie said.
The American Legion hosts a variety of events, from Veterans Day to Patriots Day – which honors law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel – to its annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Monday’s American Legion Memorial Day service was standing-room only.
“The interest is there, especially in a time of war, but we need to work harder to bring in new members,” Lyman said.