2014 Legion Birthday Speech
2014 Legion Birthday Speech
Mar 10, 2014
Principles not politics. That is what The American Legion has always been about and it is why we are the most respected and successful veterans service organization in the country.
During one of the earliest meetings of The American Legion – the St. Louis Caucus in 1919– a movement was afoot to nominate Theodore Roosevelt, Junior, as the first national commander of the organization. A World War I hero and the son of a former president, T.R. Junior was widely perceived to have political ambitions and possibly even follow in his father’s footsteps. A term as national commander would be a nice stepping stone toward future elected offices for the young Republican.
But Roosevelt would have none of this. Over shouts of “We Want Teddy,” Roosevelt told the crowd, “I wish to withdraw my name for a number of reasons….We are gathered together for a very high purpose. I want every American through the length and breadth of this land to realize that there is not a man in this caucus who is seeking anything for himself, personally, but that he is simply working for the good of the entire situation.”
Roosevelt knew that the best way for The American Legion to advance its founding pillars of fighting for a strong national defense, caring for veterans, establishing wholesome youth programs and promoting Americanism was to avoid partisanship and political labels.
While many Democrats, Republicans and independents have been active in The American Legion during its 95-year history, the organization was beholden only to “God and Country.”
There would be no political action committees, endorsements for public office or kowtowing to corporate lobbyists. Legionnaires would be educated about veterans issues and other items pertaining to the four pillars and be encouraged to vote according to their consciences.
Since The American Legion is beholden to no political party, it is widely respected by members of both major political parties. Most importantly, it is respected for what it does every day in communities across America.
The American Legion serves the youth of America with outstanding programs such as American Legion Baseball, Junior Shooting Sports, Boys State and Boys Nation.
The American Legion has supported the Boy Scouts of America since 1919 and today charters more than 2,500 Scouting units comprising nearly 70,000 young people.
Moreover, The American Legion High School Oratorical Program awards scholarships to young men and women who can most effectively communicate the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
By offering temporary financial assistance to veterans facing extreme economic hardship, the Legion helps provide food, shelter, clothing and medical necessities for their young children.
And our support has made a difference to the recipients of Child Welfare Foundation grants, which are used to educate the public about diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Marfan Syndrome and autism.
We also support the Children’s Miracle Network, and that support has undoubtedly saved countless lives.
We have not forgotten the young people whose parents have made the ultimate sacrifice during the war on terrorism. The American Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund was created to help pay for the college educations of those who lost a military parent serving since 9/11.
The American Legion does these things not because it can, but because it’s who we are.
The author of America’s greatest legislation, Past National Commander Harry Colmery, knew that it was right for America to remember returning war veterans by making it possible for them to obtain formal educations and purchase homes.
While others scoffed that such a benefit would ‘break the treasury,’ The American Legion held firm and ensured the passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill of Rights.
But The American Legion did not rest on its laurels even after that significant and historical accomplishment.
Today we are still serving and still fighting.
We are fighting to improve post-9/11 GI Bill benefits so the current generation of veterans can pursue the educational opportunities needed to succeed in the 21st century.
We are fighting to remind Congress and the White House of their frequent promises to “not balance the budget on the backs of veterans.” The veterans did not cause this deficit and they should not see their retirement benefits cut, disability compensation reduced or health care diminished because our elected leaders fail to do their jobs. Military benefits are available to anyone who is willing to visit their local recruiters and sign the dotted line.
During the last several years, the Disabled Veterans Tax has been repealed for some- but not all- retired military veterans who have incurred disabilities. No veteran should be financially penalized for disabilities that they suffered while in uniform.
The American Legion will continue to fight for the Disabled Veterans Tax to be repealed for all that are affected by this injustice.
We are also fighting to make sure that the flag of the United States is constitutionally protected from desecration.
If it’s sacred enough to place on a soldier’s coffin, it is important enough to protect from physical desecration.
Thousands of American Legion service officers nationwide help veterans access high-quality VA health care and disability compensation. We are the nation’s leading advocates for enhanced treatment of traumatic brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other medical conditions associated with military service.
Through our Operation Comfort Warriors program, The American Legion turns financial donations into gifts for wounded, injured and ill servicemembers recovering in military hospitals, VA Centers and warrior transition units around the world. OCW gifts may not make these veterans “whole” again, but they do show that The American Legion appreciates their service and sacrifice.
Additionally, our relationship with the nonprofit organization “Soldier’s Wish” enables us to identify the unmet needs of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their families, and then provide the resources to meet those needs.
Another way The American Legion supports the troops is by assisting their families while they are deployed. Whether it’s mowing a lawn or shopping for groceries, the American Legion’s Family Support Network stands ready to assist those who need it most.
Ninety-five years have passed since the founding of our great organization. National Commander Daniel Dellinger comes from a construction background and promises to “Build for tomorrow – today.”
While the way The American Legion delivers its services must adapt and change with the times, its core principles and pillars are unwavering.
Commander Dellinger has adapted the National Emergency Fund as his major fundraising project for the year – so that The American Legion can readily assist veterans and Sons of The American Legion members that have been impacted by natural disasters.
Again, it is The American Legion’s presence in the community that makes a difference. It is the true value of our memberships.
It’s displayed on an American Legion baseball field, in a recently renovated VA hospital wing or at a veterans memorial that was built with American Legion financial support.
We are not in this for ourselves; we are in this for our brothers and sisters-in-arms. We are in this for the husbands, wives and parents of those who served.
And like President Lincoln once promised, we do this to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”
As it has been since our founding, citizens of this great nation know that when America calls, American Legionnaires will continue to say ‘At your service!”
The American Legion will always be an organization of principles, not politics.
God Bless you and God Bless America!