Our flags are flying and our pride for our nation continues in the Deep South, where we often talk about how those before us fought, and some died, for our freedoms. The simple truth is, we appreciate those sacrifices, but our involvement in supporting veterans in Alabama should reflect that appreciation.

Among the many veterans’ programs in the state, some of the American Legion posts in Alabama have seen some challenges over the years in recruiting and fundraising. Especially among young veterans, the interest of participating in the Legion and other programs isn’t the most enthusiastic, according to post leaders.

The purpose of the Legion is to assist veterans and their families to ensure they gain all benefits available to them. The Legion has also taken issues to lawmakers for policy change. Leaders articulate legislative goals to Congress, veteran groups and defense entities.

Membership Chairman Buddy Keen, with the American Legion Department of Alabama, said focusing on what the Legion can do for each veteran is key when it comes to gaining new members.

“We’re always striving to gain new members, like any organization should be,” said Keen. “A lot of it is about the individual themselves and showing them the importance of what needs to be done and what we can do for them.”

As a member of the American Legion Michael W. Hosey Post 205’s Women’s Auxiliary, I have spoken with many veterans that yearn for younger membership. After coming home from fighting overseas in places like Europe, Asia, and Vietnam, they know and appreciate the differences the Legion has made for them, and they don’t want to see those who have been involved in the War on Terror left out of the equation.

The America Legion has taken action where action is needed on nationwide issues including veteran suicide, healthcare, homelessness, national defense, commitment to allies, and many more. The American Legion Department of Alabama has also teamed up with the VA to assist veterans right in our backyard. But with an aging membership, what will the passing of those involved mean for young veterans in the years to come?

Oftentimes, the reason younger veterans decide to not get involved in programs is pride. Perhaps they think, “Hey, I’m strong and I can handle things on my own. I don’t need a support group.” Although the Legion can help connect those in need to support programs, the Legion has a much broader purpose. Sadly, without continued membership increases, the impact of what the Legion can do will decrease.

Some young veterans believe veteran support programs offer a negative influence. They say things like, “I don’t want to hang out at a bar with vets taking hold of the bottle.” My grandfather was one of those. He loved his beer but didn’t talk details when it came to what he did during his time in the United States Air Force. Fortunately, he took advantage of some benefits afforded to him. Benefits that were his and his alone. Benefits he paid the price for.

There is a need for all veterans. We must do more than sport a United States flag in our front yard. We must do more than go to a parade and cheer on our nation's heroes. While those celebrations are great, those who have not served have the opportunity to serve now. Volunteer for a local veterans organization. Sometimes, a simple conversation can make all of the difference for a veteran in need.

Whether they went to war or not, our veterans need and deserve respect, support, and love.

As the managing editor for 1819 News, it is aspects of everyday life, just like this, that I want to focus on. Internal events of organizations that are working feverishly to make a difference in the lives of people in our state. Things that matter to the people of Alabama. Things Alabamians value and need to know about. 

God Bless America!

Erica Thomas is Managing Editor of 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com