In southern California, a Vietnam War veteran who knows firsthand the cruel realities of homelessness now leads one of the nation's most dynamic efforts to help severely wounded troops find their way home from war, sometimes with missing limbs, mental illness or broken families.
In a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Chinese-American veteran from New York City closely monitors legal proceedings to assure that detainees from the war on terror are given fair opportunities to plead their cases.
In a college corridor in Maine, a patriotic veteran stands with his arms folded and stops students from walking across a U.S. Flag laid out on the floor. He is threatened with arrest before the so-called "art" project is removed.
A group of veterans in Alabama takes an annual motorcycle ride to a summer camp for children with cancer. Terminally ill youngsters thrill to the rumble of the big bikes. They try on helmets. They twist the throttles. The veterans drop off a check for $10,000 before heading out.
These are some extraordinary veterans.
They are also members of The American Legion.
And their stories can be multiplied thousands of times over, across the nation and around the world. They abide by the preamble of a constitution nearly 90 years ago, words that are held aloft
on four main pillars of service and advocacy:
Veterans Affairs & RehabilitationNational SecurityAmericanismChildren & Youth
Last spring, I asked our National Headquarters staff to prepare a "white-paper" report to provide information for the leading presidential candidates this year. Its intent was to spell out The American Legion's positions on VA health care, veterans benefits claims, the GI Bill, jobs and business opportunities, adjustment assistance for wounded warriors returning home, and other important issues taken up by our Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission. These are, indeed, major aspects of what we do.
But that's not all we do. And so, the report needed to be expanded.
The new commander in chief also needs to understand The American Legion's ongoing commitment to success in the global war on terrorism - that we support the troops and their mission.
The candidates need to know that The American Legion opposes illegal immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens, but fully supports opportunities for legal immigration. The candidates need to know that a full accounting of our POW/MIAs is a sacred priority, as is a decent quality of life for military personnel and their families. The candidates need to know that the strength of American Legion conviction on issues we include within the pillar known as National Security.
No candidate should ever question our patriotism. Upon the pillar of Americanism, this organization promotes obedience to law and order, and respect for the U.S. Flag. The American Legion builds enthusiasm for public service among young people through such programs as Boys Nation and the National Oratorical Contest. We will never abandon Boy Scouts of America as it fights disingenuous lawsuits filed by profit-minded legal organizations. We believe God deserves a place in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America, and in the town square, too.
The roots of the fourth pillar - Children & Youth - reach back to the combat-weary doughboys who founded The American Legion. They survived trench warfare, machine-gun firefights, mid-air dogfights and mustard gas. When they called their first caucus at Paris in 1919, they focused not on themselves but on the children and youth of America. They knew that children were made orphans by the war, and that many had little chance to succeed without help. The slogan they coined resonates today: "A Square Deal for Every Child." Millions of dollars have since been raised and innumerable hours have been volunteered by Legionnaires, in order to help children who are sick or in need, or simply looking for opportunities to achieve their goals. The American Legion has advocated on their behalf, fighting against such social ills as child pornography, teen suicide, drug abuse and violence at home.
The American Legion, with 2.7 million members and more than 14,000 posts, has flourished since 1919 because of these pillars, these values. The pillars are us, and we are them. As you read the following pages, take pride. You are among millions of extraordinary veterans who call themselves Legionnaires, past, present and future. And it is our duty to keep strengthening the pillars.