Every year I am asked to write a welcome letter to attendees of The American Legion National Convention. The letter appears in the annual national convention guide that is distributed to Legionnaires visiting the convention host city that year.
I originally wrote this specifically for this year's national convention guide, but I feel like every Legionnaire – not just those coming to Indianapolis – are deserving of the praise and thanks I hope this letter conveyed.
Sometimes there is a misconception that The American Legion's work is done at 700 N. Pennsylvania Street and 5745 Lee Road in Indianapolis, and 1608 K Street in Washington. While these may be the mailing addresses for official Legion business, the buildings do not house the heart and soul of this organization.
You are the heart and soul of The American Legion. You, the volunteers who put your energy and talent to work serving your fellow veterans. You, who sacrifice your time with friends and family to lead and participate in programs that benefit our nation's youth. You, who decide that it's more important to organize welcome-home celebrations for returning troops than it is to sit on the couch watching golf on the weekend.
This is your American Legion. There is no organization without you, the millions of members across the country working at the post, district and department levels. What we do here in Indianapolis or the nation's capital tends to get the spotlight, but it cannot eclipse the amazing work done by volunteers like you every day.
You're the ones who donate more than 1 million hours volunteering in Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities throughout the country. You're the ones who accompany American Legion staff on System Worth Saving site visits to ensure that your fellow veterans are receiving the best possible health care.
You raise funds at your posts to sponsor American Legion Baseball teams and Boy Scout troops. You do the same to support your Boys State and Junior Shooting Sports programs.
Those of you who are part of the American Legion Riders regularly take to the roads to raise money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund; some of you just finished up this year's Legacy Run Home, adding to the more than $2.7 million the six previous Legacy Runs have raised.
You, the Legionnaire, know what it's like to be away from your family for long periods of time while deployed. That's why you send thousands of care packages to U.S. servicemembers stationed overseas. That's why you make sure the families left behind have someone to turn to when they need support, financial or otherwise. And that's why when those servicemembers return home, you're there to welcome them with open arms, assuring them that their sacrifices are indeed appreciated.
This is your American Legion, and the work you do testifies to your sense of pride and ownership of it. I thank you for that, and I applaud you for it. Now I ask that you applaud yourselves.
I also ask that while you are in Indianapolis for the national convention you visit The American Legion National Headquarters. Take a tour of the facility. Enjoy discovering some of the colorful history of the Legion, including our role in the creation of the original GI Bill of Rights. We'll be happy to show you around. After all, it is your National Headquarters.
Just as this is your American Legion.