American Legion Post 15 in Sioux Falls, S.D., has been reaching out to every single member who renewed in 2021 and 2022 but have not yet for 2023. That’s over 1,700 non-renewals. The effort is being done through Post 15’s membership committee of 100 members who are making phone calls, sending emails and mailing letters.
In a recent letter sent to all 2022 non-renewals, “the first item of business was ‘How are you?’ to let them know we are doing Buddy Checks for all we have not heard from in sometime,” said Susan Peters, Auxiliary Unit 15 member and Post 15 office manager. “We have received information back about veterans who have died or have been moved into nursing homes because of deteriorating health. We offer our condolences or ask if we can assist the family of the veteran in any way. We also add the deceased veteran names to our Post Everlasting service we hold each spring.
“Then we are fortunate to also have some renew. They simply forgot or are confused because of how the renewal dates are set (July 1, 2022, for the year 2023). We are thankful for those we are able to renew.”
Upon renewal, contact updates are made for the member, they are placed on the newsletter distribution list and receive dates of upcoming events like Post 15’s monthly pancake breakfast and Legion Family social gathering. A photo of the member is also taken and a welcome from post officers.
“Some veterans have decided for one reason or another not to renew,” Susan said. “We accept their decision and let them know they are welcome at any time. We share that the national commander is standing for veterans and the benefits they receive with the newest being the signing of the PACT Act. We have surpassed our (membership) goal in 2021 and 2022. Praying we can for 2023 also.”
One member who renewed responded with a letter to Post 15 Commander Bill Peters, husband of Susan. The letter reaffirms “why we do what we do at all levels of The American Legion,” wrote past post commander John Bachmeier on Post 15’s Facebook page, where he shared the following letter.
“Thank you for reaching out to me and the nice reminder to renew my membership. I renewed online. My family and I are doing well; healthy and we have everything we need. Your letter kind of struck a nerve with me. I served in the Army from 1971 to 1973 as an MP. Since I had a low lottery number and no money to continue in college, I volunteered for the draft since that was the quickest way to do my time and qualify for the GI Bill. Unlike so many veterans, the thought of serving my country really didn’t occur to me. By 1972 the Vietnam War was winding down and I got sent to Germany and then to Ft. Knox. Had some wonderful experiences in Germany. Went to the Olympics and traveled throughout Bavaria. I got invited on trips because I spoke a little German.
“I got out three months early since I had enrolled in school and agreed to serve a year in the active reserve. So, for a little more than two years' time commitment and not encountering any combat, I had full veteran benefits. The most valuable was the GI Bill. After I got out, the CO of the reserve unit I joined was the county district attorney and he helped me get a job with the local sheriff’s office as a radio dispatcher. A full-time job, with benefits, that allowed me to go to school full-time. Between that job and the GI Bill, I paid for all my expenses, and then some and got married too. After a couple years, I got a job with a CPA firm and bought my first house with a VHA loan. That was my first house and when I sold it, it was the first time I had any real money. Not that much, but it seemed like it at the time. Roll forward 47 years and I have been so lucky to have had a career that I enjoy and a great family that now includes two grandchildren.
“The reason I relate this to you is that I now realize what a great experience I had and how many benefits I received for the very little time and sacrifice I made while in the Army. Your letter spurred me to take some action to find a way to give back and find a way to help veteran organizations and veterans. I’ve never gotten involved in the Legion. I joined because I was running a company that had many veterans who were amputees as clients, and I thought it would give me some insight to veteran issues. Considering what some veterans have been though, I didn’t think they would relate to me. I’m going to contact our veteran organizations here in California and find a place where I can contribute something, whatever that is.
“Thank you for your service and thanks again for contacting me.” John of Napa, Calif.