Commander reflects on The American Legion at 100
American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan addresses attendees of the organization's 100th National Convention in Minneapolis on Aug. 28, 2018. Photo by Schelly Stone/The American Legion

Commander reflects on The American Legion at 100

American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan did not slam the gavel on the podium to open the 100th American Legion National Convention Tuesday. There’s a reason for that, but she didn’t reveal it until late in the afternoon when she explained to thousands of veterans and their families gathered in Minneapolis.

“It has nothing to do with gender stereotypes and everything to do with our history. That gavel is the same one that was used here in 1919. And even though it is an antique, the real value from that convention was the legacy that was left for all of us.”

Rohan noted that the centennial of The American Legion “is a significant milestone that very few organizations achieve, but to gather here with the same mission – the same pillars – and the same commitment to serve as our founders did a century ago, is truly a remarkable achievement.”

After running through several of the Legion’s accomplishments during and since the 1st National Convention in Minneapolis in November 1919, she posed a question: “At 99 years old, people might understandably ask The American Legion, ‘Aren’t you tired?’

“My answer is, ‘Hell no! The best is yet to come!’”

The commander’s report to the national convention touched on VA health care, disaster relief, membership improvements and other aspects of her year as leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization.

She discussed the promise of the recently signed VA Mission Act, which streamlines VA in many ways and adopts American Legion resolution-driven initiatives into the system, including expanded benefits for veteran caregivers of the pre-9/11 era.

She expressed the Legion’s ongoing position of extreme caution on VA privatization. “While we recognize that VA is not always a practical option for all veterans, the expansion of Choice for some should not require the cutting of services for others. We believe that veterans fought for the red, white and blue, not Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They deserve real health care, not just a thank you and a voucher.”

She told her fellow Legionnaires that “you certainly didn’t get tired when you gave generously to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. I also know you won’t be too tired to continue to give to victims impacted by the hurricane in Hawaii and wildfires out West.

“The American Legion Family wasn’t too tired to help brand-new families – those welcoming infants this year with an Operation Comfort Warriors grant – appropriately awarded the week of Mother’s Day.”

She explained that effective service to others is essential for The American Legion today. “We must be present for active-duty troops and the families of those who are deployed. We shouldn’t just be there for troop send-offs and welcome-homes but when the television cameras are turned off, as well. Help the family whose loved one is deployed … by mowing a yard, shoveling snow or fixing a leaky faucet. And when our heroes come home, give them a place to go where they will feel comfortable sharing their friendship and their thoughts. Get them help if they need it. Give them something to do to make them feel like a needed member of our family. God knows, we could all use some extra hands at the post.

“We must personally engage with all of our Legionnaires so they can understand that they are all valued members of our family.”