Our country has faced many challenges in the century since The American Legion was founded. The Great Depression, World War II and 9/11 come quickly to mind as times that forever changed America. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been as unique as it is daunting.
This isn’t an enemy you can simply destroy with military superiority. It isn’t a disaster area that can be rebuilt with truckloads of supplies from our posts or grants provided by our National Emergency Fund. It is a public health threat the likes of which we have not seen since the influenza outbreak of 1918.
Social distancing, stay-at-home requirements and quarantines have led us to cancel major national gatherings and programs of The American Legion. Those decisions were difficult and easy – difficult because we know the value of these outstanding youth programs and the work that goes into planning events, and easy because we place an even greater value on the health and safety of our participants and their families.
It’s impossible to know what direction the coronavirus curve will take by the time this issue of The American Legion Magazine reaches your mailbox. The worst of the crisis may be over or still lie ahead.
However, I am confident that The American Legion will continue to be a leader in communities across the nation and around the world. In Bethlehem, Conn., Post 146 collected critical supplies such as masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes for health-care workers. In Austintown, Ohio, Post 301 provided food for 200 families. In Two Harbors, Minn., Post 109 conducted “Enhanced Buddy Checks,” including daily morale calls, shopping trips and prescription pick-ups to protect veterans who are high risk should they contract COVID-19. Whether it’s offering drive-through meals to local residents or hosting Red Cross blood drives, American Legion posts are mobilizing for America.
The coronavirus has badly damaged the U.S. economy. Unemployment has skyrocketed and businesses are struggling to survive. Nevertheless, I draw inspiration from our organization’s history, how The American Legion responded during some of America’s most difficult times. In the earliest days of the Great Depression, Post 81 in New Jersey served more than 14,000 free meals in just over a year. Posts in Memphis, Tenn., provided food, clothing and fuel to more than 12,000 people in need. Hundreds of other posts did the same.
By the time the crisis ends, this generation of Legionnaires will prove to be worthy successors to this legacy of serving America and its people.
In his 1933 inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the trials ahead. “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work,” he said. “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.”
Today, The American Legion’s response to a beleaguered and hurting America is the same as it has always been: “At your service!”