Bringing the Legion Family 'back together'
(American Legion Auxiliary photo)

Bringing the Legion Family 'back together'

As American Legion national commander during 2017-2018, Denise Rohan traveled all over the nation visiting American Legion posts. And at many of her stops she heard from female Legionnaires married to non-veterans that there was no place for their spouses in the American Legion Family.

That's no longer the case. During the recent American Legion’s 101st National Convention, delegates approved changes to the Constitution and Bylaws to replace the word “wife” with “spouse,” related to the membership criteria for the American Legion Auxiliary .

In August, Denise – a member of American Legion Post 385 and Auxiliary Unit 385 in Verona, Wis. - watched as her fellow U.S. Army veteran husband Mike became a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. Mike received his membership card onstage during the American Legion Auxiliary’s 99th National Convention in Indianapolis, joining American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Director Chanin Nuntavong as the first two male spouses to join the Auxiliary.

“With a (national commander’s) theme of ‘Family First,’ and having the male spouses and having no place for them was really difficult to try to explain across the nation,” said Denise, who served as a member of a Legion ad-hoc committee that in 2011 was tasked with evaluating the male spouse issue. “So many of those male spouses … who want to help but didn’t feel like they really belonged … this is really a way of bringing the entire (Legion Family) back together.

“Now that we do have an answer … I’m really happy that Mike joined to get the ball rolling, kick it off and say ‘finally there’s a place for our male spouses.”

Mike, who also is a PUFL member of Post 385 and serves as chairman of The American Legion Marketing Commission, said joining the Auxiliary is “a way of honoring the service of Denise,” Mike said. “She served in the United States Army, and she served as national commander as both a Paid-Up-For-Life Legion member and a Paid-Up-For-Life Auxiliary member. So me joining … it was just a way to honor Denise.”

Mike said opening up Auxiliary eligibility to spouses is an opportunity “that draws us closer together and allows us to speak with one voice as a family. What I can do is promote the American Legion Auxiliary as a male spouse of a servicemember and encourage (others) to find their place in the American Legion Auxiliary.

“In my own mind I’m thinking that place doesn’t exist yet. It hasn’t been created yet. We don’t have to rush to be the leaders of the American Legion Auxiliary, but there is a place for us there. The male spouses have to figure that out in consultation with the Auxiliary (at the unit level).”

Pointing out there are several all-woman American Legion posts across the country, Denise said those posts also will benefit from the change. “They’ve been able to have (Auxiliary units) as far as mothers and their daughters go,” she said. “But those all-female posts out there are now able to have the Auxiliary with their (spouses) in them.”

Also joining the Auxiliary as soon as he was able was Maine Legionnaire Amedeo Lauria, who signed up Sept. 1. A 30-year veteran of the U.S Army and reserves – where he met his wife and current Harry James Conway Post 135 member Susan – Amedeo hoped to let more people about the change in eligibility for the Auxiliary.

“It’s good that we support reach other,” said Amedeo, a 20-year Legionnaire and former Department of Maine service office. “I did it mostly to get some awareness to the fact it’s changed. For me specifically … it’s not the ladies Auxiliary. It’s the Auxiliary.”

Amedeo said when he first joined The American Legion he wasn’t as active, mainly attending events and donating items. “I didn’t even own a hat, really, because I was focused on earning a living and being a member of the military,” he said. “When I retired … I went to the post (and became more active). And it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy the Legion Family. It’s just a great, positive group of people to be associated with.

“So when the opportunity came to be a member of the Auxiliary, I figured what better way than for somebody who’s a Legionnaire to get the word out. There are spouses of veterans who have no other way to become a member of the Legion (Family), except through this process. Hopefully we see some interest in joining the Auxiliary.”

Amedeo said Maine’s American Legion Auxiliary is “very strong. One of the ladies from our post, Joan Caron, was recently state president for the Auxiliary. She had a great year. She donated $24,000 worth of wheelchairs to the Togus (VA Medical Center). You can see the stuff they do. They just do great things.”