The American Legion needs to reach out to new groups of veterans to maintain its membership numbers, the national commander told a Lawrence audience Thursday.
With the continuing loss of World War II veterans, the American Legion needs to work to maintain its size, the group's national commander said Thursday at Lawrence American Legion Post 14.
"Today we are going to lose 1,000 World War II vets," Harold L. "Butch" Miller told an audience of about 50. "The same thing happened yesterday. The same thing is going to happen tomorrow."
Although World War II veterans amount to the largest group of United States veterans, the Legion can maintain its membership level by recruiting other veterans, Miller said. Twenty million veterans qualify to be members of the American Legion.
Miller was in Lawrence as part of a tour of 20 Kansas American Legion posts that will extend through Sunday.
The American Legion, the country's largest veterans group, boasts 2.9 million members, down from about 3 million five years ago. To belong, members must have served honorably in the United States Armed Forces during times of combat as determined by Congress.
One man asked Miller why the American Legion didn't extend membership to veterans of the Cold War to boost enrollment.
Miller, 52, said that would be done if the current Legion members wanted it.
But he said such a move would compromise the tax-exempt status of the group, which could cause some of the smaller posts to sacrifice their buildings.
"Realistically, it will not happen," Miller said later. "The bottom line is (combat veterans) are no better than any other veterans. We are just different. We have to be proud of it."
In Lawrence, American Legion membership has been about 760 during the last few years, said Leo Langlois, local commander.
But even here, an aging pool of veterans is an issue.
"We check the obituaries every morning to see how many have died," Langlois said. "We need to replace those guys."
The group has some members who served during the Vietnam War, Langlois said, but "we'd like to have more."
Miller served in the Army from 1966 to 1974, including service in Vietnam, and said his peers are now starting to take over the senior positions within the American Legion.
"It took a while for the Vietnam veterans to get involved," he said.
After leaving the Army, Miller, a Minnesota native, worked for more than 20 years in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He currently lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
In addition to boosting enrollment, Miller hopes to help pass a Constitutional amendment protecting the U.S. flag and enact legislation that would make the Department of Veterans Affairs a health-care provider that could extend benefits to all veterans and their families.
-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is email@example.com.