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For Country and Community: Local veterans organizations provide a place to gather, find support

Here’s a little Veterans Day quiz for you; your answer choices are The American Legion, The Veterans of Foreign Wars or AMVETS:

• Which veterans organization was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration? 

• Which veterans organization played a critical role in establishing what would become known as the “GI Bill of Rights?” 

• Which veterans organization was founded in Kansas City, Missouri, six months prior to the end of World War II?

• Which veterans organization continues to contribute to the success of America’s national pastime?

• Which veterans organization is the oldest?

According to its website, the Veterans of Foreign Wars “was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, developing the national cemetery system and in fighting for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.”

On Dec. 15, 1943, the then National Commander of the American Legion Harry W. Colmery wrote the first draft of what would later become the “GI Bill of Rights” – considered the Legion’s single greatest legislative achievement. 

On Dec. 10, 1944, 18 servicemen, representing nine veterans clubs, met in Kansas City, Missouri, and founded The American Veterans of World War II (AMVETS).

On July 17, 1925, the American Legion Baseball program was created. Today, more than 50% of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. About 82,000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams each year, according to the organization.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service, making it the oldest veterans organization.  

Today, all three of these organizations continue to serve both veterans and the communities in which they are located. 

American Legion 313 riders
The Legion Riders of Post 313 rise across the U.S. paying respects to veterans and soldiers. (Source: Facebook)

“We welcome all veterans to the post, but to be a member of the VFW you have to have served a certain amount of time in a conflict area, in a theater of war or hostile actions. Usually, you’ll have a service ribbon that qualifies you, such as a southeast Asia, Vietnam service medal,” explained John Roth, quartermaster for VFW Post 5077, located at 8500 Veterans Memorial Parkway in O’Fallon. 

“We offer to veterans a place where they can come and be with other veterans. We also try to get out in the community and serve the community with food drives, by participating in all the holiday parades. Around Memorial Day, we try to take care of the veterans headstones and graves in local cemeteries. Anything that veterans or the community really needs help with.”

Once a year, Roth said members of the VFW head to Washington, D.C., to fight for legislation to help veterans who are still fighting the effects of Agent Orange and those with post-traumatic stress. One area of special concern is helping to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans, he noted. 

Another asset to the community, available at American Legion, VFW and AMVETS posts are dinners and special events that run the gamut from fish fries, barbecues and fried chicken dinner to a variety of fundraisers such as trivia nights, mouse races and more. Most benefit the programs of the post but some also aid the community.  

The mission of the American Legion is “to mentor youth and sponsor wholesome community programs, advocate patriotism and honor, promote strong national security, and pursue continued devotion to its fellow servicemembers and veterans.” With an emphasis on youth and wholesome community programs, it is not surprising that American Legion Baseball is one of the nation’s most successful amateur athletic programs, educating young people about the importance of sportsmanship, citizenship and fitness. 

The American Legion also offers a host of service opportunities for veterans from flag retirement ceremonies to honor guards to the Legion Riders. 

Since its founding in Michigan in 1993, the Legion Riders has grown to include over 110,000 members in more than 2,000 chapters. Legion Riders are known for their charitable work, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s hospitals, schools, veterans homes, wounded servicemembers and scholarships. 

The youngest of the three veterans organizations, AMVETS is open to “all who honorably served in the United States military, including the Reserve and Guard,” according to the organization’s website.  It’s mission is “to enhance and safeguard the entitlements for all American Veterans who have served honorably and to improve the quality of life for them, their families, and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy and services.”

Roth has some parting advice, especially for veterans: “We’re there for the community and veterans. Any day of the week, any time of day, all they have to do is call us and we’ll try to do anything we can in our powers to help them out.”

American Legion Post 313
200 Main St., St. Peters
(636) 577-7587

American Legion Post 312
2500 Raymond Drive, St. Charles
(636) 947-7666

VFW Post 5077
8500 Veterans Memorial Parkway, O’Fallon
(636) 272-1945

American Legion Post 388
607 Westridge Drive, O’Fallon
(636) 219-0553

VFW Post 2866
66 VFW Lane, St. Charles
(636) 724-9612
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