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Paynesville Press - March 23, 2005

Legion offering free memberships

By MIchael Jacobson and Bonnie Jo Hanson

In an effort to boost its aging membership, Paynesville American Legion Post #271 is offering free first-year memberships to entice new members to join.

Anyone who joined the military in the past two years or who is presently serving in the armed forces can have their first year of dues ($21) paid for by the local post. This membership offer will be available until June 1, 2005.

American Legion Color Guard The Paynesville American Legion currently has 268 members, but a vast majority (almost 90 percent) served during World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War. WWII vets are now at least 75, Korean vets at least nearing 70, and Vietnam vets at least nearing 50.

"We need some younger people," said Art Anderson, a WWII veteran and a 44-year Legion member. "The older ones are dying out."

Due to its aging membership - 45 percent of its members served during World War II or the Korean War and another 43 percent served during the Vietnam War - the Paynesville American Legion is offering to pay the first year of membership dues to current armed forces personnel.

Membership in the Paynesville American Legion, according to post records, is broken into the following eras: 48 members from World War II, 18 percent; 73 from the Korean War, 27 percent; 116 from the Vietnam War, 43 percent; nine from the 1980s (Lebanon, Grenada, or Panama), 3.3 percent; five from the Gulf Wars, 1.9 percent; and 12 whose war era could not be identified, 4.5 percent.

To be eligible for Legion membership, armed forces members must have served on active duty - not necessarily in combat - during one of the following eras: World War I (April 1917 to November 1918); World War II (December 1941 to December 1946); the Korean War (June 1950 to January 1955); the Vietnam War (February 1961 to May 1975); Lebanon or Grenada (August 1982 to July 1984); Panama (December 1989 to January 1990); or the Persian Gulf (August 1990 to present).

During the 15-year period from 1975 to 1990, American Legion membership was limited to just over two years of service, two years from August 1982 to July 1984 for Lebanon and Grenada and just over a month in 1989/1990 for Panama.

Now, though, eligibility for Legion membership has extended for nearly 15 years, since the start of the first Gulf War in 1990. At 14 years and seven months, the Gulf War has now surpassed the Vietnam War (14 years, three months) as the longest eligiblity period for American Legion membership.

Paynesville American Legion Post #271 has 116 members from the Vietnam War era and only five from the Persian Gulf era.

The American Legion - the largest veterans' organization in the country - dates back to 1919, when it was formed on the heels of World War I.

The national organization has three million members in 15,000 posts nationwide, with a full-time staff of 300. It lobbies for veterans, offers insurance plans, and, according to the preamble to its consitution, has the following purposes: "to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the great wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state, and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and goodwill on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness."

The Paynesville post was also formed in 1919, with 28 original members. It provides military rites at funerals, provides color guards at community events, gives scholarships, lends medical equipment, and donates to various civic causes.

For more information about the local post or about the current membership drive, contact commander Larry Alstead (320-243-3853), committee chairman Dave Brinkman (320-243-4296), or membership chairman Pete Hoppe (320-243-4207).

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