Each November, members of American Legion Col. Benson Hough Post 457 host an annual dinner meeting, and this year four special guests were in attendance at the Big Walnut Grill.
Serving as the evening’s keynote speaker was Ohio American Legion Commander James Campbell. Also present were Legion District 6 Commander Bart Arndt, District 6 American Legion Auxiliary President Barb Arndt, and Ohio American Legion Sgt. at Arms Gary Petrochello.
In his address, Campbell said the two issues the American Legion faces today are the number of Legionnaires who let their membership lapse, and the well-publicized problems veterans are having when they seek services from the Veterans Administration.
“I want to assure you the American Legion was in the forefront of acting on problems at the Veterans Administration,” Campbell said. “It was the American Legion that said, ‘It’s broke, that this needs to be fixed.’
“Since 1919 the American Legion has been taking care of veterans,” Campbell continued. “Those of us who came back from Vietnam, we said never again. The American Legion is not a bar; we’re somebody fighting for veterans every day. Our 9/11 vets today understand our commitment to them.”
Part of the problem is the shrinking membership in American Legion posts, Campbell said. Last year in Ohio, 2,500 Legionnaires did not renew their membership.
Campbell said the average age of an American Legion member is 35 to 55 years old. He said younger vets in their 20s, freshly discharged, have a lot of other concerns and are not joining service organizations like the American Legion.
“They have a lot on their plate, but they will come, (and) we must be ready,” Campbell said. “We need to recognize that today, tonight, tomorrow, it’s our responsibility to carry this on. We are Legionnaires. Be proud of who you are because they will follow you. We must leave those who come after us the tools to carry on.”
During an awards ceremony, Terry Dillon, Command Sgt. Maj., U.S. Army, retired, was named Post 457 Legionnaire of the Year.
U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Post 457 finance officer Earl Redmond received the Commanders Award from Post Commander Roy Terry.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093