A visit to Albert Lea

Published 10:59 pm Monday, February 17, 2020

National American Legion commander visits Leo Carey Post 56

 

The American Legion may be more than 100 years old, but it is as vital and relevant as it was 100 years ago, the national Legion commander told a crowd Monday night at Albert Lea American Legion Post 56.

James W. “Bill” Oxford, who is traveling through southern Minnesota this week, encouraged people in attendance to help recruit new members to the longtime organization, which has nearly 13,000 posts across the nation and overseas.

“We hold the future of this organization,” Oxford said. “We are the stakeholders.”

He said the organization was founded on four pillars: a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism and youth programs.

Regarding youth programs, he said in the last year the American Legion had supported 55,000 baseball players on the field; 18,000 Boys State delegates across the country; 14,000 Girls State delegates; and an untold number of ROTC cadets.

“Those are the future leaders of this country,” he said.

As the organization moves into the next 100 years, he said it is important to show how Legionnaires are involved in the community and the impact they can have through various programs.

At its all-time high, the American Legion had 3.3 million members in the 1940s, and last year had less than 1.8 million. He said the American Legion is losing about 80,000 members a year — losing more each year than it is recruiting.

He acknowledged the LEGION Act, which was signed into law in 2019, expanding eligibility into the Legion to include veterans who served in U.S. military conflicts previously unrecognized by Congress as war eras, but said members also have to reactivate the members they have now.

Oxford also talked briefly about veteran suicides.

He said of the about 22 veterans who are committing suicide each day, only six of those are enrolled in mental health services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said people must reach out to families, neighbors and others in the community and raise awareness of the issue and encourage people to say something if they see someone who is struggling.

“We are all responsible for our brothers,” he said. “We are our brothers’ keepers.”

Oxford, a native of Lenoir, North Carolina, was elected national commander in August 2019 in Indianapolis. He has been a part of the veterans organization since 1986 and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the North Carolina National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve, retiring as colonel after more than 34 years of military service.

Albert Lea Post 56 Cmdr. Jeff Olson thanked Oxford for visiting Albert Lea.

“This means wonders to our post that you came here,” Olson said.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. presented Oxford with a city of Albert Lea pin and keychain.

Oxford also visited the Adams and Waseca American Legion posts on Monday and was expected to visit the Wells, Madelia and Redwood Falls posts on Tuesday.