Thousands of veterans previous ineligible for American Legion membership can now join under an act approved by the U.S. Congress last month.
The LEGION Act, signed by President Donald Trump on July 30, declares any individual who served in the U.S. armed forces any time after Dec. 7, 1941, and was honorably discharged, separated from service, or continues to serve honorably is eligible for American Legion membership.
Service members previously were eligible for membership only if they served during particular periods of war, said Steve Julkowski, the adjutant with the Savage American Legion Dan Patch Post 643.
Nile Plapp, an Air Force Vietnam veteran and the Savage Post Commander, said he hopes the change will draw younger members who’ll help strengthen the future of the organization, which provides support to veterans and gives back to the community each year in scholarships and other donations.
The American Legion started as an organization to support veterans of World War I back when many believed there’d never be another war. Congress declared April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, the window of eligibility for members.
World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and so on each brought new windows of eligibility, but those serving outside of those time frames were ineligible to become members.
“Their service was just as honorable as mine,” said Julkowski, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
The change declares Dec. 7, 1941, the beginning of an ongoing state of war, combining the five windows of eligibility after World War II into one continuous period.
The change also honors the estimated 1,600 service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war, according the United States American Legion.
“Recognizing the service of these wartime veterans is the right thing do and it is long overdue,” National Commander Brett Reistad said in a news release.
“The families of those who were killed or wounded during these wartime acts should take pride in knowing that we recognize their sacrifice and service. Moreover, we are proud to welcome any of the six million living veterans from the previously unrecognized periods into our organization and call them ‘Legionnaires.’”
Reistad also thanked Republican and Democratic lawmakers for supporting the legislation “in an era of partisan gridlock.” The bill passed both chambers without opposition.
In recent years, Legion Posts around the county have closed doors on their buildings due to increasing taxes and an aging customer base. Post 92 in Rochester closed its doors earlier this year, for example, according to the Post Bulletin.
But many Legion Posts around the southwest metropolitan area are busy enough to keep their doors open. Shakopee, Chanhassen and Chaska are home to other posts.
There are around 1.6 million Legion members nationwide, according to The American Legion Department of Minnesota. The Savage post, one of the few open to the general public, has roughly 350 members, Plapp said.