The impact the American Legion has had on the lives of veterans – even those who don’t know that the organization exists – is unquestioned.
Since forming almost a century ago by World War I veterans who met in Paris with the goal of coming up with a structured group dedicated to furthering the rights of their brethren and preserving the camaraderie they shared in war, the American Legion has grown into the country’s largest veterans organization.
Individual groups – Manteca’s McFall-Grisham Post 249 is named after Hope McFall, Manteca’s first casualty in World War I, and Kenneth Grisham, the city’s first in World War II – are often active in the community, provide outlets for veterans looking for a place to turn and can even go so far as sponsoring, organizing and operating amateur baseball leagues. Manteca used to have one, and Lodi still does.
But it’s the organization’s legislative abilities that have impacted the lives of millions of veterans and warriors returning home.
For one, the Legion helped lay the foundation for what would ultimately become the Department of Veterans Affairs – a federal, cabinet-level operation that provides health benefits, hospital care, educational opportunities, home loans and burial benefits to those who put their service to their country before their service to themselves.
And then there was the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – more commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights or, more simply, the G.I. Bill. It was Harry Colmery, one of the group’s early national commanders, that wrote the first draft of the bill before the legislative ball really got rolling – ending the decades-old standard of kicking the can down the road for the next guy.
Manteca’s 2nd Vice Commander, J.B. Brewer, said that even though it’s a difficult task, the group is reaching out to try and draw in younger veterans that often times either don’t know about the organization or have preconceived notions about what it actually is – a group of old men that get together and trade war stories.
Slowly, Brewer said, that is changing.
“We’ve got about 100 members and 30 or 40 of them are attending monthly meetings so those are pretty good numbers,” he said. “We’re trying to get the younger guys in here but it’s hard. I know that when I got out of the Navy I didn’t know anything about the American Legion and it wasn’t until much later what I realized what they had to offer.”
The Manteca McFall-Grisham American Legion Post 249 is located at 220 E. Yosemite Ave. The group holds its monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. – a dinner, which is free for members, begins at 6 p.m. Those interested in joining can attend the meeting. The only requirement is the ability to produce a DD-214 military discharge form that shows that shows dates that coincide within a period of conflict. A $30 annual membership fee is also required.