Its rapidly aging members are blue, too, as they contemplate the declining fortunes of the veterans association. It was founded by World War I veterans in France and chartered by Congress in 1919, but as its centennial approaches, the American Legion’s future is uncertain.
“Membership is going away,” said Gary Lucus, a member of the American Legion Hughes-Pittinger Post 26 in Powell. “We don’t have a lot of younger guys. That’s the problem. I think it’s going to go away.”
That’s the case nationally, as membership has declined from 3.1 million in the mid-1990s to 2.4 million and dropping now.
Adjutant Pat Miller, 69, a past commander of both the local post and District 4 in Wyoming, is a mainstay at the local post and during its activities.
Miller, an Oil City, Pennsylvania, native, met her husband Dick, a Cody native and Powell High School graduate, when they served in the Air Force in the mid-1960s. The couple will mark their 50th anniversary this fall, and spending time at the Legion, and serving the club and its members, has long been a passion for Pat.
She isn’t ready to sound “Taps” for the organization just yet.
“There’s been a lot of rumors about that. I don’t see that happening, really,” Miller said. “What the Legion is trying to do now is - a lot of the policies and practices are changing. We need to reach out to younger people.
“What they used to do isn’t working anymore, and we have to change with the times,” she said. “We need to involve their kids. That’s what they want.”
For decades, World War II veterans were Legion linchpins. Sixteen million Americans wore uniforms during that global conflict, and many of them joined their local Legion post. But there are only a little more than 1 million WWII veterans still alive, and according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 640 die every day.
His wife, Peggy, is active in the Legion Auxiliary, which has long been a key part of the nonprofit organization. It sponsors Girls State and Girls Nation events.
It sponsors Boys State and Nation, American Legion baseball, oratory contests and high school rodeo. It lobbies for veterans as well as serving as a wellspring of patriotism in local communities, including serving as the honor guard at veterans’ funerals.
“There are so many programs that people are not even aware of,” Miller said.
The bar is a consistent money-maker, and while the post does not serve meals on a regular basis, that may change, she said. It does hold events where people dine, drink and dance, and the hall also can be rented.