Veterans: The American Legion wants you

Lenord Little, commander of the George Morris Post of the American Legion in Oak Harbor, says the organization is in need of new members. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

It is the nation’s oldest veterans organization, and if you ask Lenord Little, it is apparently one of the best kept secrets as well.

Little is the commander of George Morris Post 129 of the American Legion in Oak Harbor. Like many organizations these days, they are in need of “new blood,” as he puts it.

“We have 410 members,” he said. “We used to have two times that.”

Of that membership, only a small portion is active.

Little said the decline has come within the last 10 years.

One of the culprits, he thinks, is technology.

“People want to be at home, chatting on their computer or texting on their phone,” he said.

Another problem is an aging membership.

“We have a lot of older members who just can’t get out to the meetings,” said Little.

Identity Crisis
Perhaps one of the biggest issues could best be described as an identity crisis.

According to Little, a lot of people have no concept of what the American Legion does.

“The American Legion as a whole supports veterans of all forces. It’s part of our creed,” Little said. “And we try to give back to the city as much as possible.”

American Legion Post 129 Commander, Lenord Little, points out the names on one of the post’s original charter documents. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Little cited several things the local post does in addition to helping veterans gain access to their benefits, such as providing military honors at funerals, building a ramp for a disabled veteran, or providing a flag to a local cemetery.

The local post is also very involved with the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oak Harbor High School, providing one scholarship and donating money annually to the group’s rifle team.

As a whole, the American Legion has done a lot across the region and across the country, said Little. For instance, anyone who travels across Deception Pass Bridge can give a nod to the American Legion.

The group helped form the Deception Pass Bridge Association, which in turn helped get the 1929 Bridge Bill passed, paving the way for its eventual construction.

And in 1944, the American Legion led an intense campaign in newspapers, movie theaters and on the radio in support of the G.I. Bill.

It was members of the American Legion who tracked down Rep. John Gibson, who was recuperating from an illness in Georgia, and got him to Washington,

D.C. in time for a critical vote on the measure.

“I’ve actually had people ask me ‘what has the American Legion done for me?’,” said Little. “I tell them, ‘You have retirement benefits? You have medical benefits? Have you heard of a little thing called the G.I. Bill?’ That’s what the American Legion has done.”

While the American Legion has been known to lobby for veterans rights, Little said the organization doesn’t take sides, except to stand up for veterans’ rights.

“We don’t care about politics,” he said. “We take no stand. We just want to get the job done. That’s what we’re here for.”

The Oak Harbor American Legion George Morris Post is located in what was the Stroops’ Garage, at the corner of Barrington and Dock streets. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Little is passionate about the role veterans should play in the American Legion.

He is a relative newcomer to the group, having been a member for 14 years.

He served 20 years in the Navy, where he was an Ocean Systems Technician.

He’s been the post commander in Oak Harbor for the past six years, saying he’s either doing something “intensely right, or they just don’t want the job.”

He encourages anyone who has been a member of the military, even if just for a day, to consider joining the American Legion.

“If you have served, you are a veteran, and you are welcome with open arms,” he said. “If you are a veteran, you should be a member of the American Legion.”

Little sees his time in the American Legion as a way of giving thanks for the benefits he gained through his military service. But he describes the rewards of being part of the Legion as an even bigger benefit.

“I know if I have a problem I can sit down with anyone here and talk about it,” he said. “And I know the person I’m talking to understands, because they’ve been in that place. That’s where the strength of the American Legion family comes into it. We’re here to help and the serving isn’t over yet.”

Donate your war memorabilia
The George Morris Post 129 of the American Legion is seeking donations of war memorabilia. The post is hoping to collect items and artifacts from area residents to be put on display in a new cabinet at the organization’s building in Oak Harbor.

Anyone interested in donating items can contact the American Legion at 675-2411.