(BPT) — Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is a time to honor veterans — and this year, to mark important milestones for the holiday and for service to these American heroes.
A century ago, on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the nation asking Americans to reflect on World War I and to “be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory.” Seven years later, an Act of Congress made “Armistice Day” an official U.S. holiday dedicated to peace. In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks began a personal campaign to expand the meaning of Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led the first national celebration of veterans in 1947 and just eight years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a new law establishing Veterans Day.
As we pause this Veterans Day to remember those who protected our nation’s freedom, and those still serving today, the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) also celebrates its 100th anniversary.
After a century of service to veterans and their families, this year the ALA is evolving in ways that will allow it to help more veterans and military families.
The ALA was founded Nov. 10, 1919, as an affiliate of the American Legion, and historically has been composed of women associated with male service members. The face of the U.S. military is changing, though, and the ALA is changing with it. Women now make up 14.4 percent of the active-duty force, according to America’s Promise Alliance. so the Auxiliary has changed its bylaws to allow male spouses of veterans to join the organization.
One of the first male spouses to join the Auxiliary was Chanin Nuntavong. “I’m proud of my wife’s active-duty service in the U.S. Marine Corps. I can think of no better way to recognize her military service than to join a membership-based organization (for) spouses of servicemembers and honorable discharged veterans,” said Nuntavong. “I hope to dispel any negative stereotypes about being a male military spouse.” Nuntavong is also a member of the American Legion and is retired from the U.S. Marine Corps.
The ALA’s mission remains the same after a century of service: to advocate for veterans and military issues and provide services to help support them and their families. Initiatives and volunteer opportunities to help:
• Poppy Sales: ALA members distribute poppies in exchange for donations across the country, with proceeds going to disabled and hospitalized veterans.
• Christmas Gift Shops: Auxiliary volunteers collect and provide items that hospitalized veterans can give as Christmas gifts.
• National Veterans Creative Arts Festival: Co-presented by the ALA and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this annual event invites veterans to participate in visual and performing arts, including creative writing, music and dance, drama, painting, sculpting and drawing.
• Stand Downs: Named for the military term meaning a period of rest and recovery for a combat unit during war, stand downs provide food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, haircuts and job counseling for homeless veterans.
• Welcome-homes and Send-offs: These events offer benefits counseling, employment assistance, education support and information about community service providers for returning service members.
The auxiliary also works with the American Legion’s Legislative Division in Washington, D.C., to support legislation that addresses veteran interests, including benefits, national security and children of military.
One piece of legislation signed into law this year expands benefits to more veterans. The Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act, or LEGION Act, declares that the United States has been in a state of war since the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It means that approximately 6 million veterans who served in previously undeclared times of war now are eligible for benefits. It also means their service and sacrifice can be recognized with support from the American Legion Auxiliary.
(For more information to volunteer, join and donate, visit https://www.alaforveterans.org/.)