The American Legion Post in Flandreau recently held a discussion about how to become an inactive post and close down.
On Monday, Jan. 9, District 7 Commander for the South Dakota American Legion Courtney VanZanten coordinated a meeting with District 7 Vice Commander Ed Stringer and local Post Commander Curt Eng.
Post 70 leadership had contacted VanZanten about becoming inactive and she wanted to meet with local veterans to talk about the possible closure but also options for revitalization.
“I know there is an active VFW in Flandreau,” VanZanten said. “I want to reinforce the point that both organizations are needed in this community. We can provide services on both sides and keep veterans at the forefront of our community.”
Stringer emphasized how closing the American Legion Post would disconnect local veterans from connections and resources available to them.
He said with the Army National Guard 1742nd Transportation Company in town, the post has plenty of access to younger veterans who might be interested in becoming Legion members.
The main reason for closing Post 70 is membership: members uninterested in leadership roles, volunteering or attending meetings.
Finding and encouraging nonmembers to join has become a struggle as well.
One current member present at the meeting said he knows a lot of men who tried to join the American Legion in the late 70s and were turned away because they weren’t eligible. Now, those men don’t want to be a part of the organization.
Between the American Legion and the VFW, each post has different requirements for veterans who can become members.
“You’re going to miss a lot of veterans in the community if you take away the American Legion because they are much more open as far as membership eligibility,” VanZanten said.
For the American Legion, member requirements state that veterans need to have been assigned to at least one day of federal active duty service any time during the eligibility periods as determined by United States Government and received an honorable discharge/discharge under honorable conditions, or currently serving in one of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The VFW, or Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, has three qualifiers for membership. An individual must meet all three in order to become a member.
One must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. National, must have served in the Armed Forces and either received a discharge of Honorable or General, under honorable conditions, or be currently serving and have served in a war, campaign or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.
The latter can be proven by an authorized campaign medal, receipt of Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay or service in Korea for 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days.
Terry Hanson, a former American Legion department commander and current post commander of the Arlington Post 42, said the biggest thing in keeping the local post alive is community involvement.
This could range from sponsoring baseball teams and leading parades to sending high school students to Boys State during the summer.
Another factor contributing to the struggle of the Flandreau American Legion is the leadership. Current leaders Curt Eng, John Hess and Ron Gourneau plan to step down from their positions in April.
Going forward, VanZanten said she will need people to step up and volunteer, to become officers or in recruiting efforts.
She, Stringer and Gene Renschler, Brandon Valley post commander and state membership chair each said they would be willing to assist the Flandreau post in any way, whether that’s coming to town to help generate members or organize Legion sponsored events.
With thoughts and ideas on how to keep the Flandreau Post 70 alive and growing, contact Curt Eng, Ed Stringer at 605-310-8120 or Gene Renschler at 605-215- 1083.