War vets of color may not be receiving the benefits they deserve
The American Legion’s principle mission, since 1919, is to sponsor programs that improve life circumstances for veterans through such means as scholarships, help with homelessness and more. Founded by Theodore Roosevelt, III, the national organization lists 55 departments, one for each state as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines. The Legion’s Department of Minnesota has posts in both Twin Cities with Wayne Glanton commanding in Minneapolis (5th District) and Bishop Dan J. Williams (4th District) in St. Paul.
Cmdr. Wayne Glanton, a man of, as they say, few words, succinctly states the most rewarding aspects of carrying out his responsibilities are “witnessing the execution of the programs. Visiting various legion posts in Minnesota.” He became involved with the American Legion in 1948. “[That was] shortly after my years of service in the Army. With programs helping soldiers who returned from war, the benefits gained [were] rewarding and continued to assist veterans.”
What does he feel is the organization’s most important purpose? “Assisting soldiers with various situations and conditions attributed to participation in war. And the GI Bill of Rights, which provided benefits in education and pushed the opportunity to advance in [one’s] career. It is a big benefit to all soldiers, and we help them to get the benefits that are due to them for being in the war.”
Cmdr. Dan J. Williams, who has been a member for some 20 years, notes, “The American Legion Department of Minnesota has 10 districts. To our knowledge, since its inception this is the first time the Minnesota Department has had two African Americans serving as district commanders at the same time.”
He adds, “There are many rewards that come with serving as district commander. Some include making sure our veterans, especially the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Era Veterans, are receiving the benefits we have earned and certainly deserve. But knowing that any veteran or their family is receiving benefits and care has to be at the top of my list.”
There are, he points out, four core pillars to the institution: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Children and Youth. “There are veterans, especially within our communities of color, not receiving benefits [who] deserve them. We support our troops. We know there are still far too many POW/MIAs still unaccounted for. Quality of life and Homeland Security are very important to us.”
Williams touches on a subject that long has been vital in African American communities — the well-being of youth, who constitute the future and remain imperiled by social ills. “From Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to the main streets throughout America we fight against child pornography and child sexual exploitation,” he says.
“This pillar [Children and Youth] also covers youth scholarships, temporary financial assistance for children, family support network and child welfare foundation.” He sums up, “While [these] are the four pillars, the American Legion does much more. I strongly encourage any veteran who served during the time of war or conflict to look into benefits that belong to you.”
Commanders Glanton and Williams are in good company. Several presidents of the United States have been members of the American Legion, including Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The organization is not, by any means, alone in honoring and aiding men and women who’ve done their duty to God and country.
Cmdr. Williams concludes, “The American Legion is just one of many congressionally chartered veteran service organizations that can help veterans through the process. One does not have to belong to any of these organizations in order to receive help in filing claims and receiving support. I have served in a number of positions at the post level, district level, and at the national committee level.
“At every level the veteran has been first and foremost in my heart and on my mind. In 2018, the American Legion will kick-off its centennial year celebration with its National Convention here in Minneapolis and concluding in Indianapolis in 2019. The first National was held here, so this is a fitting location to jumpstart the second century of service to veterans and families.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., MN 55403.