A baseball, a flag and a pencil all have one thing in common: the American Legion.
Seward County Veterans Service Officer and Milford resident Jeff Baker spoke at the Utica American Legion’s program celebrating the American Legion’s 100th year July 27.
Baker said the idea for the Legion came about in March 1919.
“A group of American soldiers, 10 officers, got together to talk about what they could do for soldiers coming back from France,” Baker said.
He pointed out that they came home from wars, but they never really took off their uniforms, as many still wear a uniform of some kind to participate in Legion activities.
“They have not simply focused on the veteran, but they focus on the community,” Baker said.
He handed a baseball to Utica Legion Commander Travis Grantski and asked him to hold it up.
In 1925, the American Legion began its summer baseball league which continues today.
“Fifty percent of major league players played Legion ball,” Baker said, adding that the Legion created the program to give young men a way “to understand citizenship, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Baker then handed Grantski a small American flag, representing patriotism. He said one of the Legion’s missions is to promote patriotism within communities.
Area Legions help host County Government Day, which teaches high school students about citizenship and local government.
Lastly, Baker gave Grantski a pencil to represent the importance of educating veterans, a concept the Legion realized in 1942.
“Our troops could not come home to a community that didn’t support them, that didn’t support their future,” he said.
The Legion was instrumental in drafting the Montgomery GI Bill, which pays for veterans or their family members to attend college.
“The idea was to give our veterans hope when they returned, to give them opportunity,” Baker said.
In 1950, the American Legion realized that what it then called “shell shock” was becoming a problem. Now, it’s referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“They were seeing changes in veterans and how they were acting and how they were interacting with the public,” he said.
In 1985, the Legion commissioned the first study on the effects of Agent Orange, an herbicide used as a warfare tactic in the Vietnam War and other places, that caused heart disease and cancers.“These are things that impact their daily lives, that kill our veterans,” Baker said.
It took the government 10 years to adopt legislation to assist those affected by Agent Orange. The laws passed largely because of pressure from the Legion.
For more information on the Legion or to learn how to get involved, contact Baker at (402) 643-4105.