Strength in numbers

The first woman national commander for The American Legion will make her way to southern Minnesota in February

Photo courtesy of Amy C. Elliott/The American Legionnaire American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan talks with Legionnaires before the start of the 2017 New York City Veterans Day parade. Rohan is set to be in attendance at nine different locations in the southern part of Minnesota between Feb. 6-8.

SLAYTON — When Wisconsin resident Denise Rohan was elected as National Commander for The American Legion at its 99th national convention on Aug. 24 in Reno, Nevada, she became the first woman in history to lead the country’s largest veterans organization — an organization that is 2 million members strong.

“There is strength in numbers, and there is dedication among American Legion Family members,” Rohan said in a recent newsletter. “Combine American Legion dedication and strength through numbers and we have a time-honored formula for meaningful advocacy for the values we share: support for veterans, our troops, young people and patriotism.”

Between Feb. 6-8, Rohan will make nine stops as part of a southern Minnesota tour. Fellow Legion members and others from area communities are invited to attend.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Brad Pagel, one of the vice-commanders of the second district. “She’s the first female national commander to lead The American Legion. And it’s not very often that the red hats come to this part of Minnesota. So I’m hoping the whole corner of the state comes out.”

Pagel said the National Commander has three scheduled stops in the state’s second district area: a dinner from 5-8 p.m. Feb. 6 at The American Legion in Fulda, a breakfast from 8-9:30 a.m. on Feb. 7 at Jack Slades Steakhouse in Windom and a dinner from 5-8 p.m. on Feb. 7 at The American Legion in Lake Crystal.

“There are three stops in the metro area, but it’s nice that she is also going to hit the outstate,” he said. “Commander Rohan will speak at all of the events and it’s open to anyone — you don’t have to be a Legion member or anything. We can seat 400 for the Fulda event and we’re hoping to fill it. It’ll be pretty cool.”

Rohan served in the U.S. Army, leaving her hometown of Elkader, Iowa, for basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, in 1974. She was on active duty as a stock control and accounting specialist and repair parts specialist course instructor at Fort Lee, Virginia, until her honorable discharge in August 1976.

Rohan and her husband, Mike, currently reside in Verona, Wisconsin, where she has served The American Legion since 1984. Prior to her transfer there, Rohan served as commander of Post 333 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where she established a Sons of the American Legion squadron and chartered a Boy Scout troop. She has also served as the department commander of Wisconsin.

“I certainly would encourage people to go listen to her speak,” said Jeff Gay, vice commander for District 7. “She’s very dedicated to making the Legion great again,” he said. “She wants to bring more excitement into — get some of the younger people involved.”

Gay said he had the opportunity to hear Rohan speak when she was at the Fall Legion Conference in Marshall, when she was campaigning for National Commander.

“She’s the first female national commander and her platform is ‘Family First,'” Gay said. “She talks about two kinds of families: your actual family and then the Legion family, which includes Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion (SAL) and American Legion Riders (ALR).”

Gay added that The American Legion (TAL) has positively contributed in a variety of ways since the first convention in 1919, including being instrumental in developing the Boy Scouts of America program.

“At the first caucus, they ratified the Boy Scouts,” he said. “American Legion also wrote the G.I. Bill in the ’30s and was the driving force for what’s currently now the Veterans Administration and having all your veterans service officers. Now, each county has a veteran service officer who can people with any questions they might have, especially when they are applying for benefits.”

This year marks the lead-up to a centennial celebration. The 100th National Convention will be held Aug. 24-30 in Minneapolis — the same city it was held in back in 1919.

“We’re hoping to get all of the clubs represented at the 100th National Convention,” Gay said. “We’re really pushing for it. We want an ocean of flags there. We also want as many school bands as possible.”

District 7 is comprised of 74 area clubs in Minnesota, including Post 113 in Marshall, where Kenneth Versaevel serves as commander. He said he’s proud of the work that TAL does.

“We try to help out different organizations with fundraisers and things like that,” Versaevel said. “We also try and get people to remember all the veterans who have done something for our country. That’s really important.”

There are many who believe men and women who put their life on the line for their country deserve to be wholeheartedly respected.

“I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I was in the military at that time and the way we got treated by all kinds of people was really bad,” Versaevel said. “They made it feel like it was our fault, but (going to war) wasn’t up to us. It’s good that people who were in the service during Vietnam time are getting more respect now.”

While Legion, Auxiliary, SOL and ALR are still doing good work, the number of members has declined over the years. As older veterans die, younger ones are needed to maintain the level of support offered in communities all over the country.

“I’m also membership director and membership is down nationwide,” Gay said. “My take on it is that life is so busy and gets in people’s way. Years ago, the guys used to get together to console each other, to share and support each other, at the clubs. It’s not that way as much anymore.”

National Commander’s Dinner

When Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, 5-8 p.m.

Where American Legion, 106 W Front St, Fulda, MN 56131

Description Social at 5 p.m., Dinner at 6 p.m. RSVP by calling Jim Troje at 507-329-0500

Cost is $13, RSVP by noon Feb 5