BAGLEY -- Local members of the American Legion were given a national scope of the organization on Friday during an event in Bagley.
American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford was welcomed to the home of Post No. 16 for a lunch visit as part of a tour throughout the state. Along with his visit to Bagley, Oxford has also spent time in Camp Ripley, Detroit Lakes, Nisswa, Osseo, Park Rapids, Royalton, St. Paul and Walker.
During the event, attended by about 30 members of the American Legion, Oxford highlighted the work done by the organization in the past year and described what's important to focus on moving forward.
"There have been many great things happening," Oxford said. "Every department is still doing what we do, with drive-thru meals, grocery deliveries, prescription deliveries and virtual job fairs. Those kinds of things we still do because of who we are."
In addition to what Oxford listed, the Legion has also raised money, obtained and distributed personal protective equipment, gave blood, supported local businesses, set up COVID-19 test sites, assisted with vaccinations and set up buddy checks for those who are self-isolated.
"In spite of the virus, we're still here," Oxford said. "The pandemic has caused a lot of heartache, issues and sacrifices. But, when we get through this, we'll be better, bigger and stronger because of it."
To help the American Legion get bigger, Oxford requested members at the Bagley event to help recruit more people.
"Our organization depends on membership," said Oxford. "Our all-time high membership was 3.8 million in 1946. This year, our national membership goal is a little bit north of 1.7 million. Our membership folks do great . . . We just need more people asking. And I'm asking you to help me. Help us turn membership around. The future of our organization depends on it."
Another aspect Oxford touched on regarding the future was the importance of the organization's youth programs, such as American Legion Baseball. In total, Oxford said there is nearly 200,000 youth involved in Legion programs.
"Our children in youth programs are developing future leaders for this country," Oxford said. "If you go back five years and forward five years with those numbers, that's about 2 million young people that we have the opportunity to impact. There have been presidents, governors, generals, mayors, entertainers and astronauts who've been in our youth programs. We are impacting the future of this country with our programs. We have to make sure they don't waiver."
Before finishing his comments, Oxford also touched on the issue of veteran suicide.
"Currently, we're still losing about 20 veterans a day to suicide," Oxford said. "Out of those 20, only six of them are signed up in the VA. If we could possibly get those other 14 signed up and enrolled, we have the potential to address that suicide rate."
Oxford was elected to the position in August 2019 during the organization's 101st National Convention. He's been a member since 1986. The post he visited Friday is one of 539 in Minnesota and 13,000 across the nation and overseas.