On Friday, July 2, a delegation of National, Department of Oregon, and local district level American Legion leadership personnel visited Cottage Grove American Legion Post #32 during a six-day tour through Oregon.
Their itinerary included visits to American Legion posts in 10 Oregon cities, the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in Roseburg and Vancouver, the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, and a visit with the Director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.
Due to the Cottage Grove post’s expanding community involvement, growing membership, and innovative homeless veterans housing project under the five-year tenure of Post Commander Steven Wesolowski, Department of Oregon leadership requested a post visit as their delegation traveled north from Roseburg.
“Being given the opportunity to host both National and Department of Oregon Commanders and their leadership teams during their travel in Oregon was an unexpected surprise,” said Wesolowski. “This is the highest level visit to our post that I am aware of. Meeting with them in person, connecting names with faces, and hearing their thoughts about what is happening at their levels in Legion leadership was a welcomed insight for our members in attendance.”
Leading the delegation was the American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford from North Carolina, whose unprecedented two year term will be ending in about two months at the upcoming American Legion National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. As a result of the pandemic lockdowns last year, the 2020 national convention was canceled and the American Legion National leadership remained in place for an additional year.
Furthermore, all Legion travel was halted for about six months.
Accompanying the Commander was the National Commander Aide, Larry Cline, also from North Carolina, and National Vice Commander and former Department of Oregon Commander (1996-1997) Rob Liebenow.
State level leadership personnel joining them on the tour included the only former American Legion National Commander (2016-2017) from Oregon, Charles Schmidt, Commander of Department of Oregon and past National Commanders Aide (2016-2017) Don Weber, Department of Oregon Adjutant Flynn Phillips, and past Department of Oregon Commander (2008-2009) and past National Sergeant-at-Arms (2016-2017) Kevin Owens.
Lane County commissioner Heather Buch and Cottage Grove Mayor and former Cottage Grove Legion Commander Jeff Gowing were also in attendance.
During their visit to the Cottage Grove Post, Commander Oxford spoke with the local Legion and American Legion Family members in attendance about his experiences as the National Commander, how the American Legion is contributing to the leadership development of American youth through multiple Legion-sponsored youth programs, and American Legion priorities in the coming years.
Of special concern to the American Legion, as well as other veteran’s groups throughout the country, is declining membership as so many of our WWII and “cold war” era veterans are passing away.
The American Legion peaked in membership in 1946 with over 3.3 million members, which has declined to about 1.7 million members this year.
Like most veterans who enjoy sharing their favorite “sea stories,” Commander Oxford also spoke about his travels overseas as the National Commander.
This included being hosted at the Taiwan Presidential Office Building by Taiwanese President Tsai Yingwen and several of her cabinet ministers, and a visit with the Governor-General of Australia, David Hurley, at the Government House in the capital of Canberra. Governor-General Hurley even took Commander Oxford and his team on a drive in his electric golf cart to see kangaroos.
Following introductions and speeches, everyone enjoyed a barbeque beef lunch catered by Hole In The Wall Barbeque, during which visiting leadership was able to spend time talking with individual members of the post and visit the newly completed tiny-houses for veteran behind the post.
After their two-hour visit, Commander Oxford and his team loaded up in their vehicles and headed north to visit McMinnville Post 21 before wrapping up their tour of Oregon.
During his remaining two months in office, Commander Oxford and his team plan to visit Legion Posts and events in seven more states.
American Legion National Commanders and their teams regularly spend about 330 days a year traveling to visit the over 12,000 American Legion posts around the country and abroad, advocating on behalf of the American Legion.
The American Legion is the nation’s leading advocate for a strong national defense, patriotic youth programs, Americanism and fair benefits for members, veterans, and their families. Its members are dedicated to the motto “Veterans Strengthening America.”
Oregon is home to 116 American Legion Posts and nearly 13,500 Legionnaires. All veterans who have served honorably since December 7, 1941, are eligible for membership.
For more about The American Legion Department of Oregon, visit www.orlegion.org.
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