The American Legion, which began in 1919, is an organization that is dedicated to supporting veterans. The group was first formed as a patriotic veterans organization following World War I. Today, many American Legion Posts across the United States are at risk of extinction, including Jacksonville’s American Legion Post 279.
“In the 1940’s there was a huge influx of members joining the American Legion because of the World War II Vets. Then in later years we saw a rise in membership from Korea, and Vietnam veterans. Currently, we are losing our World War II vets at an alarming rate, simply because of their age. That is a large reason why the membership is dropping, not only at our post, but at posts across the country,” explained American Legion member, Bill Morrow.
The American Legion’s Post 279 is actively seeking to build its membership.
“What we’re trying to do right now is work on getting some of the younger veterans to join. Most of the younger veterans are not to the age where they need assistance from the Veterans Affairs Department, so we’re trying to figure out what they want and what they need,” added Morrow.
Jacksonville’s American Legion building, which is located at 903 West Superior Avenue, is owned and operated by Post 279. The building, which houses a public bar, is need of several repairs, such as renovating the facility’s banquet hall. Members of Post 279 are hoping to update the room in the near future in order to have it available for wedding reception, reunion, dances and parties. Several updates to the bar area have already been made.
“We have recently applied to the state for gaming license in order to have video games and poker machines. We are trying to update our alcohol selections in the bar, in order to carry what the younger crowd might want. We also have a new digital juke box, and a pool table,” said Morrow.
In addition to the bar being open to the public, the building houses several other weekly events. Every Monday night the Legion hosts a fried chicken dinner from 5:30 to 7:30. The cost for the dinner is six dollars, and the public is welcome.
American Legion Post 279 also hosts a weekly veterans only support group titled, Vet to Vet. The meeting is held on Thursdays from 6 to 7 PM at the American Legion Building. The meeting does not have a strict format, instead it is a time for veterans to simply talk.
“Veterans are a very unique group because we’ve shared the same experiences that the civilian population hasn’t. It is sometimes difficult to talk about some things with a civilian when you know that they’re not going to understand where you are coming from. That is why it is so important to keep our American Legion running.”
One effort to keep the American Legion open and raise funds for the facility is through a raffle. Members of Post 279 are currently selling raffle tickets for a 1998 1200cc Harley Davidson Sportster. Only 500 raffle tickets will be sold and the cost for each ticket is $20. Tickets are available at American Legion Post 279, from various Post 279 members, and by contacting Bill Morrow at 217-473-7226. The drawing will be held at 5 PM on July 4th, 2014 at American Legion Post 279.
“We’re trying to get the facility back up to where it needs to be, so we can continue to provide a place for the community to hold events, and a place to offer support to vets. We invite all vets to come and see us and participate in our activities,” added Morrow.
Post 279 meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at the Jacksonville American Legion, and begin at 7 PM.