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American Legion walks for veterans

National commander highlights American Legion accomplishments

American Legion’s national commander Dale Barnett (third from the right) begins the awareness walk in DuPont. Photo credit: Gail Wood

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The two-mile walk through DuPont on a drizzly Sunday morning wasn't about exercise. Not for Dale Barnett and the 60 people who walked with him.

It was about getting the word out about American Legion and about bringing attention to the needs of our military veterans.

"We're walking for our vets," said Barnett, the American Legion's national commander.

Since being elected Sept. 2, Barnett has been visiting American Legion posts across the country, talking about the accomplishments and objectives of the American Legion, a nationwide organization formed in 1919, and today has 2.2 million members.

It was Barnett's 15th walk for veterans since September. Earlier this month, he did a walk/talk in Hollywood, Califoria and Salem, Oregon. The theme of the event was "We Walk for Those Who Marched for Us."

Barnett, who served in the Army from 1974-1996 and now lives in Georgia, wants to raise the curtain on the accomplishments of American Legion.

"We have a great organization that is into so many different organizations for youth, service to our community, service to our veterans and veteran hospitals," Barnett said before the walk that began at Powderworks Park in DuPont. "But we don't get the word out enough. We don't tell people what we do. So I wanted to get out of the post and into the community and do awareness walks."

About 60 people braved the weather and walked with Barnett, who had a day filled with events.

"It's not the number," Barnett said. "It's not the distance. It's the message."

As an example of the impact of the American Legion, Barnett, whose father served in World War II, reflected on his own experience. In 1969 as a high school student, Barnett attended an American Legion's Boys State event. His experience had a career-changing impact.

"That led to my decision to attend West Point," Barnett said.

In 1996, the American Legion received a $5 million donation from Samsung Corporation for a college scholarship fund. A couple of weeks ago, Barnett talked with a Samsung representative and told him American Legion has given $5.5 million in scholarships and still has $5 million in the bank.

"We work hard for our youth," Barnett said.

One of their most well known programs is the popular American Legion baseball league that is nationwide. But American Legion's helping hand doesn't stop with youth programs.

"We're also involved in our VA hospitals," Barnett said. "A lot of our folks have been in Christmas stores and providing gifts for the patients and for their families. There's day-to-day things with volunteering. We're involved in a variety of things."

Barnett is asking American Legion members to take one step beyond raising their hand, volunteering for an activity in their community.

"What I'm encouraging American Legion family members to do is tell their story," Barnett said. "To invite someone from their neighborhood, from their church. Invite all different people and tell them why they're members. I think if we do that more people will be part of our organization. That's what we want. If we can get more people involved we can change America."

Membership to American Legion is limited to military veterans. Even with the declining number of World War II veterans due to their aging, Barnett said nationwide membership is holding steady.

"We're trying to steady the ship because we want to maintain a strong voice in Congress," Barnett said. "We know that numbers are important to those representatives."

The larger your organization, the louder your voice.

"We work hard to maintain our membership numbers," Barnett said. "This year we're doing pretty good. I'd be the happiest guy on Sept. 1, 2016 if we show growth. We have the opportunity to do that. In my state it has been growing. But we're not a dying organization. We're going to be around on hundred years from now celebrating our two hundredth birthday."

Barnett's mission also includes raising the awareness of need for care of the injured vet.

"The young troops stationed here, we need to stand up for them because they sacrifice so much," Barnett said. "We're making sure our veteran's hospitals have cutting edge technology and that they're providing the best healthcare for them."

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