Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, commander of U.S. Coast Guard District 17, gives a speech during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, commander of U.S. Coast Guard District 17, gives a speech during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Why aren’t veterans joining the American Legion?

Centennial Hall ceremony comes amid moves to recruit younger members

The American Legion Auke Bay Post 25 sponsored the ceremony in Centennial Hall Monday, attended by more than 100 people.

“You have served the greatest country in the world,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard District 17, at a Veterans Day ceremony on Monday. “When we thank a veteran for their service, we’re thanking them for taking this oath of office.”

During the brief ceremony honoring American’s military veterans, Bell spoke about the strength of the oath of enlistment taken by every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine to serve.

Civil Air Patrol cadets retire the colors during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Civil Air Patrol cadets retire the colors during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“It’s not about what branch you were in, it’s that you were all in together,” said Dick Hand, former commander of the Auke Bay post, after the ceremony. “The American Legion is a group of military people, and we’re perpetuating camaraderie.”

Bell also urged people to listen to veterans and for veterans to pass on the lessons they’ve learned.

“It is important to collect and pass on the stories of veterans from your life,” Bell said. “Find a veteran and tell them ‘thank you for service.’”

The landscape for veterans in Juneau has shifted in recent years. With the shuttering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in downtown Juneau, both the AL and the VFW have consolidated their meetings to the AL post near Auke Bay. There’s also a trend away from joining organizations like the AL, according to post commander John Cooper.

“We have a lot of younger members but they aren’t active,” Cooper said at the chili lunch held at the AL post after the ceremony. “A lot of them don’t want to have anything to do with veterans organizations.”

John D. Cooper, commander of the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25, salutes the flag as the colors are presented during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

John D. Cooper, commander of the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25, salutes the flag as the colors are presented during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Cooper cited a number of reasons he thought that might be, from millennials and Gen-Xers being more involved with social media and less likely to seek the company of others, to young veterans who simply view themselves as being too busy.

“I realize, just from my own experience, young vets who are raising kids don’t have the time,” Cooper said.

Elizabeth Djajalie sings the national anthem during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Elizabeth Djajalie sings the national anthem during a Veterans Day ceremony in Centennial Hall, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Hand talked about outreach efforts to get younger veterans back into the fold, and to reinvigorate the post here in Juneau, especially now that they’re operating out of the post away from downtown.

“We’ve been trying to get ourselves socially back in the swing of things,” Hand said. “We’re trying to get more out in the public eye.”

Reporter Michael S. Lockett previously served in the United States Marine Corps.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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