SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The year was 1919: American troops had just returned home from Europe following victory in World War I.
Their shared experiences during the so-called “War To End All Wars” prompted them to organize across the country and form what would become known as the American Legion.
Over the past century, the Legion grew in membership and in programs that serve both veterans and the community at-large. At Post 15 in Sioux Falls, memberships span generations.
Harold Hanson says his proudest achievement while serving during the Korean War was simply coming home alive.
“That I survived! I remember the first one I sent home that didn’t, see? I remember that yet,” Hanson said.
The Korean conflict was often called the Forgotten War. But to Hanson, who enlisted in the Army, serving your country is about duty, not recognition. It’s an attitude of selflessness that ran in his family.
“I’ve got a brother that was in the Navy. A brother in the Air Force. And a brother in the Army. And me,” Hanson said.
Hanson’s father fought in World War I, and later became among the first veterans to join the then-new American Legion.
“I just know that my dad talked about it when they formed it and he was very proud of it,” Hanson said.
So Hanson followed in his dad’s footsteps and joined the American Legion back in 1956. A Hanson family tradition that spans nearly all 100 years of the Legion.
“It’s the largest veterans organization in the country and they’re based on a lot of sound principles,” Hanson said.
Douglas Tuenge served in the navy during the Vietnam War.
“A lot of bad times over there. Sometimes it was even worse than normal. And when you talk to other veterans down here you get that sense of pride between each other,” Tuenge said.
Tuenge’s dad was also a member of the American Legion. So Tuenge joined the Legion shortly after his discharge back in 1981. Members here share a special bond they don’t otherwise find in the civilian world.
“You talk to non-veterans and they just don’t understand what you’ve gone through, or what you’ve been through or anything like that,” Tuenge said.
That comaraderie extends among veterans, young and old, from all branches ot the service.
“I have enjoyed talking to some of the Gulf War returnees. That’s a different environment than what I was in,” Hanson said.
Yet the graying of veterans organizations like the American Legion is a concern to current members. They’d like to see more people join who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They just don’t want to join yet because they’ve got families. I think when they hit about 50 or 60, then they’ll start coming down to the Legion,” Tuenge said.
Declining memberships have forced some veterans organizations to close across the country. But members of Post 15 are optimistic. They say South Dakota has a long and proud history of military service. And as the American Legion begins its second century, they’re confident new recruits wil come along in the years ahead, and keep the Legion marching along.
Hanson is a member of the American Legion chorus that will perform next month during a centennial ceremony in Garretson.
You can take a step back in time to the early days of the Legion by clicking here