Happy Birthday, American Legion! Friday, March 15, the nation’s largest veterans’ organization is 100 years old.

Grove’s Qualate-Pritchard Post 178 and its affiliate organization, American Legion Auxiliary Qualate-Pritchard Unit 178, will celebrate by hosting a birthday come-and-go luncheon from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., for all veterans and their families at the American Legion building, 114 Broadway.

There will be several door prizes. Come help us celebrate our 100th trip around the sun.

While it has always been successful in helping veterans and their families and supporting the youth of our community, the Grove American Legion Post 178 has gotten very active in their pursuit of helping veterans during this past year.

Last June they started hosting Bingo every Saturday night at 6 p.m. to raise funds in order to help more veterans in financial need.

Everyone who comes to play Bingo seems to have a great time in this family-oriented, smoke-free, alcohol-free environment, with payouts dependent on the number of players.

At the end of last month, the Legion started a Veterans Coffee and Doughnuts time for all veterans. It is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to noon, at the Legion building on O’Daniel and Broadway.

This is a time of camaraderie among fellow veterans. The local Legion members believed with the overwhelming statistic of 22 veterans a day committing suicide, having a place to go to visit with people who had similar experiences in life might help with depression and overall wellness.

Service Officers are available to help with benefits questions or to file claims with VA. This is a joint effort with the local DAV and VFW and is still in its infancy. If you know of a veteran who might benefit from coming to this, please pass on the information.

Another project that Grove’s Legion has been able to do because of the success of Bingo is to provide internet service to the several hundred veterans who reside at the Claremore Veterans Home.

These deserving men and women now have access to wi-fi and can use their own personal laptops or smart phones while in the common areas and many of their own rooms.

Grove’s American Legion Post also is the parent organization for the Grove Veterans Ritual Team. This funeral detail provides military rites for any veteran’s burial within a 60-mile radius, if requested by the family or funeral home.

All of the good we are able to do today can be attributed to a group of war-weary veterans of “The War to End All Wars” or the “Great War,” which we now know as World War I, who convened in Paris, France, on March 15, 1919.

From this small but important beginning, the American Legion was soon chartered by Congress in September 1919 as a patriotic veterans’ organization for any veteran who had served during World War I.

Through the years, as the U.S. has fought in other wars, Congress has changed the criteria each time to include veterans who served during those war timeframes.

Any veteran who has served even one day active duty during the wartime dates listed below and received an honorable discharge is welcome to join the American Legion.

However, after much prodding by veterans, both houses of Congress recently introduced bipartisan bills called the LEGION Act that would expand Legion membership eligibility to honorably discharged veterans that have served on federal orders in unrecognized times of war since World War II, as well as the current recognized times.

Currently, the Legion has over 13,500 posts worldwide organized into 55 Departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines. With over 2.4 million members, it has become one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the U.S.

Over the years it has used its influence to win many “battles” for veteran benefits, including the creation of the Veterans Administration and getting the Secretary of the VA as a member of the President’s Cabinet. The Legion continues to lobby for adequate funding to cover medical, disability, education, and other veteran benefits.

One of the greatest single legislative achievements of the Legion was when the original G.I. Bill was signed into law in 1944. It paved the way to education for WWII veterans, many of whom had not even finished high school due to joining the service after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The G.I. Bill enabled them to go to school, get better jobs, buy houses in the suburbs, and raise families. For each dollar spent educating veterans, the U.S. economy eventually gets back $7.

The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has awarded more than $11 million to youth organizations and projects designed to help America’s children.

From the very first year, the Legion has supported the Boy Scouts of America, and today the Legion charters more than 1,700 scouting units, made up of more than 50,000 youths.

In 1925 the Legion created the American Legion Baseball program. Today, more than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. About 82,000 youths play on nearly 5,000 Legion-sponsored teams each year.

In 1935 the first American Legion Boys State was convened to help youth gain an understanding of the structure and operation of the federal government.

Today, more than 19,500 young men participate in Boys State each year. Oklahoma’s Boys State takes place only 30 miles from Grove in Miami, and the local Legion post will soon be interviewing boys who are juniors in high school for selection as this year’s Grove delegates. Call or text Debbie Gordon, 405-315-8576, local Boys State Chairman, for more information.

In 1938 the Legion held the first annual National High School Oratorical Contest.

More than 3,400 high-school students compete annually at the local, state, and national levels, with winners receiving thousands of dollars in college scholarships. This contest is to promote a greater understanding of the U.S. Constitution.

Other important areas of concern the Legion has been instrumental in is the fate of prisoners of war in Vietnam. They are urging a full accounting of all POWs and troops missing in action and have formed a special group from among the nation’s major veterans’ organizations to continue pressing for further resolution of this issue.

In 1982 the Legion presented a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Wall in Washington, making the Legion the largest single contributor to the project.

In addition to this, the Legion has been a strong advocate for Vietnam War veterans suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.

In 1995 the Legion also formed the Persian Gulf Task Force to enhance service for the newest generation of wartime veterans, thousands of whom suffer from illnesses linked to their service in the Gulf region.

For more information on joining Grove’s Qualate-Pritchard Post 178, persons interested may come to any of the meetings, which are at 6 p.m., the second Tuesday of each month, or drop by the luncheon on Friday, or call or text Post Commander Ronnie Moore at 918-314-9872.