The National Commander of the American Legion is in Buffalo for one of his many regional visits. While in town, Bill Oxford was shown a tour of the ongoing World War One exhibit inside the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library's downtown central branch. He also sat one-on-one with WBFO.
Oxford, a Vietnam veteran who was elected to his position in August, explained that as part of that role it is his obligation to visit the 55 departments which are subunits of the national headquarters.
The American Legion, he explained, works on four pillars: veteran rehabilitation, supporting patriotism, supporting a strong defense of the nation, and supporting youth. The latter is done through numerous programs it sponsors. Among it's better known sponsorships is youth baseball though Oxford, who is from North Carolina, noted that girls' softball programs are also emerging.
Before touring the World War One site that the downtown library is hosting through March 2020, Oxford noted that the American Legion was formed following the conclusion of that war. It was a war American leaders originally balked at joining, but upon the U.S. entry into the conflict it was a war he says that defined how Americans view patriotism.
"Those folks were just learning what America is and what America is about," Oxford said. "They were absolutely, totally, 100-percent committed to America and the patriotic things that support our ideals."
World War II came years later but, according to Oxford, the veterans of the first war didn't immediately accept their younger counterparts into the Legion's ranks. Oxford, meanwhile, admits he was among those who received an unfriendly welcome upon his return to Vietnam and suggests there are still some generational issues when it comes to accepting veterans. He couldn't pinpoint a specific cause but believes age and cultural differences fuel it.
That led to a question about the challenge of welcoming veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Many local veterans' halls admit they don't see an influx of younger veterans becoming members. Oxford says to be fair to those individuals, they're starting families and finding a new purpose in their lives upon coming home and re-entering civilian life.
But he also believes younger veterans will some come around and give the Legion a try.
"This is my opinion, but they're not interested in going to a meeting and sitting through a meeting for an hour or two, listening to reports and financial information and all of those things. But I think they are interested in making a contribution. They're looking for a way to add to the country and make their contribution realizable and valuable."