By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
FULTON – At one point, Itawamba County’s American Legion had practically fallen into ruin.
Over the span of its half-century lifetime, the veterans organization had crumbled, brick by brick, down to its foundation – four members.
“When we were down to absolutely nothing, they kept it going and kept it alive. They didn’t let it lose its charter,” explained Mary Barrett, president of the Itawamba County American Legion Auxiliary.
Thanks to the efforts of longtime auxiliary members Mildred Robertson, Dorothy Wright and Bobbye Sue Bradley, and American Legion member Milton Wright, the local legion can now claim more than 100 members within its walls.
Open to all U.S. veterans, the American Legion has a 90-year history of connecting those individuals most affected by the country’s history of war.
It provides both a meeting place for veterans and a sturdy system of support. Although the American Legion is primarily a male-dominated group, female veterans are welcome to join as well, and the American Legion Auxiliary, composed of veterans’ female family members, has long supported the group.
Keeping tradition alive
In a way, the effort to reconstruct the local legion began with Ray Barrett at his father’s funeral. In accordance with a long-standing tradition, fellow legion members presented Ray and Mary Barrett with an American flag during the ceremony, sparking an interest within Ray.
“I told Mary I was a vet, and I just didn’t want to see that tradition of presenting the flag to the fallen veterans die. So, we got active in it ourselves,” he said.
Mary Barrett supported her husband’s decision and joined him by becoming actively involved in the American Legion Auxiliary. Then, it was simply a matter of convincing others of the legion’s importance.
“We tried to rejuvenate the one’s who were there and invited more to join,” Ray said.
“It’s building back up,” Mary said. “We want to continue that.”
Although the organization now boasts more than 100 members, most of these are considered “inactive,” meaning they don’t regularly attend the group’s monthly meetings. Ray said this problem isn’t unique to Itawamba County. American Legions across the country are seeing its members attend less and less frequently.
The benefits of joining the legion are many. In addition to the aforementioned system of support, the group also actively seeks the numerous government benefits available to veterans. It also provides a social setting in which all involved share something in common.
“A vet can come home and socialize with other vets who know what they went through. It’s just a good, sociable environment,” Ray said.
The group also provides American flags to the families of fallen vets, distributes flags to school children on Veterans Day and helps aid the less fortunate families of veterans.
Barrett hopes with steady work and sure hands, the American Legion can continue building higher and higher, one brick at a time.
All veterans are welcome to attend the regular meeting of the Itawamba County American Legion the second Tuesday of every month beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion building in Fulton.