George Smith didn’t wait long to sign up at the American Legion Francis Scott Key Post 11 after President Donald Trump signed the “Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service,” or LEGION Act, into law on July 30.
Smith, who served in the Marine Corps for more than seven years, said he waited 30 years to become a member. He finally got his wish last week.
Smith is one of an estimated 400,000 veterans in Maryland who became eligible for membership with the signing of the law.
“I think it’s great,” Smith said. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long, long time. My wife’s been looking forward to it. A lot of my friends have been looking forward to it, too.”
In the past, the membership guidelines for the American Legion, a veterans service organization, required that someone had served at least one day of active military duty during at least one of six specific time periods.
The periods represent six war eras including World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.
The LEGION Act details 12 previously unrecognized war eras that involved active U.S. military members.
These include the Cold War, the China Cold War and the Greek Civil War.
The act means that military members who served anytime after Dec. 7, 1941, are eligible for American Legion membership.
Previously, Smith, 61, didn’t qualify for membership because he entered military service just after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and was honorably discharged just before the war in Lebanon-Grenada in 1982.
FSK Post 11 is one of five American Legion posts in Frederick County.
Smith is also an active member of the Sons of the American Legion, an organization for male descendants of veterans who were eligible for American Legion membership, and plans to be active in both groups.
“We do a lot to help the different veterans,” Smith said. “Being a veteran myself, I agree with that 100 percent and like to do whatever I can to help the veterans.”
Wayne Kaikko, past post commander and FSK Post 11 executive committee member, has worked with Smith for much of the last year and a half and has kept him up to date on his ability to become a member.
“I recruited George into the Legion,” Kaikko said. “We’ve been advocates that all veterans should be able to join the American Legion for quite some time here so I think it’s a great thing. George is ecstatic about it.”
Kaikko also said the act opens American Legion membership up to about 400,000 veterans in the state of Maryland and about 20,000 veterans in Frederick County.
David Swiderski is the FSK Post 11 centennial commander and he met Smith through the Legion Riders, a group of American Legion, Sons of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary members who like motorcycles.
He’s known Smith for about 13 years.
“It’s just a good group of veterans,” Swiderski said. “It doesn’t matter what organization you were in. There’s Coast Guardsmen here. There’s Air Force. And actually our most recent past commander was Air Force, and we just get along and do what we can to help other veterans.”