A century ago, as male soldiers returning from World War I founded the American Legion, their wives and other female family members envisioned a sister organization, the American Legion Auxiliary.

The American Legion, founded in March 1919, now has about 1,200 local units in the United States and overseas, including Post 195 in Cambridge and Post 260 in Deerfield.

The American Legion Auxiliary, also active here locally, will mark its centennial on Nov. 11.

Both groups have recently found themselves at crossroads that affect national, state and local membership.

A presidential declaration earlier this year expanded the American Legion’s eligibility criteria to include veterans who have served in periods of undeclared war, something not previously allowed. It’s anticipated this will open up membership to about 6 million living veterans honorably discharged since Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7, 1941.

Simultaneously, membership in the Sons of the American Legion, a group for sons and grandsons of American Legion members, was expanded to let in family members of soldiers who had served in any war zone since 1941.

Additionally, this year, the American Legion Auxiliary voted at its national convention to update its rules that previously limited membership to female family members of veterans. The new wording lets in male family members such as spouses. The change is a recognition that the ranks of female military service members are increasing, that male family members could benefit from being in an Auxiliary group and that they could help bolster the organization’s ranks that have been in decline.

Both nationally and in Wisconsin, the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary do a lot to support veterans and military families. The Auxiliary does major fundraising for VA medical centers and other veterans programs, and its members have long been tapped to be key volunteers at medical centers.

Additionally here in Wisconsin two longtime educational programs – Badger Boys State organized by the American Legion and Badger Girls State organized by the American Legion Auxiliary – have for generations given Wisconsin high schoolers a chance to learn about citizenship and government.

The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary changes are in line with other national groups who have recognized that inclusivity is good for their future and good for the communities they serve.

Congratulations to the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary for 100 years of service to veterans and military families. And congratulations for recognizing that change can be a positive thing.

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