As does the tide of battle, membership to the American Legion has its own ebbs and flows.

The American Legion, founded in 1919, has become this country's largest wartime veterans service organization and prides itself for mentoring youth and supporting community-based programs that advocate strong national security with patriotism and honor, while supporting current service members and veterans.

Post World War I America saw the birth of an organization that powered to more than 3 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.

Seven of those post reside on the Midcoast in District No. 6. These posts include Rockland, Vinalhaven, Camden, North Haven, St. George, Thomaston and Union. The National organization sets a goal for membership and in 2013 the goal for the state of Maine was 21,200 members. The state fell short by 1,114 members. The rolls from 2012 show a decrease of 1,259 members. In 2013, District No. 6 increased its membership by just 23 members spread across the seven local posts.

Increasing membership through World War II gave this country’s “greatest generation” a place to continue service to God and country after leaving the military.

As the graying of that generation continued and Korean War veterans took the point, a new generation of Vietnam-era veterans began to rotate home to little celebration. It took decades before some felt welcome to join.

“I’ve been a member for 40 years and it took me awhile to become involved,” said District Commander Ronald Rainfrette. “Some of the veterans from World War II and Korea didn’t feel that Vietnam was the same kind of conflict. It was a police action not a war, so we were not welcomed as quickly as the other ‘war’ vets.”

Now, those who have felt excluded have taken the place of the older guard of veterans at the head of the table and want today's group of young men and women returning from combat, or those have served during a time of war, to realize the benefit of becoming a Legionnaire.

Rainfrette said his generation has the time to be active within the American Legion, whereas younger veterans are still raising families and working and don’t always have spare time.

“It’s not so important that they be active right away, but the first step is to become a member,” he stated. “There are so many things that [veterans] can benefit from by just being a member.”

Some of those benefits range from discounts on life and health insurance to help with home ownership. The American Legion also supports communities in flag placement at cemeteries during Memorial Day celebrations, provides honor guards for veteran's funerals and support for any veteran affairs.

“Giving back to the community and educating the youth is a key functions to what we do,” he said. “I enjoy going to schools and other organizations and teaching them the history of the American Flag and the proper way to fold it. They get a kick out of the list of 10 myths about the flag I read to them, too.”

The American Legion strengthens one community at a time, according to Rainfrette.

“American Legion baseball, the Heroes to Hometown project, the Boys Scouts of America and the legions advocacy for veteran affairs in Washington D.C. are some very important aspects of what we do as an organization.

“If it can be certified that you served at least one day of federal active military duty during certain periods and was honorably discharged or are still serving honorably, you qualify to join the American Legion.” he added.

Those certain periods are: World War I (April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918); World War II (Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946); Merchant Marines (Dec. 7. 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946); Korea (June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955); Vietnam (Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975); Lebanon/Grenada (Aug. 24, 1982 to July 31, 1984); Panama (Dec. 20, 1989 to Jan. 31, 1990) and Desert Storm (Aug. 2 1990 to OPEN). Because eligibility dates remain open all members of the United States Armed Forces are able to join the American Legion at this time.

Rainfrette said he feels District No. 6 includes some very good posts and their dedication to service is top notch, but if numbers continue to drop, the local posts are the ones that will suffer.

“The posts in District 6 are very active in the communities around them, but if the numbers get much lower, the local post will have to combine to county or regional posts. This, I feel, will weaken their ties to the community they serve,” Rainfrette said.

To learn more about The American Legion, or to join online, visit their website at legion.org.

Camden Herald reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or dcollins@courierpublicationsllc.com.