THOUSANDS of kilometers from the United States, the American Legion has found a niche in Costa Rica.
The Legion is composed of members who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during wartime. The organization lobbies U.S. Congress on behalf of veterans’ affairs, promotes patriotic causes and tries to play an active role in their communities through volunteer projects.
It has had a presence in Costa Rica since around 1920. Three posts are active in the country: in San José (Post 10), in the northern Central Valley town of Heredia (Post 16) and in the Southern Zone port town of Golfito (Post 12). Post 16 has about 25 Legionnaires, while Post 10 has about 40 members. While members of the two Central Valley posts often attend the same meetings, most functions are held separately.
HOWARD Singer, commander of Post 16, says membership has increased during the last few months, and as a result the Legion is holding more luncheons and social events and is attempting to get more involved here. He attributes part of the growth to Legion sponsorship of Health Visions, a plan that provides veterans a way to receive medical treatment and prescriptions and takes care of billing Veteran’s Affairs.
A recent luncheon held in honor of District of Mexico Commander Mark Walker and Vice Commander William Shetz was an example of one of these events. The turnout was good, with 26 attendees at the lunch. While waiting for the event to begin, members and their wives mingled about introducing themselves to members of other post and making polite conversation. Stories of family, individual post business and daily life dominated the discussion, as opposed to the war stories one might stereotypically assume.
Speaking to members, Shetz addressed the need for the Legion to play a larger role in Central America, saying one of the goals here should be to “get people to appreciate where we are and what we are doing.”
Becoming more involved in communities would bring the role that the Legion plays in Latin America to the attention of citizens here as well as the American Legion’s national office.
Members agreed. Ken Johnson said Post 16 has been looking at several potential projects in which it can get involved, including visiting U.S. citizens in hospitals or prisons here.
SINGER admits that running a Legion post abroad is different from that in the States, and that Posts are forced to improvise, as they don’t have set locations or meetings. Plans are under way to establish a location for all veterans, not just Legion members.
“This is more practical, as we have a more limited amount of vets here in Costa Rica,” says Singer.
Currently, the Legion is involved in several projects in Costa Rica. Post 16 works to help Costa Rican widows of U.S. servicemen, as well as their children, get the benefits awarded to wives of servicemen.
Members have also helped buy furniture for area schools and are looking to become more involved as the organization grows. In Golfito, the Legion has helped donate wheelchairs and eyeglasses.
THE American Legion Post 10 meets in San José (228-6014 or [email protected]). Post 16 meets in Heredia on the second Tuesday of the month (266-0089 or [email protected]). Post 12 meets in Golfito (775-0567 or [email protected])