SEASIDE HEIGHTS – American Legion Post 351 received a special visitor recently in the form of American Legion National Commander Paul Dillard of Texas.
Dillard, who is the leader of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, toured the Shore Boro Post which is one of the oldest Legion posts in Ocean County. He met with Post 351 Commander Rich Angioletti, former commander Bill Kevish and other members of the Post
Borough Mayor Anthony Vaz was among the Legion members present for the morning visit which included State Commander Daniel Dunn and National Executive Committeeman Berley Hanna Jr.
Dillard noted at the gathering, “our biggest problem is membership, we have approximately160,000 in 2021 who did not renew. We have to do personal contact with our membership. We must reach out and get them to renew their membership. We need to contact them to let them know they are important and why they are important and how much we need them.”
“The next generation is where we are going,” Dillard added in regards to a question by Robbins about the future of the American Legion.
Dillard thanked the members of the Post and each Post’s membership who helped support the recently passed PACT Bill which addresses health care, presumption of service-connection, research, resources, and other matters related to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during military service.
“It will affect three and a half million veterans over several generations back into Agent Orange in Vietnam. Anywhere where radiation has been reported and especially the burn pits,” Dillard said.
He added that this will aid veterans who served in contaminated areas who have contracted various conditions including “lung cancer and things of this nature. The VA (Veterans Administration) has continually denied them benefits and care. Over 70% of those veterans have been declined.
“This bill will cover over 23 presumptives. This bill will change many veterans’ lives. It is one of the biggest benefit bills to ever be passed since 1944. It should have been done a lot sooner,” Dillard said.
“We had in excess of 37,000 people respond in support,” Dillard said. He noted a Montana senator credited “the American Legion for all the work they did on this.”
Dillard headed out to Washington D.C. for the signing of that bill following his visit to the borough post.
His visit to New Jersey included stops in Camden and Gloucester County and a visit to Ocean County American Legion Posts in Brick and Toms River earlier in the week with his final visit being Post 351.
Former State and Post 351 Commander Chuck Robbins was present for the visit and said it was an honor to have Dillard stop by to visit the borough post during his tour of the Garden State.
According to its website, the American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization with nearly 2 million members and more than 12,000 posts in communities throughout America.
The American Legion was established by an act of Congress in 1919 and was instrumental in getting the original GI Bill through Congress and the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Currently, the organization is active throughout the United States, supporting current military personnel and veterans, sponsoring American Legion Baseball, Boys State, Oratorical Contests, and other activities for youth, and pushing for the adoption of a constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the U.S. flag.
Dillard, who first joined the American Legion in 1969, was elected national commander on Sept. 2, 2021, in Phoenix during the organization’s 102nd national convention. His theme as national commander is “No Veteran Left Behind.”
He served in Vietnam through four campaigns including the Tet offensive. He later received an honorable discharge as a radarman second class petty officer from the Navy Reserve before attending Grayson County Junior College and East Texas State University.
As a life member of American Legion Post 265 in Lake Kiowa, Texas, Dillard served as post commander, vice commander, adjutant, and judge advocate. He coached American Legion Baseball for more than 10 years and served as his post’s Boys State chairman.
On the national level, he served as Alternate National Executive Committeeman, consultant to the Insurance Committee, Distinguished Guest Committee, Children & Youth Committee, and Media and Communications Council. He has served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, chairman of the Veterans Employment & Education Commission and chairman of the Legislative Commission.