American Legion in town

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

NATCHEZ — Kenneth McGuire traveled all over the world, from the Mediterranean to Guantanamo Bay to England and Norway, just to name a few places he’s visited.

McGuire, 73, was in the Navy for 26 years when he retired as a master chief petty officer in the submarine service.

Of all the places he’s lived, McGuire said his favorite was Key West, Fla.

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“It was just so laid back,” he said.

His second favorite would be Guantanamo Bay, because believe it or not, he said, it was an ideal place to raise children.

“I cannot think of a single thing that was missing down there,” he said. “It was remote, but a really family-oriented place to be stationed.

“You absolutely cry when you leave there.”

Today, McGuire is attending an American Legion convention in the Natchez Convention Center, along with approximately 400 other veterans.

It’s the American Legion, Department of Mississippi’s 93rd annual convention, and the American Legion Auxiliary’s 90th Convention. The Auxiliary is the women’s division of the American Legion.

At the conventions, the veterans are given the “rundown” on any new programs that have been added and problems that specifically affect veteran’s, particularly the trauma that might affect someone who’s coming back from war, McGuire said.

The convention’s sessions also include things like going over the GI Bill and claims for disability.

McGuire said the American Legion raises funds to give to charitable organizations, and in the past four years, the Legion Riders program — veterans who ride motorcycles for a cause — has raised nearly $2.6 million to go toward scholarships for orphans of veterans who lost their lives in 9/11.

“Every penny that goes into the legion fund goes out, and there’s no overhead cost at all,” he said.

The Legion also keeps a fund available for national emergencies.

“When Hurricane Katrina hit, the National Emergency Fund gave out as much as $1,500 to one family,” McGuire said.

The 207 posts around the state raise the funds, and nationally, there are roughly 2.5 million members, he said.

Fang A. Wong, the leading candidate for the national commander position, will go into office in August, and he’s speaking to convention attendees this weekend.

“He will be introduced and probably go over some of the goals he has,” McGuire said. “It’s more or less an introductory address.”

McGuire said he’s not sure whether there will be any political candidates, but if there are, they’ll address the legion from a non-political standpoint, because it’s a non-political organization. It doesn’t endorse anyone, he said.

The American Legion has four pillars: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children and Youth

“It’s helpful,” he said. “We have a very strong and active group out here that works for veterans rights.”