This week we celebrate the 243rd anniversary of the decision by American colonial leaders to declare and fight for the principle that we have the right to choose our own government rather than having a government imposed on us. In doing so, we have the opportunity to think again about the best ways to improve our communities and our country.

Among the stakeholder constituencies that have emerged in the effort to perpetuate our national traditions are groups of military veterans, and one of those groups is celebrating its centennial this year. Veterans of World War I founded the The American Legion in 1919 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for patriotism, active citizenship and commitment to the well-being of cities and towns across the nation.

There are now more than 13,000 Legion posts with nearly 2 million members. Post 198 in Pawhuska, the Harold Bigheart Smalley post, is part of that larger effort to offer the American population of nearly 330 million people a friendly reminder of the values our forebears championed and the sacrifices they made in the cause of American liberty.

To the casual observer, it might seem that the heyday of veterans organizations is long past and the smiling men carrying flags in community parades are well-meaning but out of touch. The men and women of Post 198 would politely beg to differ.

Danny Mooney, adjutant for Post 198, says the local membership is growing. The post has more than 130 members, there are 34 members of the local Sons of the American Legion group, more than 40 members of the American Legion Auxiliary, and 18 active members of the local American Legion Riders group.

Jim Trumbly, vice commander of Post 198, said the group is planning to host a street festival, Ride the Osage II, in September on Kihekah Avenue. The post is also planning to add a parade to its Veterans Day activities in November.

Post 198 leaders say they are also looking at potential expansions of local programming to include legion youth baseball, a Junior Shooting Sports program, and a Junior Law Cadet program. Trumbly said these kinds of additions are still at the talking stage, but the post is reaching out to others who may be interested.

“Our post is strong,” Trumbly said. “If people are interested, feel free to contact us.”

Trumbly and Mooney also mentioned the instrumental role played by Post Commander John Henry Mashunkashey, a U.S. Marine veteran, in the achievement by the Osage Nation last fall of Purple Heart Community status.

Post 198 already offers Honor Guard services for events ranging from veteran funerals to larger public events like the Osage Nation’s Sovereignty Day celebration. The post is instrumental in working with scouts and community volunteers to place flags at the graves of veterans for Memorial Day, it gives annual scholarships to high school students, and it tries to help veterans who experience personal hardship and need a helping hand.

“Even if a veteran is not in the community — if they’re driving through,” the post will do what it can to help them, Trumbly said.

Post 198 also has an active auxiliary organization that prepares recognition dinners twice annually for World War II veterans from the area and for their families. President Charlotte Mooney and Second Vice President Carolyn Brown explained the auxiliary also takes donated items to medical facilities and retirement home sites that serve veterans in the surrounding area.

The Post 198 Auxiliary also does community outreach with the local library and provides the Pawhuska Fire Department with financial support for the distribution of fire-prevention literature to children. Additionally, the auxiliary helps to provide classroom supplies for schools.

And there is more. So, when you see those smiling guys with the flags in the Independence Day parade, what you’re really looking at is just one face of a multi-faceted service organization. They’re looking for people to help and needs to meet, all in the name of patriotism in the larger sense — devotion to one’s community and country.