A Veterans Expo this Thursday in Joplin will not only provide information from nearly 50 exhibitors and vendors on products and services for veterans, but it also will observe the 100th anniversary of the local American Legion post, which is sponsoring the expo.
Post members and expo visitors will hear from dignitaries in a ceremony that begins at 11 a.m. The post was chartered in 1919 and named after Robert S. Thurman, a soldier killed in World War I, according to Richard Russell, post vice commander.
"In honor of this milestone, congratulations will be received from Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Billy Long, state Sen. Bill White, state Rep. Lane Roberts and Joplin Mayor Gary Shaw," Russell said.
In March, the post celebrated the national anniversary of the organization. The American Legion was founded in Paris in 1919 by members of the American Expeditionary Forces. Today, it is the country's largest veterans service organization.
The local post experienced a decline in membership over the years, dropping to fewer than 30 members, but has rebounded in the last several years to about 250 members. Russell said the post expects more growth as a result of a change enacted by Congress to open it up to more war veterans.
On July 31, the "Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act," also known as the LEGION Act, took effect, expanding those who can be members to all honorably discharged veterans who have served in unrecognized times of war since World War II, Russell said.
"Previously they were only eligible if they served in one of seven conflicts. Many veterans previously may have served for years or retired from the military. They didn't fall in the previous required dates. Now they can join us and continue to serve their country and community," Russell said.
This year's expo will feature 49 vendor booths including representatives from the VA hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas; the VA clinic in Joplin; Military TriCare; the Missouri Veterans Commission; the Missouri Veterans Workforce; the Missouri Chaplin Service; and veteran housing providers including the Economic Security Corp. veteran housing project.
"Another thing we are proud of is our job fair for veterans. Many major companies will have booths set up to take job applications," Russell said.
In addition, participants will get to view an award-winning documentary produced by Josef Schuller, a Joplin South Middle School student. He won third place in the 2019 National History Day contest this summer for his Korean War film "The Bridge Over Funchilin Pass: The Only Option for Retreat."
As part of that award, Schuller received an invitation to attend an event with filmmaker Ken Burns in Washington, D.C., in October with a special screening of his documentary.
The Veterans Benefits Expo will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at Joplin Memorial Hall, 212 W. Eighth St.