PITTSBURG — American Legion Post No. 64 hosted American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan Monday while she was on a tour of 18 posts throughout the state.
Rohan was elected as national commander August 24, during the 99th national convention. Rohan is now visiting posts around the nation to meet what she calls the American Legion family, which she said is where she plans to start her leadership.
“The American Legion is a non-profit organization so all of our work is done on a grassroots level,” Rohan said. “I feel as national commander it is important to get into the communities.
“I have this saying of ‘family first,’ so I feel the first step to starting my leadership is to meet the family and show my appreciation for the work they do.”
Rohan enlisted in the United States Army in 1974 and served on active duty until her release in 1976. Rohan served as state commander of the Wisconsin American Legion, and with her new position became the first female national commander.
“We were founded in 1919, and our forefathers understood that a veteran is a veteran,” she said. “Women could vote for the national commander position before they could vote for the President of the United States.”
Rohan joined the American Legion in 1984 when she became a member of the Sun Prairie Post No. 333 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Before joining, she said she was turned away by another post even though she was an eligible candidate. She was told the American Legion Auxiliary — a group for wives of veterans — was for the women, but she said the organization has grown since then.
“There is now a photo of me from when I was state commander in Wisconsin at that post that turned me away, and beneath it a sign reads ‘She could have been a member of this post, remember women are veterans,’” Rohan said. “There was a time that even Vietnam vets didn’t feel welcomed by the American Legion, but I would encourage all eligible vets to give this great organization another chance.”
Regardless of being the first woman to serve as national commander, Rohan said it is an honor that she does not take lightly.
“This organization has 2 million members, so to be selected out of so many — and just so happen to be a woman — is amazing,” she said. “I will do like the national commanders before me and do my best to serve the American Legion during my time.”
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.