American Legionnaires' encounter with three presidential candidates

They provided three presidential candidates with a rostrum from which to articulate their positions on the defense posture of the United States. They staged one of the biggest, brassiest parades Boston has seen in years.

They are the 25,000 American legionnaires who have gathered here this week for their 62nd annual convention.

They may not be a cross section of America -- veterans of the more recent wars of Korea and Vietnam, especially those with liberal leanings, have been less inclined to join organizations like the Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But the legionnaires nevertheless project a lot of the national character and mood. Why else would John Anderson, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan come here on successive days to address the convention?

its leaders point out that, as a group with more than 1.5 million men and women in the ranks, the American Legion is still an influential political force.

As to their mood, this convention -- aside from the five-hour parade in which more than 15,000 high-spirited vets marched -- is not one that will be remembered primarily for its camaraderie and high jinks. All the concerns that weigh on their countrymen, and on the political candidates, are much in the thoughts of these 1980 legionnaires.

Several interviewed at the convention hall said there was less revelry and more of a sense of purpose at this year's convention that in past years. When asked why this was so, one man responded: "You read the papers; things aren't the way they were even five or 10 years ago.Russia is in Afghanistan. Iran is holding American hostages. And economic problems are worsening."

Patrick Breen, A Legion department commander from Illinois, said: "Times are easier when people pull together, so it is important to have a strong sense of family and nation."

Veteran after veteran emphasized the importance of having a strong national leader and a strong defense system.

If crowd size and response is a straw in the political wind, Ronald Reagan probably can count on much of the veterans' vote. There were a few empty seats in Hynes Auditorium when he spoke here, and he was frequently applauded and cheered (as he was earlier at the VFW convention in Chicago). Messrs. Anderson and Carter spoke to a noticeable number of empty seats and evoked a good deal less applause.

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