VETERANS DAY 2019: This is your American Legion

SENIOR WRITER SUZANNE FREEMAN

Kingsland American Legion

At the podium of American Legion Post #437 in Kingsland are Chaplain Jerry McIntyre, Navy, (left); member Bobby Crow, Air Force; Commander Michael D. Wheeler, Army; and Adjutant Mike Janto, Air Force. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Once a vibrant part of the community, American Legion Post #437 in Kingsland recently came close to permanently shutting down. The hall that held popular weekly dances and bingo games got a new lease on life when the LEGION Act became law in June.

“We are now open to all our warriors, including Cold Warriors and anyone who served in non-war years,” Post Adjutant Mike Janto said. “In the past, we could never include them, though they were watching the gates of freedom just like we were. This is a big deal for us.”

The Let Everybody Get Involved in Opportunities for National Services Act grants an additional 6 million veterans access to programs and benefits available through the American Legion. The act declares the United States has been in a state of war since December 7, 1941, making anyone who served since then eligible to join the legion, including active military.

The post recently added 17 new members for a total of 78 — way down from its heyday of about 450 members but still a sign of progress. An influx of new leaders also has boosted the Kingsland post’s chances for survival.

“Three guys were keeping this post alive the last seven years,” Post Commander Michael D. Wheeler said. “And they were about ready to give up.”

LISTEN: American Legion holding flag retirement ceremony on Veterans Day

Wheeler and a few other veterans with long service at other American Legion posts across the country attended an annual chili cook-off late last year just to check it out. They were quickly recruited to become the new guard, tasked with bringing in even younger members to begin rebuilding the post’s connection to the Kingsland community.

For Wheeler, the undertaking is all about legacy.

“We are trying to keep up the legacy of our past members,” he said. “We want to keep their legacy going, and we’d like younger members to continue that legacy when we get to the point where we have to step down.”

To do that, the officers — a mix of old and new members — are installing new lights and air conditioning and keeping up the post’s signature programs such as Boys State scholarships and Quilts of Valor.

They are also installing new phone lines and bringing in a Veterans Services Officer. The post advertises in local publications to get the word out and knocks on doors of local businesses for support.

The response has been positive, Wheeler said.

“We’re getting a lot of help from the community,” he continued. “Our air conditioning was fixed gratis. Merchants are stepping up and donating. Everyone we’ve talked to is pulling for us.”

Open from 10 a.m.-noon Tuesdays, the post invites anyone who wants to join or who is looking for information about veterans services to drop by.

“Our first priority is to take care of each other,” said Janto, referring to all veterans. “We reach out to veterans every day.”

That includes female veterans, who can join both the legion and/or the Ladies Auxiliary, the largest women’s patriotic service organization in the world. Any woman — mother, daughter, wife, sister, etc. — related to a current legion member can join the Ladies Auxiliary.

As the post grows, so, too, will its connection to the community with the help of old and new members, Chaplain Jerry McIntyre said. The 87-year-old Navy veteran has been a member of the local post since 1995. His father was also a member of the Kingsland post, which was chartered in 1962. McIntyre honors that legacy by wearing his father’s legion cap to meetings.

“This is a place I can come to and show my pride in my country and in being a veteran,” McIntyre said. “This is a place of camaraderie, a place where you can share stories and friendships. That’s really what it amounts to. It’s a place of showing your allegiance to the United States of America and its constitution.”

All three men point to the post’s cream-colored cinderblock walls, hung with photos of past commanders of both the legion and the auxiliary and framed copies of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Oath of Enlistment. Members of the military swear an Oath of Enlistment when they join, promising to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”

“That oath we took, across all the wars, it’s the same oath,” Janto said. “We keep that oath after our service. It’s on our hearts for the rest of our lives. We believe we are not relieved of the responsibility of our oath until the Great Commander calls us to His Legion.”

Until then, on the ground in Kingsland, Commander Wheeler and his officers are calling all area veterans to join American Legion Post #437. The post covers a large portion of the Highland Lakes, basically everything in Burnet and Llano counties except for the city of Llano, home to Frank Griggs American Legion Post #370 at 200 Legion St.

“If you’re a young veteran and have a young family, you can come in and shape this post the way you want it to look five or ten years from now,” Janto said. “Young veterans can come in here and morph this post into whatever their needs are going to be in the future. Normally, that doesn’t happen because most posts are already firmly established. This is a great opportunity for young veterans.”

3 WAYS TO JOIN

  • Visit the American Legion hall at 138 Legion Loop in Kingsland from 10 a.m.-noon any Tuesday
  • Attend a monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. any second Monday of the month
  • Call Post Commander Mike Wheeler at 432-413-9090 or Post Adjutant Mike Janto at 325-423-1266

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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