Why the American Legion still matters

29 May 2019 | 04:52

    Thank you for joining us today in this memorial to honor the men and women who answered the call to serve their country. Thank you for your patriotism.
    Congratulations to our Grand Marshal Gerry Killinberger. As you have heard, he is well deserving of the title.
    Our thanks to the Village of Goshen Mayor and Trustees, Police Department, Fire Department and DPW for their cooperation in making this day a successful and memorial occasion.
    Thank you, American Legion Commander James Heslop, for your leadership, members of the Goshen Color Guard, and to all our veterans and service members.
    And a special thanks to Boy Scout Danial Hartley. For his Life Project, he and his fellow Scouts refurbished the 20th Century Veterans Monument just down the street from here. The monument is a tribute to the Goshen citizens that participated in all conflicts from World War 1 forward. It bears the names of those that survived and returned and sadly, those that did not. On behalf of the Goshen community, thank you for your consideration and contribution. Well done, Daniel.
    This year, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.
    Shortly after the armistice of World War I, on March 15, 1919, members of the American Expeditionary Forces convened in Paris, France, to establish a patriotic veterans’ organization for the mutual benefit of all Americans.
    On Sept. 16, 1919, the United States Congress chartered the American Legion.
    That same year, here in Goshen, 15 veterans of World War I, who, by the grace of God, were returned to their families and proceeded to organize and establish a hometown American Legion Post.
    I have with me today the original handwritten document that instituted Goshen American Legion Post #377 a century ago.
    The names of these 15 men, as I read them to you, may be familiar. Many are celebrated throughout the town and village: Charles Coleman, Joseph Donovan, William Ehlers, John Luft, Augustus Lippert, Francis Murray, Henry Merritt, Horace Martin, James O’Connell, Donald Parker, Ralph Pembleton, John Robinson, Lester Roosa, John Seeley, Augustus Wallace.
    They are whom Goshen honors this day, those souls of our village lost in conflict and those who carried their banner, all the days of their lives, to ensure their sacrifice was not forgotten.
    These first Goshen Legionnaires, like so many to follow, pledged to preserve the memories of their comrades and uphold the ideals they desperately fought for.
    That pledge, known as the preamble of the Constitution of the American Legion, manifested at the first meeting of Goshen Post #377 in 1919 is the same oath that Legionnaires proudly recite today, at every meeting, by every member. It reads:
    For God and Country, we associate ourselves together for the following purposes:
    To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America;
    To maintain law and order;
    To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism;
    To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the great wars;
    To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation;
    To combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses;
    To make right the master of might;
    To promote peace and good will on earth;
    To safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; and
    To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.
    It is this allegiance to God and country that swelled the ranks of the Legion. The enrollment reached over 3 million members in more than 12,000 Posts in America, France, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Philippians.
    Membership in Goshen escalated in comparison and at one time had an enrollment of nearly 200. Today the enrollment is just 32, with very few active members, most of whom are here behind me. Our Legion members are mostly from the Vietnam conflict, a few from the Korean and Gulf wars, and only two remaining members from World War II. They are Joseph Donovan and Lou Covello. Lou is also celebrating a significant anniversary this year, as he will be 100 years old, and Lou continues to attend the meetings.
    The trend of dwindling membership, not just in veteran groups but in most every volunteer organization across the nation, is a result of our ever-changing contemporary lifestyles.
    The pressing need to address our primary responsibilities, to family and jobs and all the activities associated with our pursuit of happiness, leaves us little time for community endeavors.
    Having said that, we all have our special interests, and if that interest is important enough, we will make the time to engage and make it a priority.
    We celebrate today the life of a man, our Grand Marshal, Jerry Killinberger, who made that commitment, who gave of himself in service to country, community, and his fellow citizens.
    The founding members of Goshen Post #377 and those that followed, they too had families to raise, demanding jobs and the desire to succeed. They too had special interests, one of which was fostered by the call of patriotic duty, instilled in them by their military service and the mission encouraged by the Legions’ oath — and they made the time to engage — and they have set a lifelong example of comradeship and devotion to mutual helpfulness.
    My address today is two-fold. First, to remind us of our past, to tell the story of Goshen’s patriots who gave us the opportunity to assemble here today, and to thank them for their service to God and country, so that our children may come to appreciate why we honor these men and women, how their deeds plotted our destiny, and what it means to be an American.
    Second is an appeal to this community, to seek out our military veterans that might consider the American Legion as their special interest. To join in our quest to preserve and perpetuate the legacy, purpose and mission of the Legion’s preamble, and to ensure that this day will always be a part of Goshen’s future.
    The Legion exists to serve, and we take pride in doing so, for our comrade veterans and our community.
    To highlight some of our duties, Post #377 is responsible for organizing and coordinating the activities, in cooperation with the village and VFW, for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
    We conduct military funeral honors for local veterans at funeral homes and at graveside with our color guard.
    We sponsor and encourage young men for the Legion’s Boys State Program and for Boy Scout and Eagle Scout merit programs.
    We conduct fundraisers for contributions to veterans' programs, such as the Honor Flight, for disabled veterans and their families, and to send care packages for the deployed.
    Recently, Post #377 signed on to participate in a Hospice program, known as the Veterans Honor Salute. We are invited by Hospice, to visit with military veterans who are in the final stages of their life.
    Our time with them carries them back to their enlisted years as we reminisce about our experiences and perhaps the tragedies that were never spoken of with anyone other than a trusted comrade. An American flag is presented to the family, to be flown in honor of our comrade and as we depart all come to attention and render a final salute. There is great satisfaction in knowing that we have given this veteran closure, with respect for their life and their military service.
    It is an emotional encounter that personifies our humanity, our mortality, and our inherent compassion. It brings to the forefront all the American Legion stands for and defines ever so clearly the true meaning of the word comrade. This is why we exist.
    I encourage you to consider our mission, our special interest, to engage in the good will we advocate and the patriotism we embrace. We invite you to be the next generation that will carry our banner and preserve our legacy.
    May God bless you and may God continue to bless America. Thank you.