On Columbus Day, a contingent of American Legion VIPs dropped into the Morocco American Legion Post 146 for a short visit and a chance to bowl in the last legion owned and operated four-lane bowling alley in the state.
The visitors included the American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad, National Auxiliary President Kathy Dungan, National Auxiliary Executive Committee Judy Morris, State Commander Rodney Stone, State Auxiliary President Betty Slagle, Division 2 Commander Chris Martel,Vice Commander Dwight Smith, Indiana State Auxiliary President-elect Jennie Maune and local legion member Ron Hoaks, who is serving as District 2 membership chairman.
As the officers and entourage entered the William Chizum Post 146, they greeted the Morocco Legion members with much hand shaking and camaraderie. This occasion is the first for a national commander to visit the legion in Morocco. The post is celebrating its centennial year along with the national organization of the American Legion.
Reistad and the group were visiting 15 Indiana posts between Sunday and Wednesday of last week making a stop in each of the American Legion’s 11 state districts.
Many of the visitors spoke about their positions and their causes in the back dining room of the Post. Morocco Legion Commander David Hoaks explained to the crowd how good the Town of Morocco and the county townships have been to the legion. The town recently paved the parking lot at the legion and McClellan Township has been a huge donor to the renovations of the bowling alley, and adding handicap parking and restrooms. “All of the trustees have given to the legion over the years,” he said.
The many legion representatives were astonished by the local government’s involvement in helping their legion stay vital in the community. Many around the state and country don’t have that kind of support.
Hoaks said the post has had 100 percent membership for the last five years, another great accomplishment, as well as the auxiliary.
Reistad is from Virginia and is a Vietnam veteran, serving from 1974 – 1978 in the Army Infantry out of Ft. Myers, Va. He is a historian for the American Legion and said having that knowledge has prepared him for this centennial year of celebration and travel. He told how the American Legion was largely responsible for the Veterans Affairs office, the flag code adopted by the U.S. government and the GI Bill, which was authored by a legion member. He said the legion was involved in pushing the leg to make the Star Spangled Banner our national anthem.
Reistad said he represents the American Legion at the Veterans Affairs committee in Congress.
“It’s a great opportunity to share with the commanders and veterans,” he said.
“You have a track record I’m envious of,” he said to the Morocco members. “I wish we had go-getters like you in every post. I’m happy to be here. Thank you for your service to our country. God bless you and God bless the American Legion.”
State Commander Rodney Strong told the group his mission is to help the Friends of the Ernie Pyle Museum, which is in need of renovation and repairs. He said, “You guys have a good story how the community helps the legion and the legion helps the community.”
“We want to get the word out about posts like this,” he said.
Malone, while introducing National Auxiliary President Dungan said, “We’ve got your back. We’re here for you.”
Dungan is from Mississippi and is a 42-year member of her American Legion’s auxiliary. As national president, she presides over 700,000 members across the country. “We are serving our heroes. That’s what we do,” she said. Her mission for her one year term is focusing on women veterans and the challenges they face. “We want to help them get the benefits they deserve,” she said.
Slagel, the state auxiliary president, is a 45-year member through her mother’s service in the Army. She lives in Nappanee. Her project this year is to enlarge the picnic area at the Indiana State Veterans Home to allow for better family gatherings. Her second project is to work with Hoosier Veterans Assistance in Indianapolis to assist homeless female veterans.
Jason Zaideman, who runs a program for veterans called “Operation Combat Bike Saver,”or “OCB,” was also a guest speaker. He explained how his non-profit organization gives veterans a place to work on their motorcycles and he makes sure that they are “distracted” from problems they may have from PTSD. He calls it “hot rod therapy” and when a veteran is done with the program, he says they’ve “garage-uated.” These veterans end up teaching the others afterwards. He said the organization is supported by merchandising, which he brought to give to the national and state leaders.
Reistad gave Zaideman and Newton County Veterans Affairs officer Albert Parr a Commander’s Commendation pin. Reistad has only given out five of these pins previously.
Reistad took the position on Aug. 30, and it is a 15-month term. He and other national leaders will be on the road 340 days traveling around the country and even overseas to meet with legion members and celebrating the centennial year.
After the speeches, the group of dignitaries flowed into the bowling alley to throw a few bowling balls for fun. Each one was given a special bowling pin commemorating the visit.