With burgers and hot dogs on the grill, members and supporters of Los Alamitos American Legion Post 716 gathered on Veterans Day to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the international organization.
The American Legion, with more than 3 million members (inclusive of their family of organizations) does an incredible amount of good in the world, said Ernie Rodriguez, the current Vice-Commander and who has served four times as Commander of the local post.
“The Legion was founded in Paris, France in March of 1919,” said Rodriguez, adding that nonprofit organization was initially started by American serving in World War I.
Ironically, a member of the American Legion Post 1, based in Paris, attended Monday’s event in Los Alamitos.
Moreover, Rodriguez said Congress recently passed the American Legion Act, which relaxes an earlier rule that prevented veterans who did not serve in a theater of war from joining. Now, he said to loud applause, any veteran, “who signed a blank check,” that could have included their lives, can now become a member.
There are more than 13,000 American Legion Posts around the world.
Over the years, Rodriguez told the members, the American Legion has been responsible for creating some of the major institutional benefits for those who serve, including the creation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, creation of the U.S. Flag Code and even the so-called G.I. Bill, which has extended service and post service educational opportunities for millions of service members.
Further, Rodriguez said the Legion, and its extended family, donates more than 3.7 million hours of volunteer service in their communities, raises more than $4 million annually for scholarships and they donate more than 80,000 pints of blood each year. “By far, the largest single donor anywhere,” he said.
Before introducing current Commander Vincent “Woody” Collins, Rodriguez introduced several former Commanders who had returned to be present at the Centennial ceremonies.
“I never looked to have this position,” said Collins, but since taking it, he marveled at “just how unbelievable” the Legion was on a day-to-day basis. “To see how closely everyone works together, the Legion, the Auxiliary, the Sons and the Legion Riders,” said Collins, “it’s just such a great organization.” He thanked everyone for coming.
Deborah Driscoll, President of the American Legion Auxiliary, said the legion has been putting together the Centennial celebration for more than a year. “We are celebrating the fact that this organization is now 100-years-old and that we all have the opportunity to be here today,” she added.
Driscoll also thanked the members for tolerating her obsession with re-creating the photo of the dedication of the Los Alamitos Post in 1962, nearly 60 years ago.
Rodriguez said the Los Alamitos post was created in June, 1947 on “Faye Ellis’ porch. The actual post was organization and accepted by the American Legion in 1948. The post eventually acquired land near the intersection of Florista and Oak Streets and the building was dedicated in Nov. of 1962, 58 years ago.
Driscoll stage managed attending members and leaders as chairs were placed outside the building in the exact configuration seen in a News Enterprise photo as the post recreated the original photo as they rededicated the post.
The Auxiliary president also introduced member Marcey Garcia, who created a large wooden flag, painted red, white and blue and covered with more than 900 toy soldiers, which had been also painted and glued in place to create the three-dimensional flag.
Garcia, who is the daughter of a Legionnaire, said she saw a flag similar to it and dedicated herself to create one for the post. She also created a plaque to hang below it which simply said: “For those who serve, for those who have served and for those who have given their all.”