While many affiliate veterans’ organizations are closing or cutting back hours because of a shortage of members or funds, one local American Legion Post continues to thrive.
The Lt. Fred H. Clark Post 91 in Mechanicville celebrated its 90th anniversary at a commemoration event on Sunday. As one of the oldest Posts in the nation, its members say good leadership, community acceptance, and generational involvement of family members has led to the success of their group.
“That’s our secret,” said Post Adjunct William McBride. “It’s not so much that [the veterans] need it, but that the Legion needs us to continue the projects and programs that we provide for the community.”
The Post was chartered in July 1921, just two years after the National American Legion Organization was founded. It was named for a local U.S. Army Cavalry officer during World War I who died of typhoid fever while preparing for action.
The original home of the Post was located near the intersection of Park and Central Avenue until a fire destroyed the building in the 1980s, losing most of the group’s records and memorabilia. The new building, a former bar, has gone through various renovation projects since it was purchased through the help of the Post’s 251 Legionnaires, 142 Sons of the Legion, and 18 Auxiliary members.
“We just had a new roof put on. Doesn’t it look great?” boasted McBride.
The new roof at 427 S. Main St. was added this year and matches the light blue of the building's facade.
Commander Chris Hatalsky said it’s through the volunteer work of the group’s members that those types of projects and programs are successful.
Since 2004 the Post has worked to send nearly 640 care packages overseas, and is also a main contributor to the City’s Memorial and Veteran’s Day events, along with providing advice and recommendations to veterans in need. After the group raised nearly $10,000 to buy a new generator, their building has been listed as a local shelter in case of emergencies.
“We’ll help any veteran in need, or any person really, as long as we think we can provide for them,” said Hatalsky.
Auxilary President Lacey Weber called the anniversary an “amazing feat.”
“We’re going strong seven days a week. It’s definitely a milestone here in town that we’re gaining members and continuously growing when other [groups] are closing or only opening a few days a week.”
At the ceremony, awards were presented to longstanding members and a plaque with 74 local service members who lost their lives in action since the Civil War was dedicated to be erected at the Post.
John Nelson — who was awarded a National Membership Award with John J. McBride for being “outstanding contributors” for 50 years — said he had forgotten how old the Post was and couldn’t believe it.
Nelson, 76, joined the Marines during the Korean War. Soon after returning home in 1956, he joined Post 91 and many of his friends followed.
“I liked what they stood for and I felt comfortable here,” he said of his choice of the American Legion over other veterans’ organizations. The four pillars of the American Legion are veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth services.
Nelson remained at the post after moving from Mechanicville to Schodack and later Rensselaer because of the comradeship that grew over the years.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said.
Vietnam veteran and state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, encouraged members to remember Lt. Clark’s dream of being honest, decent, fair and free people and to continue to lead the way with their patriotism.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, urged members to further extend their efforts toward embracing veterans of the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan into their group.
“This is a trend I’ve noticed throughout our district, is that we have this incredible community of veterans who make such a difference for each other and our community, and yet we’re missing our current veterans.”
Gibson, a former colonel in the Army, said although there are many success stories for returning soldiers, there are also tragedies.
“There are those falling through the cracks when they get home,” he said.
For a stronger Post and community, he implored members to provide those soldiers with a shoulder to lean on.
Nelson believed Gibson had a good point and encouraged new, younger veterans to look into joining a veteran organization.
“Those who join can rely on the knowledge of older members. We’re here to help each other as brothers and sisters.”