Local American Legions celebrate 100th birthdays

Members of the Salamanca American Legion celebrate the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day in 2018. This year, the Legion celebrates its own 100th birthday.

The American Legion was founded in March of 1919 in Paris, France by U.S. World War I military personnel stationed there who dedicated themselves to their service.

Soon after, the American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness.

Since then, more than 12,000 posts have been founded in communities throughout the United States. In addition to posts in every state, the American Legion has posts in the District of Columbia, France, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

In Salamanca, the Hughes-Skiba Post #535 is named for the first Salamanca soldiers killed in action in World War I and World War II, respectively.

“We just try to help all the veterans that come by,” explained Post Commander Tom Percy.

In recent years, as the dedicated Legion members continue to age, Percy, who served in the Army from 1960-63, said they’ve been having trouble recruiting younger veterans to join.

“They’re all having the same trouble there,” he said of American Legion posts across the country.

However, the Salamanca Legion continues to be active in the community with the younger generations. Each year, the Salamanca post sends two students to Boys State and presents two students with academic scholarships.

“We also had a Halloween party and other stuff like that,” Percy said. “We also have an honor guard that does a lot of the funerals, too.”

In what has become an annual tradition, Percy said many Legion members participate in the Salamanca High School’s Veterans Day breakfast and assembly. He said they also hold a ceremony on Veterans Day in front of the Legion post on Wildwood Avenue and visit the local nursing home to have a service with veterans there.

“We have a lot of veterans, and when they come back they need a place to go, to socialize especially,” Percy said. “We try to include everybody.”

IN ELLICOTTVILLE, Commander Dale Dunkleman of Legion Post 659 said when the Ellicottville Legion began 100 years ago, there were 49 members.

“That was a long time ago, and now we’re getting smaller and smaller every year,” he said. “But we’re still here.”

Dunkleman, who served in the Army from 1991-93, said because of the decrease in permanent residents of Ellicottville, the Legion has many non-resident members.

For Veterans Day, Dunkleman said the Legion will hold its annual service on Nov. 11 in front of the old Town/Village Hall in the center of the village.

“We still support the school with scholarships and Boys State,” he added.

For the rest of the community, Dunkleman said they rent out the Legion hall for events such as parties and funerals.

“We’re here to support the rest of the community if they need something,” he said.

IN LITTLE VALLEY, a small celebration honoring the Legion’s 100th birthday was held Oct. 26. The Little Valley post had been active since October 1919.

“We didn’t do anything big and fancy,” said Little Valley Post 531 Commander Allie Burdick, who also serves as the Cattaraugus County Commander. Burdick said he read the post charter from Oct. 17, 1919, and read the names on the charter.

“The only thing I left out was the people whose names I couldn’t read at the bottom from when they signed it way back when,” he said. “I asked everybody when I read the names on the charter if anybody is a family member related to any of these World War I veterans, I’d like to meet them.”

Although the Legion’s 100 years was important to celebrate, Burdick said they’re looking forward to July of 2020 when the Little Valley Legion will have a 75-year member.

“We’re crossing our fingers that he hangs in there,” he said. “To me, that’s a bigger event than the 100th anniversary of the post.”

As with the other local posts, Burdick, who served in the Navy from 1985 to 2005, said the Little Valley Legion has had difficulty recruiting new members while the numbers of older members continue to shrink.

“I’m the youngster in the crowd at 52 and that’s not good,” he said. “We need the younger folks that are coming back and the other ones who have been back.”

Although more duties are being picked up by fewer people, Burdick said the Legion continues to do a lot of youth-related programs in the community, including Boys State and the academic scholarships.

“It’s been around for 100 years because it was set up right to begin with,” he said of the Legion’s longevity. “The decision-makers and the people who go in front of Congress have done it right for all these years. If something comes up, we get on top of it and do what we can to get it fixed.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)