American Legion in Prince William

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By Olivia Overman

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans’ organization, represents more than four million men and women, who have served in the country’s armed forces during a time of conflict. Each post represents a group of people who have fought for their country and continue to foster a community of patriotism, honor and support for their comrades and the next generation. Here’s a look at three of the Legions in our county and how they give back to the community.

American Legion Post 1799 covers the geographical region of Haymarket and Gainesville. Established in 2005 and led by Commander Richard Menton, the post meets at the Town Hall on Washington Street in Haymarket. Currently, the post has 107 paid members and 130 members in total. Of course, the post would welcome new members, but for right now, its members will continue doing what they can with what they have. “We spend most of our money on sending kids to camps known as Boys State and Girls State,” said Bill Walsh, post adjunct.

American Legion Boys State and Girls State are educational programs where high school students, sponsored by individual American Legion Posts, participate in a week-long program where they become a part of the operations of their local, county or state governments. The state program has been a part of the American Legion since 1935 when it was organized to counter the Fascist-inspired Young Pioneer Camps. According to the American Legion website, “The training is objective and practical with city, county and state governments operated by the students elected to the various offices. Activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, chorus and recreational programs.”

Giving back to those who have served means Post 1799 is there for their members when they need them. “Michael Cusack, our publications officer, is trained to help veterans with health care claims as well as social problems, including finding jobs,” Walsh said. The post also supports JROTC, the Junior Shooting Sports Program, and Haymarket’s Gravely Elementary’s BSA Cub Pack 107, as well as making donations to the Haymarket/ Gainesville library.

Post members take part in social events, such as the Haymarket Day Parade, the Veterans Day and Memorial Day Parades, the Post Chaplin’s Spring Bash held at Jimbo’s Grill in Gainesville and Poppy Day. The Ladies Auxiliary, led by Cathy Walsh, also organizes fundraising events, such as cake sales and spaghetti dinners, in an effort to raise much-needed funds for the post. These funds are needed as the post is currently saving money to acquire land where it can build its own facility. Post Adjunct Walsh explained that the post will no longer be allowed to use the Haymarket Town Hall for its monthly and quarterly meetings in the future, so the group is in need of a facility to continue its work. You can learn more about Post 1799 at alpost1799.org.

The American Legion Ladies Auxiliary is the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization and serves as a separate organization from the legion itself. Additionally, the Sons of the American Legion (SAL) was founded in 1932, and its membership includes males whose parents or grandparents served in the military and were eligible for American Legion membership. Members of the American Legion, the Ladies Auxiliary and SAL comprise the Legion family, which has a combined membership of nearly 4.2 million.

American Legion Post 364, located on Friendly Post Lane in Woodbridge, has approximately 1,000 members in addition to more than 200 Ladies Auxiliary and 150 SAL members. When asked how the Woodbridge AL has so many in its ranks, Thom Karlson, post adjutant, said, “A lot of our members may have joined here initially, but a large number of them are all over the world. They may have joined ten to fifteen years ago, but because of a military move or a permanent change of station (PCS), they’ve moved from the area.”

Post 364 holds a lot of events to raise money for the organization as well as to give back to the community, including a Toys for Tots drive “which collected about 5,000 toys for children in the local community last year,” according to Karlson. “We also hold an annual picnic lunch for veterans at the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond on Memorial Day weekend, and a senior Thanksgiving Day event the Saturday before Thanksgiving for local seniors (no I.D. required). We also take part in the Fourth of July parade in Dale City, and we host three picnics a year for members (Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day).”

Like Post 1799, Post 364 provides scholarships for high school students to attend the annual Boys State program. “Last year we sent 16 boys to Boys State,” said Karlson, “which is a one-week, sun-up to sundown program about how to run a government.” The boys’ program takes place at Radford University.

The post also sponsors the JROTC Marksmanship program, two local Boy Scout troops, little league teams as well as sponsoring bingo games and children’s holiday parties for Easter, Christmas and Halloween.

The future is bright for Post 364 as its members await the completion of the new $2.8 million facility, built on 27 acres. “The new construction is right next to our current building at 3640 Friendly Post Lane, Woodbridge, 22192,” Karlson said. It will include a new social quarters with an expanded bar area, an expanded and updated kitchen, and a bigger dining area. Various social events, such as the St. Patrick’s Day party, continue to be held to help fund the building of the new facility.

For more information, visit vapost364.org.

Post 114, led by Commander Donald Scoggins, is located in the historic area of Manassas. Created in 1945 when African-American soldiers were not allowed to join their white comrades in the American Legion, the post was considered a stalwart of the community. Initially given the name “Colored Post 114 of Manassas, VA,” the American Legion Department of Virginia issued a permanent charter removing the words “Colored Post” and giving the post its new designation as Post 114 on June 7, 1946. “We are a small post,” said Scoggins, “but we are hoping to get younger members in to help expand the post.” With approximately 60 members on the roll, Scoggins is hoping to get at least three to four new members to join each year to breathe new life into the post. Membership today is comprised of men and women who took part in World War II as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To honor the 16 founding members of the post, the group’s annual charter dinner will be held on June 7. This celebration raises valuable funding for the post. Other funding comes from the annual Poppy Day campaign.

Post members continue to contribute to the community by attending the funerals of their comrades and working with JROTC students from Osbourn High School, if needed, to form an honor guard at the funerals.

Future plans include taking part in the oratorical contest held by the American Legion organization, whereby scholarships are provided to high school students who display knowledge and appreciation of the U.S. Constitution. Other plans include increasing membership, getting the Ladies Auxiliary up and running again, and raising the funds to build a new facility and a veterans’ residential facility. “This is just in the embryonic stages, but we are hoping to develop a facility that will invite and assist more veterans in the future,” Scoggins said. For more information about Post 114 or to donate, please visit vapost114.org.

A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman (ooverman@princewilliamliving.com) is a freelance writer for both online and print publications.

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