SIDNEY — The 100th anniversary of the American Legion was celebrated Saturday, March 16, at the Veterans Service Center, 1265 Fourth Ave., Sidney. Approximately 90 people attended the celebration, which featured a dinner, a historical overview of the organization presented by Post Commander Jim Moorman followed by a dance and evening of music and fellowship.
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 in Paris, France, as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service-members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States.
Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in more than 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.
Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth like American Legion Baseball. The American Legion has a memorable and colorful history around the world and at Post 217 Sidney, Ohio as well.
After those in attendance had assembled, a brief introduction was given followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer by Post 217 Chaplin Russ Baker. Moorman then dismissed those in attendance for dinner; after the meal Moorman shared a brief history of the organization from 1919 to present.
In his talk Moorman welcomed everyone/
“It is with great honor and privilege I welcome you here to our post home to commemorate and celebrate the American Legion’s 100th anniversary this evening, “ said Moorman, who went on the thank everyone for coming and showing their support.
Moorman, Post commander since February 2018, served in the United States Air Force and later in the National Guard and USAFOSI (Office of Special Investigations) for a total of 10 years in military service. He expressed his excitement for the anniversary celebration and the future of the organization in an ever changing world.
“I consider it an honor and privilege be here tonight and to serve as Sidney’s Post 217 commander during this special time in the history of the American Legion; I’m proud if the organization, all that it stands for, and the commitment to serving our veterans past present and future in a multitude of ways. One can only imagine what the next 100 years will bring to our country but I hope the Legion will always be here for our veterans, their families and our nation as a whole. True it may be in a different form or style than how we know it today, still I don’t think our core mission and commitment to our veterans will ever change,” Moorman said.
Moorman shared a timeline of significant accomplishments beginning in the year 1919 to present noting many of the countless contributions to veterans, their families and the American people and a myriad of influences woven into the fabric of American life whose origins are rooted in the American Legion.
“Things like the The Veterans Administration, The GI Bill of Rights or GI Bill, are fruits of the Legion,” Moorman said. “Higher education was obtained by 8 million veterans to get better jobs, buy houses, and raise their families with help from the GI Bill. For every dollar spent on educating veterans the US economy gets $7 in return.
Continuing Moorman also pointed out the health benefits realized over the years by the Legion’s contribution to organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
“In 1983 the Legion announced its sponsorship of an independent study of the effects of exposure to Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans,” Moorman said, “expanding the awareness of the effects of the chemical and confirming the need for associated health services for victims of exposure.”
Moorman also talked about the newest generation of war-time veterans from the Persian Gulf Task Force and other current employments, thousands of whom suffer from illnesses linked to service in that region and new laws signed into effect by President George W. Bush to help veterans affected by those situations.
After his talk Moorman introduced several member of the Legion staff and current officers and their contributions to Sidney.
Steve Peltier the “Americanism Chairman” presented several awards including plaques to three local students, Reese Fannon, Emma Michael and Jayden Humphrey. The students participated in the Americanism Test offered annually by the Legion and scored extremely high on the state level. The Legion sponsored a trip the Washington, D.C., for Michael and Humphrey as a reward for their test scores. Moorman also presented gifts to several former post commanders who were in attendance.
Among former post commanders in attendance was Carl Zimmerman 94, Post commander from 1985-1986. Zimmerman served in the US Navy and has been a member of the American Legion “for as long as I can remember.”
Zimmerman noted the Legion was at its zenith in the post-depression era probably due to the distraction from everyday life it provided.
“People were looking for someplace to go have a little fun, anyplace that offered a contrast to the cares of the day when things were really tough. At the Legion they were provided with food and entertainment and a place to visit with old friends or make new ones. The recreation was a diversion that took the edge off the hard times folks were facing. I think I joined the Legion in 1945 in Wapak, then Spencerville, and later Jackson Center and wound up in Sidney. I have a lot of fond memories about those days even though they were challenging to all of us,” Zimmerman said.
Also in attendance was Anthony “Tony” Barga 94, who was the Sidney Post 217 commander in 1980-1981.
“One of 18 children, I was in the 3rd Army in the Artillery unit in World War II and served under General George Patton. I was in the Battle of the Bulge, and although not right in the middle of it all we were lobbing artillery fire in from about 4 or 5 miles away!” Barga said, noting a personal anniversary was coming up this summer/ “Seventy-five years from this coming July 2nd I boarded a ship in Boston, sailed to Wales, England and then France and wound up in Germany. I missed three Christmases in a row in 1943, 44, and 1945.
“I could have been home for the third Christmas but stayed in England so I could see Marlene Dietrich live on stage in London, she was my hero at the time, boy was she beautiful!” Barga said, noting it was well worth the wait and missing the festivities back home even though he was “a little homesick” at the time.
“In February of 1946 I was out of the service and joined the American Legion, VFW, and the Eagles lodge. I went to work at Omar Bakers in Sidney, then went to Stolle and then to Liberty Folder (Baumfolder) where I worked until retirement. I have been active in the Legion for a long, long time and was in the Color Guard for over 20 years participating in funeral services for my fellow servicemen and women. I have too many fond memories to count and am thankful for all the wonderful folks I met through the Legion over the years. I’m very proud of the organization, its people and what they stand for,” Barga said.
After dinner and the presentations those in attendance enjoyed a dance with music provided by the band “Swing Era,” who played a variety of favorites from present to a bygone era.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.