A member of a Clayton American Legion post is now one of the veterans’ group’s highest-ranking leaders.
At their national convention last month in Charlotte, Legionnaires elected Richard Neville of Clayton national vice commander for the southeast region.
Neville, a Minnesota native, served in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1966, before starting a 20-year career in law enforcement. When asked why he moved to Clayton in 1998, he said, “Weather.” And he’s serious.
“I came down here for a fall trip in October, and the fall colors were so pretty,” Neville said, adding that his mother and father were already living in the Clayton area. “I missed having four seasons.”
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Neville, who has been a member of the American Legion since 1974, initially told himself he wasn’t going to get as involved in Clayton as he was in Minnesota. “I kept my word,” he said. “I got involved more.”
He served on several committees before serving as Post 71 commander, then district commander. Neville also served as state vice commander before members elected him commander in 2007.
In his new role, Neville will act as a representative of the national commander, a central figure in discussions on the rights and care of veterans.
For instance, the immediate past national commander, Daniel Dellinger, was the person who called for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, after multiple reports that government officials hid how long veterans were waiting to see VA doctors.
Neville said the new commander, Mike Helm, has made a promise “to continue to keep an eye on the VA to make sure they will fulfill the promises they made” after Shinseki’s resignation.
While he’s looking forward to visiting Legion posts throughout the nation, his appointment is bittersweet, Neville said. The Legion member who pushed him to seek the national office, his mentor Jerry Hedrick of Lexington, died suddenly three days before he was sworn in.
“The only reason I got this was because of him, and he’s not here,” Neville said.
Neville, who is also a member of the American Legion Riders and the Clayton Lions Club, is one of five national vice commanders representing different regions. Devell Durham, commander of Post 71 in Clayton, said the regional commanders are often more accessible to local posts.
Durham said his post is honored to have a national representative so close to home.
“He has put Clayton on the map overnight,” Durham said. “But it’s not only a good thing for Clayton, it’s a good thing for North Carolina and a great thing for the eastern part of the United States.”
Neville and his wife, Sharon Ann, have four children, Glen, Chad, Brenda and Sara. National vice commanders serve one-year terms.