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As Durham American Legion post celebrates 100 years, it hopes to bring in new members

Members of American Legion Post 7 participate in the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony at Durham’s Maplewood Cemetery.
Members of American Legion Post 7 participate in the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony at Durham’s Maplewood Cemetery. News & Observer file photo

It’s 5 p.m. on Friday, and American Legion Post 7 is hosting its weekly social. It’s an informal occasion for Legion members to meet and for prospective members to visit and enjoy dinner prepared by volunteers of the Durham post.

“It’s a place to come to where I’ve got something in common with the people, most of them service-connected,” says Carlton Gooch, an 85-year-old Navy veteran and retired Durham firefighter. Gooch, who joined Post 7 in 1954, can be found most afternoons in his special seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar he help build, swapping stories and commentary on current events with fellow Legionnaires.

“You meet all kinds of people here, and that’s always a good thing,” added Sergeant-at-Arms Don Murray, a 70-year-old Navy vet and retired electrician. “It’s a nice place to come and have a few beers with the guys, and solve all the world’s problems.”

On Saturday, Aug. 24, Post 7 will celebrate its 100th anniversary, as well as that of the national organization, with an open house from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. The celebration will feature military artifacts, discussions and music by the CAT 5 band.

The event will be an occasion for the public to learn about Post 7 and the Legion’s legacy of community involvement. But it also has another purpose: providing an opportunity to invite new members to join the post.

With the passing of older veterans, posts are pressed to enroll younger members who will carry forward the legacy of service that has defined the Legion for the past century.

“We’ve lost a lot of our members who were WWII veterans and Korea veterans,” says Post 7 Vice Commander Tommy “TJ” McCorkle. “They were very active in this post.”

Getting younger veterans involved

Post Commander Ricky Herron, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, said, “My goal is to talk to some younger veterans and see if we can get them involved here.”

Since it was chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion has served on the front lines of veteran and community service. The Legion was instrumental in passage of the World War II GI Bill, one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the 20th Century. The Legion also helped establish the Veterans Administration and lobbied successfully for treatment of veterans suffering PSTD as well as Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

The American Legion was founded in Paris in March 1919 by World War I veterans led by Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. They envisioned the Legion as a patriotic organization dedicated to serving military veterans, their families and communities.

North Carolina’s department headquarters was established in Raleigh in May 1919, and local posts followed. Among the first was Durham’s Post 7, chartered on Aug. 28, 1919.

Through the years, an impressive roster of veterans have joined the Legion. Members have included John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Humphrey Bogart, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Sgt. Alvin York, Clark Gable and Shirley Temple. Marine Corps veteran Josephus Daniels Jr., former News and Observer publisher and son of former Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, served as North Carolina department commander in 1935-36.

From the beginning, Legion membership was restricted to honorably discharged veterans who served during designated periods of war. However, the recently enacted Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act (“LEGION Act”), extends eligibility to all honorably discharged veterans regardless of their dates of service. Co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and signed into law by President Trump on July 30, the Act may help replenish membership due to the loss of World War II and Korea War Legionnaires.

Service in Durham

The American Legion consists of 2.4 million members and more than 14,000 American Legion posts. North Carolina hosts 30 posts and 36,530 members, including 230 in Post 7. The Durham post’s activities include:

Each Christmas since 1977, it has donated gifts to the 500 or so patients at the Murdoch Developmental Center in Butner, a practice for which the post received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 2015.

It organizes Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances at Durham’s Maplewood Cemetery.

It holds a variety of annual fundraising events, including dinners and a golf tournament, that raise money for the Ronald McDonald House and Durham Special Olympics.

It assist homeless veterans at Maple Court Veterans Transitional Housing Program in Durham.

Post 7 members hope that the centennial open house will attract and enroll young veterans who may have the passion and devotion to service that has defined the American Legion for 100 years.

Murray thinks the post can benefit younger veterans with a community of others who share similar experiences regardless of branch or time of military service.

“It’s a place to come in and talk with like-minded veterans who have seen some of the same things younger veterans have experienced,” he says. “We just saw them a long time ago.”

Richard Moore, American Legion Department of North Carolina commander, said, “We need to tell the younger vet what the Legion is all about.

“We need to be listening to what they have to say and how they can help us grow”

American Legion Centennial Celebration

When: Sat. Aug. 24; 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Where: American Legion Post 7, 406 E. Trinity Ave., Durham

Details: 919-688-6581, www.americanlegiondurhampost7.com

Legion milestones

1919: American Legion Founded in Paris, France.

1919: Post 1 chartered in Raleigh.

1919: Post 4, North Carolina’s first African-American Legion post chartered in Wilmington.

1919: Post 7 chartered in Durham.

1925: American Legion Baseball program established. Future Major Leaguers include Yogi Berra, Bob Feller and Ted Williams.

1935: Josephus Daniels Jr. installed as NC Department Commander.

1944: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the GI Bill, making college education and home-buying assistance to 8 million veterans returning from WWII.

1966: Legion voices concern for all Vietnam prisoners of war.

1982: Legion contributes $1 million for construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington

2011: American Legion Baseball World Series moved permanently to Shelby, N.C.

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