CLARK MILLS — Clark Mills American Legion Post 26 is celebrating 100 years in 2018-19, along with the national American Legion.
Commander James M. Nolan, a U.S. Air Force veteran who’s been a member of the American Legion for about 30 years, said his post has hosted quite the array of activities throughout the year to commemorate the occasion, including a large Memorial Day celebration and observance. Soon the chapter will commemorate its own centennial.
“Post 26 is one of the oldest chapters of the American Legion,” Nolan said. “We were chartered on Nov. 29, 1920, and we’re also one of the oldest in the state. We’re proud of that fact that we started our post right after World War I.”
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 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 non-profit groups in the United States, according to the American Legion.
Membership swiftly grew to more than 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at nearly 2 million in more than 13,000 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 several important programs for children and youth.
“Right after the Civil War, communities started holding parades to honor the guys who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and before that of course, there was the Revolution, but the American Legion itself started in Paris right after World War I and then Clark Mills post was chartered,” the commander explained. “The Ladies Auxiliary has been around since 1940” when women got involved in the organization, “and they’re still very active. The Sons of the American Legion was chartered in 1933. Without organizations, like the legion, helping our veterans, we’d be in tough shape. We help our veterans financially, spiritually, mentally...it’s good to have a legion family.”
Right now Post 26 is trying to raise funds to replace two handicap access ramps both at the front and rear of the building on North Street. Both were built about 20-25 years ago, Nolan said.
“Ultimately we’d love to get an elevator, but that’s out of our financial reach,” he said. “Our banquet room is upstairs and that also has stairs, but at least we were able to get a chairlift 4-5 years ago, and we installed it on our own” for aging veterans, family members and guests.
Nolan said there has been an on-going effort to raise funds as Post 26 is an aging, historic building that has sustained some extensive flooding damage over the years.
“It’s a massive building and in past years, we’ve had major flooding from Oriskany Creek that’s right next door,” he said. “We’ve replaced furnaces, hot water tanks, electrical panels...We’ve recouped and we’re doing well, but the building needs to be re-pointed again.”
The commander explained that Post 26 was the former Arthur Hind Club that had a bowling alley down in the cellar, and a movie theatre upstairs.
“The train would come up from Utica and the railroad bed was right behind the building,” Nolan recalled. “Boxers” and spectators, “would come in on the trains, and there would be professional boxing matches right in the building, and there was a sauna and clubhouse for the mill managers. My mother used to go watch movies upstairs, that’s now our banquet hall.”
But besides raising money to keep its aging building operational, Nolan said the chapter is constantly holding fund-raisers for scholarships, special activities and programs that serve the entire community.
“With all the funds we raise, we do scholarships for area schools, including Westmoreland Central School,” the commander said. “We also take care of the area food pantry and do fund-raising events for other groups, we host Boy Scout troops and support school marching bands, law enforcement, fire departments, ambulance corps and ball fields, and we contribute to the Rome Veterans Center at Griffiss and the Syracuse VA (Veterans Association).”
As the years go by, as have most chapters across the country, Post 26 has continued to struggle to maintain its membership, especially as many of the veterans of the World War II “Greatest Generation” have passed on.
“Years ago we had hundreds of members and now we have maybe 112 — and that’s just veterans, we also have auxiliary members and our ‘sons’ are doing very well,” Nolan said. “On Memorial Day we picked up two new younger members that are active duty, so we’re very proud to have them join us. Our drill team has been marching since 1951, so a couple of guys came to the parades and saw that we do the military correctly, so they just joined after Memorial Day. We’d always be happy to accept new members.”
The chapter also continues to support its members who have served their country.
“One of the things we may take for granted is that we have a couple of World War II veterans, and I’ll give them a ride home too so they can get here and get home safely,” Nolan said. “There’s some things where we need to reinvent the wheel. We take care of them the best we can, and we see what we can do to make things better for our veterans.”
As for “doing the military correctly,” each year, Post 26 is known to host a large Memorial Day commemoration, holding two parades — one in Clark Mills and another in Westmoreland — and visiting eight area cemeteries. Volunteers also make sure that small American flags are placed at the gravestones of each veteran.
Post 26 members will also play Taps for military funerals and conduct a rifle salute for them.
“Nobody necessarily sees them (volunteers and veterans) doing these things, and they don’t get any credit for it, but these things need to be done,” Nolan said.
Playing Taps and the rifle salutes, “Those are the important pieces — that’s the least we can do for those who have served our country.”
“The American Legion was founded on God and country as its purpose, and then community, state and the nation are the pieces we watch out for,” the commander said.