Members of the American Legion from around the borough are gearing up to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary in 2019.
According to Legionaries, some 18 months of celebrations are in the works by the organization marking the end of World War I in 1918 and the founding of the American Legion in 1919.
Joseph Goonan, American Legion Bronx County Adjutant, said that on the national level the legion is planning events commemorating its centennial, and that the borough will be a part of that celebration.
In October, the NYC Parks Department rededicated a restored statue of a World War I ‘doughboy’ in Macombs Dam Park.
That same month Joe Mondello, a local veterans advocate, helped host an event at the Samuel Young American Legion Post #620 celebrating the war’s armistice and the namesakes of several local legions, including Young and Theodore Korony, who died in what was known as the Great War. The event included World War I re-enactors.
Mondello, a long-time Legionnaire who serves on the Borough President‘s Veterans Task Force, said that he expects legion posts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion in Paris in 1919 and the drafting of its constitution later that year in St. Louis, MO in various ways during the upcoming months.
He explained that the American Legion – which continues today in a number of borough chapters including the Korony Post #253, Throggs Neck Memorial Post #1456, and Leonard Hawkins’ Post #156 – grew out of a need for World War I veterans to socialize and explore what were often traumatic experiences.
“At the end of World War I, there was a need for veterans advocacy, just as there is today,” said Mondello. “It only took a couple of years for veterans to start memorial posts for people who gave their lives in the Bronx.”
Just as they do today, veterans of that era suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, only they called it by different names, such as being ‘shell shocked,’ he said.
“You couldn’t talk to a civilian about your wounds and the horror you experienced, but you could speak to a fellow veteran,” said Mondello. “It gave veterans an opportunity to have a place where they could congregate and socialize, and to share their experiences with each other.”
Pat Devine, a Theodore Korony Post member, said that the legion grew in its first year from zero members to some 685,000 dues paying members by October 1, 1919, each of who paid 25 cents per year.
Based on his research, by the start of October 1919, Devine said, there were a total of 5,670 posts in the 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Panama Canal Zone.
Locally, he said that the American Legion made a big difference in his life.
“They helped me when I came back from Vietnam and so I have stuck with them for all these years,” said Devine.
He noted that without the legion, the Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park in Throggs Neck, a project he helped to see through to its completion, would never have been built.
He sees the power of the legion when he lobbies elected officials and others in his veterans advocacy, saying that having the backing of the organization has made all the difference many times.
“The American Legion offers some great opportunities to serve,” said Devine.