American Legion looks toward 10-year anniversary, wants to connect with vets

Vashon’s American Legion Post 159 will celebrate 10 years next spring, and in preparation, the post hopes to contact every veteran on the Island for the anniversary build-up effort members have dubbed “Operation Celebration.”

The American Legion, a nationwide organization with nearly 2.5 million members, is built on four pillars of service: veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism and children and youth.

The post on Vashon is small, according to post Commander Phil Volker, but it aims to meet all those objectives with its work serving veterans and the wider community. To best meet those goals, Volker said he  feels it is important to talk to each Island veteran. He knows at least 100, he said, and there might be as many as 300.

“We hope to see what is going on in their world and learn what their needs are,” he said.

Rather than creating a formal survey, he said the conversations will be more relaxed, “a Vashon over-the-fence neighborhood thing.”

“The idea is that you’re connected,” he said. “Isolation is the worst thing that can happen.”

Vashon’s American Legion post formed shortly after 9/11, Volker said, when everybody wanted to help out in some way. The group had 15 members then, and Volker noted its shoestring budget.

“We moved a couch and 54 cents fell out, and that was our money,” he said.

Since then, the post has grown to 39 members and supports a myriad of activities, including helping Island veterans obtain their benefits; sending packages, letters and magazines to all the active service men and women with a Vashon connection and raising money to send high school juniors to Boys State and Girls State, week-long workshops on American government. The legion also conducts the annual Memorial Day Service at the cemetery and puts up and takes down the flags in town on holidays. The flag program is providing a revenue stream, Volker said, and the post hopes to put that money to good use.

Volker is hoping to double the size of the organization by the time of the anniversary next April. Since the Strawberry Festival, the post has gained eight new members, he noted.

“I want the post to create a robust organization that would be there for my grandkids and your grandkids,” he said.

Membership in the American Legion is open only to veterans who were on active duty during wartime, Volker said, but the meetings are open to anyone in the community, veteran or not. Volker also stressed the post is intended as much for women as men and noted that one of the charter members was a woman and that LoAnne Forschmiedt is serving as the adjutant, or secretary.

Volker, who was a Marine from 1966 to 1969 but did not go to Vietman, said he feels the need to serve Vashon in this way, in part so that current service men and women do not suffer what Vietnam-era vets did.

“We just don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

While he has been doing outreach to contact veterans, he would welcome them calling him.

“If vets start calling me, that would be great,” he said.

Call Phil Volker at 408-7236. Meetings, held jointly with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, are at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month at the Eagles.

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