Since East Liberty County American Legion Post 321 started in October 2006, members have met in banquet rooms and at the Dorchester Academy. For the last five years, they’ve met at the Midway Police Department.
Post Commander Dennis Fitzgerald recently was asked when the post will have a place of its own. He told the man, a Post 321 supporter, that the post uses all its resources to assist veterans and support the community. Privately, however, he told post members he wished they had their own place to meet and an office to showcase the many awards the post has earned.
“I wish we could find a place we could afford to rent that’s about 40-foot by 50-foot with bathrooms,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to have bathrooms. We can get away with not having a kitchen, because most of our dinners are fish fries or grilled burgers and hot dogs … I’d like a building with one large room for meetings and an office where we could meet with veterans.”
He said they have been looking for a place of their own for three years, but rent for most of the places they contacted was “way too much.” He emphasized that the American Legion is a nonprofit organization, which means the building’s owner could donate the space to the post and deduct it as a charitable contribution on their income taxes. So far, though, he said even owners of buildings that have been vacant for years have not been willing to rent their properties at a reasonable price.
He said that’s too bad because they need a place not only to meet, but also where veterans or family members can meet with him, the post’s chaplain or a service officer. Fitzgerald recently met with the spouse of a veteran who’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The wife said she was at her wit’s end about how to deal with her husband. After talking with Fitzgerald about things that trigger flashbacks and other complications of PTSD, she understood a little better what her husband was going through. The explanation of another veteran — one who completed five tours in Vietnam — was easier to understand than the medical terminology she’d been getting from professionals.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “We’re here to help veterans and their families physically, mentally, spiritually, even financially — every which way we can.”
Post 321 also helps needy families in the surrounding communities, he said. For the last five years, they’ve given away food baskets for needy families on Thanksgiving. The baskets consist of enough food for a family of six or eight. He said last year they gave away 95 baskets. Their goal this year is 100.
“We’re hosting a 5K fun run/walk and kids’ 1K costume event on Nov. 1,” he said. “It’s a fundraiser for our Operation Local Support, which pays for the food baskets, new flags for veterans’ graves on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, assist veterans and their families and provide resources for the Americanism classes we offer to local schools … The run is the main fundraiser we do, although we sometime hold fish fries or peanut boils.”
Fitzgerald said participants in this year’s run can bring $20 worth of dry or canned goods in place of the registration fee. Late registration begins at 7 a.m. on race day, with the run starting at 8 a.m.
He said he was pleased with the support Post 321 gets from local leaders, especially the volunteer fire departments at Riceboro, Midway, Lake George/Fleming and Sunbury. Many firemen are Legion members, he said.
“Without the support of Midway and Riceboro and the county commissioners, we couldn’t do half the stuff we do,” Fitzgerald said. “Our post is really an American Legion family. Our wives, sons and daughters all participate. We’re all part of a team. It’s not just one or two guys doing it. It’s everybody.”
With the run’s details still being finalized, he said they’re already working on what needs to be done Nov. 11 when Post 321 hosts the Veterans Day Parade. Post members also are encouraged to support other local events, including the Veterans Salute at Bryant Commons and the fifth annual fly-in/open house at Berg Park Aerodrome in Midway. Both events also are Nov. 1.
With or without a place of their own, Fitzgerald said the post will continue to assist veterans and their families and support the community. Anyone with information about the availability of “affordable” space can contact Fitzgerald by calling 980-5204 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org