America’s Largest Veterans Organization Turns 100

By Peggy Kowal, an Albany resident and Albany Regional Museum volunteer. 

The American Legion has been a part of the patriotic fabric of our states and communities for 100 years.  To commemorate this organization, and to honor Albany’s Post 10, the Albany Regional Museum will open an exhibit in August at 136 Lyon Street S. in historic downtown Albany.

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The American Legion was founded after WWI in France during the Paris Peace Conference on March 15-17, 1919.  The first caucus held was under the name American Expeditionary Force.  Two months later a caucus was held in St. Louis, MO, where the name The American Legion was officially adopted.  It was chartered by Congress Sept. 6, 1919, as a patriotic veterans’ organization.  The Legion played the leading role in drafting and passing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the “GI Bill.” 

The American Legion is headquartered in Indianapolis, IN. Ten United States Presidents, No. 33, Harry Truman, through No. 43, George W. Bush, were members.  The mission of the American Legion is to support veterans, their families and their community. 

Albany’s Post was temporarily organized by Capt. Ed. Eivers on July 10, 1919 and chartered by 15 veterans on July 28, 1919, making it one of the oldest Legion Posts in the state of Oregon.  It was to be named Senator George Chamberlain Post 10, but that name was rejected by the Department of Oregon American Legion because the senator was still living. 

On September 10, 1919 the post was named the Alfred E. Babcock Post 10 American Legion.  Mr. Babcock was a local WWI veteran killed in Europe at the age of 19 or 20, where he volunteered to stay and help with reconstruction.  It is unclear how he died; however, his body was returned to the U.S. where he was buried with full military honors on June 6, 1921, in Riverside Cemetery. The Post name reverted to American Legion Albany Post 10 in 1931.

Post 10’s family is made up of Legionnaires (veterans), Auxiliary, Unit 10, (wives and daughters of veterans), Sons of American Legion (sons of veterans), and the Legion Riders (must be a Legion member). The Legion is a place for veterans to be with others who know the price of service to their country, support each other, their families and their community.

In the early years, Post 10 did not have a regular place to meet.  The 1919 Armistice Day meeting was held in the basement of the Baptist Church. In 1920 it was noted in the minutes: “The Post Adjutant would have been at the meeting if he could have found out where we were meeting.”  Over the years the meetings were held in various locations: The Old Community House, the Armory, and the Oregon Electric Train Station (now Ciddici’s Pizza). In 1953 they met in the upstairs of the Elks Lodge at the corner of First Avenue and Lyon Street SW until the building was destroyed by fire.  In the late 50s or early 60s they moved to 1215 Pacific Blvd. SE.  In the early morning hours on July 4, 2010, an arsonist set fire to the building which resulted in a near total loss of American Legion Post 10 assets.  What it did not destroy was the ability to continue with their many programs and commitments to local veterans and the community.  On June 14, 2013 the community celebrated the grand opening of the newly built building at the same location.

Early on, Albany Post 10 and Auxiliary Unit 10 have been leaders in the community.  In the 1920’s the Alfred E. Babcock Post 10 presented the city of Albany its first ambulance, stipulating that the service would be without charge to all war veterans.

Albany's first ambulance, parked outside City Hall, was given to the city by Alfred E. Babock Post #10 Albany American Legion; the cost was $3,900 and it was the first one manufactured by Strudebaker. The executive committee of the American Legion are pictured left to right: P.A. Matheney, H.R. McFeeters, Clarence Caldwell, Walt Stuart, Sr., Wallace Eakin, Frank Stellmacher, Kenneth Bloom, George Cernik and Jay Palmer.

Albany's first ambulance, parked outside City Hall, was given to the city by Alfred E. Babock Post #10 Albany American Legion; the cost was $3,900 and it was the first one manufactured by Strudebaker. The executive committee of the American Legion are pictured left to right: P.A. Matheney, H.R. McFeeters, Clarence Caldwell, Walt Stuart, Sr., Wallace Eakin, Frank Stellmacher, Kenneth Bloom, George Cernik and Jay Palmer.

Legion and Auxiliary members have also  supported the community by making contributions to the local Boy Scout programs in Linn and Benton counties, by helping organize a volunteer fire department, making donations to the Red Cross to assist veterans in need, supporting the Albany College financial aid program, and contributing to the Timber Carnival and the addition to the Albany General Hospital.  They also sponsored a plan to purchase property for a landing field near Albany where the Albany Municipal Airport is now located.

In the 1930s, regatta boat racing was the most popular sport in the country.  That year a regatta was held by Post 10 to raise money to purchase uniforms for the Albany American Legion Band.  The second annual American Legion Water Regatta was held in June 21-22, 1931 at McKay Lake in Pendleton.  John Fierstien American Legion Albany Post 10 drove the winning boat No. 39, Miss Albany.

Post 10 and Unit 10 continue with community support today by raising money to send juniors in high school to Boys & Girls State.  They also offer college scholarships.  Post 10 sponsors Cub Scouts, Troop 10 and Pack 10.  Post 10 and Unit 10 host an annual Christmas party.  In 2018, their Christmas party was the biggest in the state, hosting 1,200 children.  In their excellent performance of presentation of the colors, uniform standards and overall military presence Post 10s Honor Guard had the prestigious honor of winning the state championship in 2000.

Other community support provides veteran family assistance, a family support network, flag advocacy and etiquette, veteran benefit assistance, veteran quilts and supplies in hospitals.  They provide transportation to the Veteran’s Administration, the hospital and make hospital visits to boost morale.  They lend medical equipment to those in need. Vets Helping Vets is a program that helps veterans repair or build homes.

The Legion and Legion Riders provide help with funerals and memorial services for veterans up and down the West Coast.  The Legion Riders ride to honor fallen military men and women and to protect the sanctity of their funerals from those who would dishonor their memory.  They escort military units to airports going for combat overseas, and welcome units home upon their return. The Riders raise money for VA hospitals and women and children centers.

Over the years countless community volunteers, including hundreds of Legion members, are responsible for the Veterans Day Parade, the largest west of the Mississippi, the Linn County Veterans Memorial and the Timber Linn War Memorial. The Legion continues to participate in the Veterans Day Parade, plus sponsor the Dignitary Breakfast and Spaghetti Feed that week. They provide a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Legion Hall and help with the Memorial Day ceremony at Timber Linn Park.  They also provide a 9/11 ceremony at the courthouse every year.  Legion members take their turn volunteering at the coffee shack just north of Albany on I-5.

The largest program run by the Auxiliary is the selling of poppies before Memorial Day.  The Friday before Memorial Day is national Poppy Day, and money raised from this program is for disabled veterans.  They continue to send care packages to deployed troops and write notes to wounded veterans in hospitals.

One of the most recognized programs sponsored by the Legion is American Legion Baseball, which began in 1925. It is the nations most successful amateur athletic program, educating young people about the importance of sportsmanship, citizenship and fitness.  In 1942 the Albany American Legion Post 10 baseball team, sponsored by Cummings Movers, won the Junior State Championship.  Currently Post 10 sponsors three teams at the Boys & Girls Club.  The T-ball and next level is co-ed, where the Eagles is a club for 10-11-year-old girls.  In 2019 the American Legion Baseball World Series will be Aug. 15-20 in Shelby, NC. 

While men have led Post 10 over the years, women have made their presence known at Albany Post 10.

In 1943 Maridee Christine Voss Nye who grew up in Corvallis enlisted in the SPARS, the women’s branch of the U.S. Coast Guard as the first woman from Linn County. After the war she returned to the west coast to make her home in Albany.  In 1946 she was the first female Legionnaire to join Albany Post 10.  Mrs. Nye passed away at the age of 97, April 14, 2015.  She is buried in Willamette Memorial Park, Albany.

Nancy Leigh Ward Wachsnicht graduated from Albany High School in 1938 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943.  After her military service, she continued her patriotic activity as a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts in Albany.  In 2003, she was elected the first woman Commander of American Legion Albany Post 10, the largest post in Oregon.  In March 2004, she received an honor she cherished – a Non-Commissioned Officers Association of American World War II Medallion from former Gov. Ted Kulongoski.  She also served as American Legion Post chaplain, always ready, capable and willing to do what needed to be done.  Mrs. Wachsnicht passed away at the age of 92, Nov.17, 2011.  A celebration of her life was held at the American Legion Albany Post 10 on Nov. 28, where she received full military honors.  She is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Albany. 

Margo Coleman served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952-1955 and was elected Commander in 2006.  She has been an active volunteer in many areas in the community.  In 2017 she was honored as Veteran of the Year.

Today, as when the weary soldiers founded The American Legion 100 years ago their mission has remained the same – support veterans, their families and their communities.  Stop by the Legion to see how Post 10 has been an integral part of the Albany community since 1919.

Peggy is an American Legion Auxiliary member of the Allen B. Carter Post 24 of Hattiesburg, MS.  Allen B. Carter was her great uncle, a Private in the U.S. Army, a WWI veteran, buried in the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.