April 19, 2014

American Legion struggles with growing pains

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Post 45 heading to Burlington for Veterans Day

By Garret K. Woodward
Observer correspondent

“We take care of our own,” said Walter Trepanier. His voice struck a sense of strength and patriotism over the phone, but the tone of the 83-year-old veteran faltered a little as he pondered the obstacles facing the Williston American Legion, now in its second year. “But it’s rough you know and we can’t do it alone.”

A South Pacific Army Engineer during World War II, Trepanier enlisted shortly after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Stationed in the Philippines, Australia, New Guinea and eventually Japan, he witnessed the carnage brought upon Nagasaki just weeks after the hydrogen bomb decimated the city.

“It was an awful sight to see, we knew it was somewhat radioactive but we had a job to do,” he said.

Now retired after years as an electrician, Trepanier is Commander of American Legion Post 45 in Williston and sees many challenges, which include having no official meeting house, a lag in membership and a lack of funding. Because of these barriers, the group plans to celebrate the Nov. 11 Veterans Day in Burlington’s Battery Park.

Originally called Armistice Day, Veterans Day was marked for commemoration by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The significance of the 11th day of the 11th month was established to remember the exact day in 1918 that fighting ended in World War I — and to commend all who heroically gave their lives in The Great War and previous conflicts.

“It’s kind of hard seeing as there is nothing really active in the town. We’d like to celebrate here in Williston but we really have no place to go or not enough members present,” Trepanier said while thinking about the Nov. 11 memorial services. “If someone wants to donate a building they can, if they want to donate money to Post 45 they can, but until then we must go outside our community to celebrate.”

For now, the post meets once a month for an hour at the recreational hall in the Whitney Hill Senior Housing complex. According to Trepanier, of the 70 or so members, only 45 have paid the yearly membership dues. Many are not around this time of year, either hunting or migrating south as the winter months set in.

But this does not deter those who remain, especially Trepanier, who is trying to get the organization off the ground.

“A lot of people don’t even know we’re out here. We’re trying to get more to join and have the younger generations come in and take over, but with no money and no building it’s difficult,” Trepanier said.

According to Burlington Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Bob Colby, Williston’s isn’t the only chapter in Vermont struggling with financial and membership needs.

“Every group whether it be the American Legion or VFW has been affected from certain bills being passed in the legislature, the biggest one being the smoking ban,” Colby said. The imposition of the smoking ban at American Legion and VFW meeting spots angered many veterans, Colby said, who felt their group was a private fraternal order and not a public establishment.

With the rules enforced by the state, the club began losing members and a major source of income at establishments, according to Colby.

“The money that we fundraise goes to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or somewhere else in the community. There isn’t much left over for the veterans themselves, which is why we rely on the tavern and we lost a lot of income and people over the ban,” Colby said.

Yet regardless of who needs how much money or how many members, military colleagues in Burlington wait with open arms for those outside the city looking for a place to properly celebrate soldiers fallen and those who have come home safely.

“We welcome all veterans to our services. We’re all the same and are all veterans trying to do our part in the community,” Colby said.

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