American Legion seeks involvement from next generation

American Legion seeks involvement from next generation

Mike Silvia traveled to more than 20 countries as a member of the U.S. Navy. He is now the commander of the American Legion Balfour-Cole Post 64 in Smithfield. “The legion offers a family in the community,” Silvia said. (Breeze photo by Jackie Roman)

SMITHFIELD – Mark and Dianne Lamontagne have always made a habit of donating to local veterans’ causes, but the American Legion Balfour-Cole Post 64, established in 1946, had not come on their radar until this year.

“I pass this place every day,” Mark Lamontagne said at the Aug. 30 American Legion meeting at 170 Pleasant View Ave. “We don’t think about this, right here in our community.”

But this year the Lamontagne’s caught wind of an American Legion fund raiser for an all-terrain wheelchair, to be donated to a local paralyzed veteran. The Smithfield couple jumped at the opportunity to contribute and were presented with a certificate of appreciation at last Wednesday’s meeting.

“We can only do what we do because of what you’ve done for us,” Lamontagne said.

The Lamontagne’s are not unlike so many of us who drive past the more than 2,000 American Legion posts and say, “What actually is the American Legion?”

The American Legion Inc. is a U.S. wartime veterans organization formed in Paris in 1919 by three officers of the American Expeditionary Forces. It was chartered by the U.S. Congress in Sep. 16, 1919, as a patriotic veterans organization.

Although the legion is composed exclusively of veterans, Smithfield’s American Legion Commander Mike Silvia said the organization serves everyone.

“The legion is not just about military, it’s about citizenship and community.”

The commander said even he didn’t know the full scope of the legion for many years.

Silvia retired from the Navy in 1994 and didn’t join the legion until approximately six years ago, becoming an involved member within the past three.

He quickly learned that the legion offers not only support to veterans, but also support to the community at large.

“As you get involved in the legion you can do a small part to help others,” Silvia said.

For example, the Smithfield chapter will be visiting local elementary schools this fall to lead a flag etiquette lesson.

“The kids are very enthusiastic,” American Legion member Skip Sweeney said. “And it’s just a nice way for us to show how we feel about the flag ... and cultivate that feeling in the next generation.”

In recent years the Balfour-Cole post has also sponsored an oratorical contest at Gallagher Middle School, with the theme “what Memorial Day means to me.” The winner of this contest is awarded scholarship money and is also invited to speak at the town’s Memorial Day ceremony.

The legion also sponsors local baseball teams and two Boy Scout troops, visits the Providence VA Medical Center, and tends to monuments in the community.

“But who is going to fill our shoes?” Jr. Vice Commander Leo Swider asked at last Wednesday’s meeting. “We need these young fellas and young ladies ... to carry on what we won’t be able to do when we aren’t here.”

Silvia said the Balfour-Cole post has approximately 124 members, most of which are older. His message to young veterans?

“The legion offers a family in the community, you need to have a sense of support like a family would be, as a veteran.”

Smithfield veterans interested in joining the American Legion can email post64mike@gmail.com .

Comments

If the people who run the Balfour-Cole post had perhaps allowed a local Cub Scout group to meet there (which they refused), they might have had more people interested in carrying on their legacy. Young boys starting Scouting and their young families would have had a connection to the post. That was an unfortunate choice on their part.