George Washington Bay View American Legion Post 180

June 5, 2014

By Kevin Meagher 

What is it and what does it do?

From left: George Washington Bay View Post American Legion Post 180 members Curtis Nunn, Post Historian; Steve Wesolowski (Post Commander); Charlie Cortte (Post Chaplain) — all three served in the Air Force. CREDIT Jennifer Kresse

From left: George Washington Bay View Post American Legion Post 180 members Curtis Nunn, Post Historian; Steve Wesolowski (Post Commander); Charlie Cortte (Post Chaplain) — all three served in the Air Force. CREDIT Jennifer Kresse

Even before World War II, the Bay View American Legion Post 180 was an active presence in the Bay View community. Chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919, the American Legion functions as a national organization that strives to provide support for veterans and local communities. Receiving no funding from the government, the American Legion is a nonprofit organization relying solely on its fundraising efforts and public donations.

The history of Post 180 began in June 1927 when Fred Osterndorf, who later became the post’s first commander, began recruiting local veterans to a Bay View sect of the national American Legion. In 1928 the post was chartered as Bay View Post 180 and was headquartered in a building at 2530 S. Shore Drive that it leased from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of Chicago. Soon the post’s membership grew and its services expanded. By the next decade, it became clear the post needed to move a larger building. The building it now occupies was erected at 2860 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in 1941. The post purchased the land from the city of Milwaukee and constructed the building for $25,000.

In 1971 Bay View Post 180 merged with the St. Francis Post and was re-chartered as Bay View St. Francis Post 180. After another merger in 2002 with the George Washington Post, it was renamed yet again, and still today goes by the name George Washington Bay View Post 180. The function of the organization has remained the same throughout its nearly 90 year history — to mentor and sponsor youth programs, promote and advocate for veteran affairs, to rehabilitate veterans, and to provide a social and democratic forum for veterans.

Like any business or other nonprofit, Post 180 has a management team: the post commander, who leads the organization; elected officers; an executive committee; and various fundraising committees.

There are nine general business meetings annually where the executive committee votes on major decisions affecting the post and the actions of each committee. Some of the committees are Bingo, memorial brick fund, house, Fourth of July parade, and yes, a poppy committee. For Bay View residents, the sight of a uniformed veteran selling paper poppies at the post office in May is a welcome sight that signifies summer is on the horizon.

But the tradition has great meaning to veterans and it possesses deep historical significance. During WWI, the battlefields of France and Flanders were covered with wild poppies. The veterans of those battles associated the delicate red flowers with the memory of their fallen comrades.

“The poppy initially represented the service of WWI veterans in Flanders and it was a symbol of the sacrifice that the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers made during those conflicts. There were hundreds of thousands of soldiers that were killed, and the poppy has now transitioned to symbolize the service of U.S. Military veterans for their country,” said Post 180 Adjutant Gregory Roth.

The symbol lives on today and has become incorporated into a financial support system for veterans. Wounded veterans in government hospitals make the poppies and are paid for their labor. They also receive proceeds from the poppy sales.

Almost all of the money generated by Post 180 is funneled into veteran support systems or community projects. This includes their fundraising proceeds, the rent paid by the Legion Post building’s tenant Little DeMarinis, and the annual membership dues. Each Post member pays $38 a year in dues, $25 of which goes to the national and state American Legion headquarters. The remaining $13 remains with the post.

The national headquarters distributes the contributions to a number of different programs including The Legacy Scholarship, which provides assistance to children whose parents were killed in service; a phone card program, which provides phone cards to service members set to be deployed; and Operation Comfort Warrior, which provides rehabilitation services, clothing, and entertainment to recovering military members wounded in action.

On a local level, Post 180 has donated its funds to programs such as the Fisher House, the Ronald McDonald House, the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, the South Shore Frolics, and the Humboldt Park 4th of July parade. They also sponsor a local Boy Scout troop and every year send two teens from St. Francis High School to Badger Boys State, a weeklong youth program at Ripon College to teach Wisconsin high-school students leadership and the workings of government.

From left: George Washington Bay View Post American Legion Post 180 members Curtis Nunn, Post Historian; Steve Wesolowski (Post Commander); Charlie Cortte (Post Chaplain) — all three served in the Air Force. CREDIT Jennifer Kresse

From left: George Washington Bay View Post American Legion Post 180 members Curtis Nunn, Post Historian; Steve Wesolowski, Post Commander; Charlie Cortte, Post Chaplain — all three served in the Air Force. CREDIT Jennifer Kresse

Perception Problem

With nearly 14,000 American Legion posts and 2.4 million members worldwide, the Legion would appear to be a healthy organization. However, where Bay View Post 180 once boasted a thousand-plus members, it has dwindled to 177 members today, with the average member’s age in the 60s, according to Roth.

“We’re struggling right now. We’re struggling to find memberships, and it’s not that we’re short of veterans…We just went down to the Reserve Center two weekends ago and one of the things we were approached with was, ‘Well I’m not 60, 70 years old; why would I want to belong to an American Legion? My father belonged to it,’” said Post 180 member Bob Schlemm, a 40-year member of the post.

Contrary to what one might think, the requirements to join Post 180 have very little to do with age. The requirements actually revolve around time served. Those who served from April 1917-Nov. 1918 in WWI; Dec. 1941-Dec. 1946 in WWII; July 1950-Jan. 1955 in Korea; Feb. 1961-May 1975 in Vietnam; Aug. 1982-July 1984 in Lebanon/Grenada; Dec. 1989-Jan. 1990 in Panama; and Aug. 1990-the present in the Gulf War and the War on Terror are all eligible to join the post. Any veteran, residing anywhere in the world, who meets those qualifications, can join Post 180.

With annual dues so low and eligibility requirement so broad, it seems unusual that Post 180 would have difficulty recruiting members from some of the more recent conflicts.

“The Iraqi, Afghanistan, Gulf War people for some reason felt that only their grandfathers or fathers belonged to the American Legion and didn’t understand the mission or didn’t feel the camaraderie and this is what we’re up against right now. It’s a perception; it’s more of a marketing thing,” said Schlemm.

Luella Dooley-Menet, who served in both the Gulf War and Kosovo, recently joined the post and would agree with the notion that the post has the persona of an older persons club. She recalled seeing representatives of Post 180 who marched in the Bay View Fourth of July parade as being mainly elderly white males. She would like to get more visibility in the community for the younger post members in the future. While Post 180 has had its share of struggles, Roth does not believe its survival is in jeopardy.

“We hope to promote interest in the younger people who are coming out of the military, and we’ve been somewhat successful this year. We picked up seven new members, five Gulf War veterans and two Vietnam-era veterans. It

In 1928 the post was chartered as Bay View Post 180 and was headquartered in a building at 2530 S. Shore Drive that it leased from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of Chicago.  CREDIT George Washington Bay View American Legion Post 180

In 1928 the post was chartered as Bay View Post 180 and was headquartered in a building at 2530 S. Shore Drive that it leased from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of Chicago.
CREDIT George Washington Bay View American Legion Post 180

was nice to see this influx of Gulf War veterans. I am positive that we can, as an organization, move forward and be here for another 85 years,” Roth said.

The American Legion’s Historical Highlights

1919 The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.

Aug. 9, 1921
The Legion’s efforts result in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration. Today, the Legion continues to lobby for adequate funding to cover medical, disability, education and other benefits for veterans.

June 23, 1935
The first American Legion Boys State convenes in Springfield, Ill., to help youths gain an understanding of the structure and operation of the federal government. The first Boys Nation, bringing together youth leadership from all the Boys State programs, convenes in 1946. Today, more than 19,500 young men participate in Boys State, and 98 in Boys Nation, from 49 of the 50 states.

June 1, 1938
The final round of the Legion’s first annual National High School Oratorical Contest is conducted in Norman, Okla. Today, more than 3,400 high-school students from around the country compete annually in the contest, which promotes a greater understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Winners receive thousands of dollars in college scholarships.

Sept. 19-21, 1942 Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion is changed for the first and only time since it was written in 1919.  The word “War” is changed to “Wars.”

June 22, 1944
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the original GI Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, ushering in monumental changes in U.S. society. Higher education becomes democratized after 8 million veterans go to school on the GI Bill, get better jobs, buy houses in the suburbs and raise families. For every dollar spent on educating veterans, the U.S. economy eventually gets $7 back.

May 4, 1950
The Legion votes to contribute funds to the field of mental health, thereby playing a key role in launching the National Association for Mental Health.

Sept. 1, 1966
The Legion voices great concern over the fate of prisoners of war in Vietnam. Today, the Legion urges a full accounting of all POWs and troops missing in action; and has formed a special group from among the nation’s major veterans organizations to continue pressing for further resolution of this issue.

May 1, 1972
The Legion implements a Halloween safety program for children; it remains the only national program of its kind.

Aug. 26, 1982
The Legion presents a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Wall in Washington, becoming the largest single contributor to the project.

Jan. 1, 1989
The Veterans Administration is elevated to Cabinet-level status as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Legion fought hard for the change, arguing that veterans deserve representation at the highest levels of government.

Oct. 16, 1989
The long-standing objective of the Legion to improve adjudication procedures for veteran’s claims is achieved when the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals becomes operational. Most of the provisions contained in the law creating the court were originally included in the Veterans Reassurance Act, written by the Legion and introduced in Congress in 1988.

Aug. 2, 1990
The Legion files suit against the federal government for failure to conduct a Congress-mandated study about the effects of Agent Orange on veterans who served in Vietnam.

November 2002
The Legion launches the national “I Am Not A Number” campaign to identify and document the delays veterans face in obtaining medical care from VA.

May 2014 American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s press conference on the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal. “The American Legion applauds President Obama for committing himself to hold leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs more accountable for their actions. If this system-wide failure is to be corrected, it is paramount for our commander-in-chief to be personally involved. The president needs to ensure that every veteran who relies on the VA can do so secure in the knowledge that he or she will receive the best and most timely care humanly possible.

Source: http://www.legion.org/history

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