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Local post celebrates Legion’s 93rd anniversary

Posted: March 14, 2013 5:20 p.m.
Updated: March 15, 2013 5:00 a.m.

An organization with a long history of service to veterans continues today in Kershaw County. The American Legion, the only veterans organization, chartered by U.S. Congress, needs new members.

On this date, March 15, 1920, 93 years ago, the American Legion was created to provide both camaraderie and support for men who had served their country during the Great War. Had it been the “War to End War” as had been optimistically anticipated, this veterans organization might have faded away as that generation of “doughboys” slowly mustered out. Unfortunately, scarcely had the ink dried on the treaties before belligerent factions around the globe began hostilities that would progress to a second, longer and even more terrifying world war. Five years after the conclusion of World War II, Americans heeded their country’s call to Korea. Less than a decade later, Americans served in Vietnam. Since the conclusion of that conflict, America’s sons and daughters have served their nation in areas far from our shores. Many still carry our stars and stripes in Afghanistan today. Throughout all of these conflicts, the American Legion has continued to offer fellowship and service to our veterans.

James Leroy Belk American Legion Post 17 continuously has served this community since its organization in April 1920. The state commander signed its charter October 1 of that year. The post was named for 2nd Lieutenant James Leroy Belk, a Kershaw County native killed in action in France, October 6, 1918, slightly more than a month before the armistice. Post 17 met in five different locations before settling in 1962 into its current home at 1047 West DeKalb St. Its membership has changed but its mission has remained constant: to serve veterans and their community.

Post 17’s Legion Hall provides meeting facilities for four other organizations in addition to the American Legion. Post 17 honors veterans collectively by placing American flags on graves in cemeteries throughout Kershaw County during Memorial Day weekend and with a Veterans Day program in November, in which veterans and county high school JROTC students participate. Post 17’s Honor Guard, at the family’s request, honors any departed Kershaw County veteran by folding and presenting the flag to the family and playing TAPS during the internment. The post provides support to its members who are in care facilities and assists veterans at Dorn VA Center in Columbia. It also sends out a newsletter to its members each month to keep them informed of post activities and other items that might be of interest.

Support to the community -- especially its youth -- has been a major focus during the past 60 years. Post 17 annually spends tens of thousands of dollars sponsoring junior and senior Legion baseball teams, sending county high school juniors to Palmetto Boys State and to the Nathan M. Wolfe Law Cadet Academy. It offers high school students, grades nine through 12, an opportunity to hone their public speaking skill and earn college scholarship money through the American legion Annual High School Oratorical Contest. In the past decade, two Post 17 members won the state contest and represented South Carolina in national competition in Indianapolis, Indiana. The post has provided funding of special projects for Boy Scouts, and supports activities of three Kershaw County high school JROTC programs, as well as that of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice.

Post 17 annually recognizes members of our city and county law enforcement agencies and firemen. It has purchased armor vests for the former and specialized equipment for the latter. The post had special programs honoring our community’s first responders on the first and second anniversaries of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has held special dinners to raise funds for local entities like the Walter M. Crowe Animal Shelter and for destitute people beyond our community, the more recent event occurring in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Post 17 members annually assist the Salvation Army by ringing the bells during the holidays and are currently planning a blood drive during the holidays to support the American Red Cross.

As we near our centennial of service to veterans and to our community, we see great needs. However, just as our American Legion founders, our World War I brothers, needed reinforcements in their fight against the enemy, we need reinforcements. We are a graying group of veterans who call upon our comrades from more recent and current wars to join us. Any man or woman who has honorably served our country (since Vietnam) during the campaigns in Lebanon or Grenada in 1982 through 1984, in Panama in 1990, or in the Mideast conflicts since August 2, 1990 to today, is eligible for membership. If you are eligible and are interested in being part of an organization that provides fellowship and support to veterans and service to the community in which we live, contact Post 17 Commander Jim Rabon (432-5326) or membership chairman Perry McCoy (243-5000). You served your country; now serve your fellow veterans and your community.

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