Thursday, July 19, 2012

NY Legion Opens 94th Convention


Legion Works Tirelessly for Others, County Exec Says

Cmdr Mike Bowen & Co. Exec. Maggie Brooks
ROCHESTER -- "American Legion members are very important to us because they give countless hours (to community service)."

That's how Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks welcomed Legionnaires to Rochester during the opening session of the 94th New York Department Convention July 19.

"They work tirelessly to help others," she said, noting that veterans, "like all of you in this room," make possible what has been accomplished in our nation.

Department Commander W. Michael Bowen also pointed to the more than 500 Legion members in the room, saying: "We all served together for God and Country. All of you make a difference."

A number of awards highlighted the opening session.

Scout Eli Reichner
Eli M. Reichner of Spring Valley was named the New York Legion Eagle Scout of the Year. Scouting Chairman Carl Griffith pointed to the scout's merit badge sash, covered with 129 badges.

When he first got involved in Scouting at the age of 11, Reichner told the convention, he set a goal to earn every merit badge. He managed to do just that, earning the last one just a few days before turning 18. "About five weeks before my 18th birthday, the Boy Scouts added a new merit badge in welding." A legionnaire who was a welder "came to my rescue" and taught him the welding skills he needed to earn his 129th badge.

"On this quest," he said, "I discovered the value of commitment and the power of an encouraging word."

Chief Jose Avilla & Commander Mike Bowen
Law and Order Chair Charles Hill introduced the New York American Legion Police Officer of the Year -- Jose Avilla, chief of police in Medina. "The only other recognition that equals this is the day I became a U.S. citizen," Avilla said to a standing ovation.

Hill also announced that Firefighter of the Year is Ricky L. Provost, Town of Dickinson Fire Department, Dickinson Center, and the EMT of the Year is Louis E. Pine, a member of Post 1363 in Eldred.

Munnsville Fire Department in Madison County received the New York Legion Service Award "for 99 years of outstanding community service," Hill said. Long-time fire department member Carl Griffith accepted the award on behalf of the department.

Elmont Legion Post 1033 received a commendation "for outstanding post contribution to the Law and Order program," and Kings County American Legion received a commendation "for outstanding county contribution to the Law and Order program," Hill said.

Walter Gaun
New York's Legionnaire of the Year is Walter Gaun of Post 366 in Seneca Falls, Seneca County, 7th District, program chair James B. Middleton Jr. announced.

Gaun is a Vietnam era Army veteran who has served in a number of offices in his post, including commander, and as a counselor at Boys State.

National Vice Commander James H. Hales Jr. of Pennsylvania extended greetings from National Commander Fang Wong, a New York Department member himself.

While encouraging Legionnaires to recruit and retain members, he reiterated Commander Wong's emphasis on putting "service first, membership second."

James Hales Jr.
He reminded the convention that nationally the American Legion is:

  • adamantly opposed to any reduction in national defense.
  • dead set against any cuts in VA health care.
  • making veterans employment a high priority.

"We strongly support the certification of military skills into the civilian job market," Hales said.

The transition from war zone to civilian life is tough enough, he said, without having to worry about gainful employment. Joblessness leads to homelessness, he noted. That thousands of veterans, both men and women, are finding themselves homeless and their self-esteem shattered,  is "a travesty," Hales said.