American Legion welcomes all veterans

(left to right) 1st vice commander, Fred Youngs; WWII veteran, Phillip English; and 2nd vice commander, Paul Koekebacker, pose near one of two original WWI military uniform displays in the Groton American Legion Post 800.
(left to right) 1st vice commander, Fred Youngs; WWII veteran, Phillip English; and 2nd vice commander, Paul Koekebacker, pose near one of two original WWI military uniform displays in the Groton American Legion Post 800.
Photo by Linda Competillo

Established in 1921, the Groton American Legion Post 800 on Main Street has been thriving from then until the present, yet many veterans have been unable to join this or any post through the years due to the requirement to adhere to very specific eligibility dates.

I had an informative visit with some of Groton’s Post 800 Legionnaires last week: 1st vice commander, Fred Youngs, 2nd vice commander, Paul Koekebacker, and WWII veteran, Phillip English. They explained why it’s often difficult for some veterans to join the Legion.

Membership eligibility in The American Legion was determined by Congress through the establishment of specific dates of declared hostilities in which U.S. military personnel were activated. Since its founding in 1919, membership had been open to veterans of World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Lebanon/Grenada, Panama and Gulf War/War on Terrorism.

There are at least 12 known combat operations that required activated military personnel, such as the Cold War, Libyan conflict and Persian Gulf conflicts, and resulted in about 1,600 casualties among U.S. military men and women. However, these operations are unrecognized by the U.S. government as a period of war, and those who served during those time frames are not eligible for membership.

To Youngs’ and Koekebacker’s sheer delight, that all changed with President Donald Trump’s signature on the LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act) on July 30, 2019.

The congressionally approved act is a way to honor thousands of veterans who were killed or wounded on duty during periods not previously considered a time of war and redefines The American Legion’s membership eligibility dates. The eligibility now spans from Dec. 7, 1941, until a time when the U.S. is no longer at war, as determined by Congress.

“Now anyone who served or is currently serving in the military can be a member of the Legion,” Koekebacker said.

He and Youngs, along with post commander, Frank Heine, want to make sure they spread that message and welcome any and all military folk to join.

In response to my asking what the post has to offer potential members, all three gentlemen had some compelling things to offer, not the least of which is the spirit of camaraderie Koekebacker described as “something we all had in the service, but when you come home, it’s hard to find that anywhere else again. The American Legion gives that back.”

Koekebacker served in the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Paratroopers division from January 1968 to January 1970 and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. While serving, he worked with heavy mortar, calculating the charge and angle for those firing it and made $97 a month.

English, a lifetime Groton resident who is 95 years old, has been a member since his tour of duty ended. He served in the Army in WWII from 1943-1945 in the 3rd Cavalry Recon Squadron under General George C. Patton, where he “hauled supplies to the front line in France and Germany and everywhere thereabouts.” He said there were about 12 or 13 men from Groton in the same unit as him.

English said he made $31 a month in the service and then came back to work at Smith Corona for the next 39 and a half years.

English spends time at Post 800 almost every single day. Youngs said they call him their “poster child,” and if a day goes by that English doesn’t come in, they call to find out if he’s OK.

Serving in the U. S. Air Force from 1965 to 1969, Youngs was an aircraft weapons specialist in the 526th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. He spent three of those years in Germany, fighting the Cold War, loading weapons on aircraft for $70 a month.

Youngs made the point that the Legion “takes care of our members,” citing that as another good reason to be a part of it. They have a storehouse of supplies they readily lend to their members such as hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs and more.

He mentioned how many female veterans are homeless and how the Groton post tries to help those vets by donating money for diapers and baby wipes to the VA in Syracuse for its Women’s Wellness Center.

“We’re always advocating for our veterans, and we work closely with the Tompkins County service officer, JR Claiborne, to help vets any way they need,” Youngs said.

Koekebacker said there’s always something going on at the Legion.

“There are meals offered throughout the year, including Thursday Grill Night, where anyone can come by for hamburgers and hotdogs,” Koekebacker said.

Each Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the Legionnaires visit 11 different cemeteries, performing ceremonies, placing American flags on the graves of all veterans and conducting a 21-gun salute.

The community is encouraged to let the Legion officers know if there is a veteran who is laid to rest in any local cemetery to make sure they are receiving the respect due them on these special holidays.

To tangibly celebrate the signing of the LEGION Act, The Groton American Legion is planning a special event to recruit new members to the Legion, the Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion on Saturday, Feb. 29.
The day will kick off with a chicken barbecue, beginning at 11 a.m. Full dinners will be available for $10 or half-chicken only for $8.

Adam Parker, old and new country musician, will be entertaining from 1 to 4 p.m., and there will be 50/50 and basket raffles going on throughout the day. Bring the entire family and see what Post 800 is all about.

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, or 607-227-4922.

In brief:

Groton Senior Club

The Groton Senior Club will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at the Groton American Legion on Main Street. Sign-ins and social time begin at 11:30 a.m. A dish-to-pass luncheon begins at noon, with entertainment and a business meeting to follow. 50/50 raffle tickets are available to purchase at $.50 each.

Members are reminded to bring their own table service, as well as a serving utensil for their shared dish/dessert. A donation of $1 per person is requested if you bring a dish-to-pass, $3 if you do not. This helps cover the cost of supplies and entertainment. Coffee and ice water are provided.

This club typically meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at the American Legion. New members are always welcome. Annual dues are $12 per person.

For more information, please contact Betty Conger at (607) 898-3990.

Snowmobile family fun

The Groton Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, 748 Salt Rd., is hosting “Fun In The Field,” a free family fun day Saturday, Feb. 22, from noon to 4 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

There will be a vintage snowmobile display (please bring and show off your vintage snowmobiles), trail rides, food and drink for sale at the club house, and plenty of snowmobile fun. For more information, contact, or visit


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