BY STEVEN JUPITER
BRANDON—Almost every town in America has one: a post of the American Legion. Founded after World War I, the purpose of the organization is pretty straightforward: to advocate for and support veterans of the American armed services. Brandon’s Post 55, however, sees its mission as even broader.
“The Legion isn’t just for vets, but for the community,” said Post Commander Aaron Tucker. “We have no problem going the extra mile.”
Tucker is himself a Vietnam vet and a recipient of a Purple Heart, among other honors. He’s been Commander at Post 55 since 2011, with the exception of 2019, when Burt Reynolds (no relation to the actor) held the position for a year.
“I was recruited in 2004 or 05, right after I moved to Brandon, by [WWII vet] Harold Adams,” said Tucker. “He was driving by my house, saw me, and asked if I was a veteran. He brought me into the Legion. I realized I could be a helping hand.”
“Harold taught me that the top priority of a post is membership. We rode around to just about every town in Rutland County. If we saw anyone we thought might be a vet, we’d ask if they’d be interested in joining Post 55.”
Despite those efforts to bolster membership, there were approximately 240 members when Tucker joined Post 55 and only 141 today. Many of the 240 had served in WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, and the ranks of those veterans have thinned with time. The oldest current members are Harold Adams and Burt Reynolds, both WWII vets and both 96 years old. Though membership may be lower today than in the past, the Post is still extremely active.
The Legion operates programs for homeless veterans, helping them find shelter. It helps veterans find resources to deal with mental-health issues. It provides a Color Guard for veterans’ funerals. “We’re gonna be there at the graveyard to see them out in high style,” said Tucker.
The building itself acts as a community center. There’s a bar where members can come together to socialize, vent, and celebrate. There’s a hall that’s been the site of weddings, funerals, blood drives, the Brandon Christmas Toy Project, Election Day polls, and even a drag show a year or two ago. “It wasn’t a big deal,” Tucker said when asked if the drag show was controversial. “Everything has to get approved by the Executive Board. It wasn’t a big deal.”
The Legion is often the site of fundraisers for local folks who are experiencing hardships. Recently, for example, a local man was in a serious accident in Orwell. His family was having difficulty managing the medical bills. The Legion donated their hall for a fundraiser, complete with food and raffles. “I don’t know where we’d be without the benefit,” said the man’s mother (name withheld for privacy). “The members of the Brandon American Legion are outstanding members of our community!”
During the pandemic, the Legion hosted Everyone Eats and Get It And Go, two food programs meant to make sure people stayed fed during the days of the lockdowns. More than 10,000 meals were served during that time.
“They’re the go-to group when someone needs a wheelchair or medical equipment,” said Colleen Wright, whose husband retired from the military and who organizes many of the events at the Legion, including the Toy Project. “The Legion is always there when you need ‘em!”
The Legion also sponsors several programs for kids:
On Flag Day, June 14, local Scout troops participate in a ceremony to learn how to handle an American flag properly.
There are separate Boy and Girl State Programs, where juniors from Otter Valley can go to Montpelier for a week to learn the workings of government, all expenses paid. In 2022, OV junior Anna Lee participated and was selected for the National Program, which educates students about federal government. She had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and shake hands with President Biden.
The Oratorical Contest is a national competition for high-school students under 20 years of age. Entrants must deliver speeches on an aspect of the American Constitution.
The Law and Order Cadet Program sends students to the Police Academy in Pittsford to learn about law enforcement.
“We don’t get a lot of applicants for these programs,” says Tucker. “We go down to Otter Valley every year, but we don’t get a lot of interest. We tell the kids it’s good for their college resumes.”
The Post’s short-term plans include adapting the hall for use as an overnight emergency shelter. According to FEMA regulations, an emergency shelter must have a bathroom in order to accept people overnight, so the Post hopes to build an additional bathroom right off the hall in 2023.
Tucker sums it up: “We just want to help others if we can.”