MADISON — Veterans, advocates and local residents gathered Saturday at the Tardiff-Belanger Post 39 in Madison to commemorate the 100th birthday of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary as well as to honor six local World War II veterans for their service.

“Today is a combination of things,” said Robert Demchak, commander of Post 39. “We’re celebrating the centennial of the American Legion by having some cake and ice cream and then we’re honoring our World War II veterans with a plaque and certificate.”

Festivities began with a speech from Demchak, who read excerpts from the National Headquarters Speech Guidelines.

“The American Legion was formed by combat troops of the American Expeditionary Force in Paris, France, a century ago, March 15, 1919,” Demchak said. “As they waited, they had time to think about what they would do after discharge from the service … In support of their wounded comrades, to honor the fallen, to care for the surviving spouses and orphans, and to protect the democracy they pledged their lives to defend.”

After Demchak, Robin Turek, president of the Auxiliary Legion for Post 39, addressed its upcoming centennial.

“The American Legion Auxiliary will officially turn 100 on Nov. 10,” Turek said. “Since its establishment, the goal of the ALA has been to help veterans and their families … we are a group of strong, good-willed women who dedicate many hours to the betterment of our veterans, their families and our community.”

The Legion and Auxiliary provide a wide array of services to veterans and their families including medical advocacy at veterans hospitals, flag retirement ceremonies, funeral detail, welcome-home and send-off ceremonies, fundraising, weekly dinners and scholarships.

Six local WWII veterans were also recognized for their service at Saturday’s celebration. Three honorees served in the Navy — Nicholas Ambulos, 91, Nunzio Biondello, 95,  and Clara Gilbert, 96 — and three others — Ivan Hoyt, 97, Raymond Soucy, 94, and Fred Taylor, 96 — served in the Army Air Force.

Two additional veterans were unable to attend the ceremony.

During Saturday’s party, Soucy recalled his time piloting Consolidated B-24 Liberator aircraft.

“I flew over (President Franklin Delano) Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945,” Soucy said. “I also flew my B-24 down the Main Street of Madison in 1944. I was on my way from one air base to another and took it upon myself to come say hi to everyone.”

Soucy also acknowledged the impact that the Legion has had on the local community.

“The Legion is so nice, it’s done a wonderful job providing for the town,” Soucy said.

And coming up on Oct. 25, Taylor will board the honor flight from Portland to Washington, D.C., something he said he has mixed feelings about.

“I’m excited but I’m pretty scared,” Taylor said.

The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization that transports veterans to Washington to tour the monuments. More than 38,000 veterans are currently on the waiting list.

State Sen. Bradlee Farrin, R-Somerset, a member of the Legion, also took a moment to speak to the crowd about how President Donald Trump’s signing of the LEGION Act this past summer opened up the door to membership and honoring the next wave of veterans.

“We’ve struggled with memberships at time,” Farrin said. “But the LEGION Act opened up the membership to pretty much anyone who has served and I think we all need to spread the word, get some young people in here so in the next 100 years we’ll be honoring the next generation of veterans here.”

The LEGION Act — Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National service — declares that the U.S. has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The goal of the act was to honor approximately 1,600 service members who were killed or wounded during previous undeclared times of war. The act also allows approximately 6 million veterans the access to American Legion programs and benefits to which they would have previously been ineligible.


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