As we ease into 2013, you may find yourself with an appetite for broadening your dining, drinking and dancing landscape. Suggestion: Add 2 Main St. to your list. Never heard of it? It's American Legion Post 60. And don't let its off-the-beaten-path position east of the train tracks along the banks of the Patuxent River discourage you from gathering intel. Just look for the red neon letters that flash the comforting word "open."
I know what you're thinking: I've never served in the military. That's a private outfit. How can I join?
"We're trying to step it up, bring in more young people" to the carousel of regular events at the Post, declared Lee Luby, the post commander. Front and center on her agenda is helping shine the light of clarification on the policy regarding who can join. While the official policy of the Legion limits membership to those who have served in the military during wartime, the red carpet is rolled out for the John Q. Public as well, she emphasized. As long as a member "signs you in" at the front door, you can participate, and such popular programs as the crab feasts, she adds, are open to all comers. Lee says the Legion, "has been lobbying Congress for several years" to relax its policy regarding who can join. "We would like it to be a service organization for those who have served, whether a conflict was going on or not."
Lee observed there are other ways to join. One is by joining the Legion Auxiliary, a fund-raising arm open to women whose family members — including children, husbands, parents and grandparents — have served. The other is via the Sons of the American Legion, SAL, open to men whose parents or grandparents have served. "A lot of people are eligible to join and they don't even know it," Lee remarked.
When he's not badgering me about why I haven't yet bought a Hyundai or informing me that the new shingles on my house are popping up, my neighbor Don Worsham holds court down at the Post Home, sleeves rolled up, heart and mind wide open. Don, the second vice-commander, spends a lot of time chatting up the merits, encouraging folks to join the festival of events on tap: Friday bingo, karaoke, steak night and the chili cook-off, to name a few. "We've been lucky," Don says. "Our events have made decent money for us."
Indeed, chimed in Lee, the push to bring in new faces has netted robust results. And it's not all high-tech. The outreach ranges from fliers stuck on car windshields in the MARC lot that promise "the first drink's on us" to word-of-mouth advertising among personnel at Fort Meade. "We want to not only encourage membership," she said, "but also to let them know they're welcome."
Lee served her country in the Army from 1967 to 1970, during the Vietnam conflict. Having grown up in what was then the economically depressed town of Peoria, Ill., her family didn't have the funds to send her to college after her discharge as a combat corpsman. "So I used my G.I. Bill to attend Prince George's Community College and became a registered nurse," Lee said. Each evening, after wrapping up the day job she's held for 38 years in a Silver Spring orthopedic practice, the widow and grandmother of six makes tracks for the Legion and her volunteer position. She joked that her Montpelier home is only for sleeping. But, fire blazes in her soul — the same fire that ignites Don in making one meaningful imprint after another. The connection Lee feels to America's veterans, the soldiers, airmen and seamen who, in most cases, have quietly and anonymously helped preserve our precious freedoms, can't be measured. The Legion exists, she said, "for the veterans to get together and socialize with one another. I think our female veterans feel very safe here, where they might not feel safe going to a bar."
It's hard to quantify Don's sheer output. He's either helping lay 2,224 tiles, running an event or, most recently, chipping in to help remodel the post's vast Allen Hall, the epicenter of large-scale events. Like a winter cold, the enthusiasm he brings to any assignment is contagious. "Part of the problem," he said, "is people don't know we exist because we're past the (railroad) bridge."
Waxing contemplative, Lee put a final word in for the 900 members who comprise Post 60. So many of them, she said, volunteer their time and gifts as they give back to the community in an infinite number of ways. "They know what it's like putting their lives on the line and they're proud," she said.