As American Legion Carroll Post 31 commemorated the 100th anniversary of its founding with an event on Sunday, the Westminster post had more to celebrate than just a milestone.
In an era of declining membership nationwide for the nonprofit, veterans services organization, Carroll Post 31 has been building back its ranks, recently surpassing 1,000 members.
“It went real well — we had about 150 or 160 people there. They decorated the place up pretty fancy and I think everyone had a good time,” Carroll Post 31 Adjutant Jim Beckman said. “It was ceremonial as well as a celebration. Being a sailor, I have to bring up the fact that this happened on the 244th birthday of the United States Navy, also.”
Carroll Post 31 Commander Adrian Gamboa, First Vice Commander William Trotter and Chaplain Curtis Jones of the American Legion Department of Maryland, County Commander Bill Nash and county commissioners Ed Rothstein and Richard Weaver were among those in attendance.
The Old Line Statesmen Barbershop Chorus sang the national anthem and performed military tunes. Radio personality Bruce Main served as master of ceremonies. A color guard began the ceremony with a flag posting. Proclamations from the county and from Gov. Hogan’s office were presented and Gamboa took over the keynote duties when Robert L. Finn, deputy secretary for the Maryland Dept. of Veterans Affairs, could not attend because of illness.
During his address, Gamboa talked about the successes Carroll Post 31 is having in terms of recruiting and retention as well as publicizing some of the charitable endeavors and sponsorships the post is involved with. He also touched on Carroll Post 31′s now century-long history.
Carroll Post 31 was chartered on Aug. 16, 1919. According to the post’s website, the members originally met at the Armory building on Longwell Avenue in Westminster up until about 1940. They then met Gehr’s Hardware Store on Liberty Street before buying one property, then selling it to buy another — at 2 Sycamore St. The post was dedicated in 1948 after a building was constructed on the Sycamore Street site where once sat a barn, even incorporating a wall from the barn that is still a part of the post’s bar area today.
A few days before the anniversary event, Gamboa and Beckman discussed how American Legion membership is “literally dying off” in some places and the need to reach out to younger veterans to let them know what the Legion has to offer.
“Everybody thinks it’s an old-person club with people sitting around drinking cheap beer and telling war stories,” Beckman said. “It’s a lot more than that.”
Beckman ticked off some of the local programs Carroll Post 31 sponsors, including the Halloween and Memorial Day parades in Westminster, an annual oratorical contest for high school students and Boys State, a weeklong educational camp focusing on government open to male high school seniors held annually at McDaniel College. He mentioned the many charities the post contributes to. And, yes, the beer is inexpensive, as is most of the fare served in the lounge, with “pub grub” specials throughout the week.
“It’s 100 percent family friendly — a place for veterans and their families to go where they can feel comfortable,” Beckman said.
Beckman and Gamboa said Carroll Post 31 is one of just four posts in the state with more than 1,000 members. And they said they think they can see significantly more growth by making veterans aware of a change in membership criteria as well as by getting the message out about what the local Legion does.
The LEGION act, which stands for Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service, was signed this summer to extend the ongoing declared period of war in the United States to Dec. 7, 1941, honoring thousands of veterans who were killed or wounded on duty during periods not previously considered a time of war. It also redefined the American Legion’s membership eligibility dates to include anyone who served from Dec. 7, 1941, until a time when the U.S. is no longer at war, as determined by Congress.
Beckman and Gamboa hope to reach out to those veterans who previously weren’t eligible to join. As well as to the young vets who see the Legion as an older crowd. Something else that might help: The American Legion Auxiliary, long the domain of the wives of veterans, is now open to male spouses, too.
As for some of the post’s other endeavors, Gamboa said they are proud to have been a sponsor of the Memorial Day Parade for most of Carroll Post 31′s existence, and he also said he greatly enjoys the costumes and floats at the Halloween Parade. The retired Marine, former Parris Island drill instructor and current veterans services officer clearly feels strongly about the oratorical contest and Boys State.
“For many, it’s the biggest challenge they have ever faced, standing up in front of all these strangers and speaking,” he said of the oratorical contest. As for Boys State: “It’s one week that shapes a life. Very impressive individuals.”
The two leaders also talked about the Legion’s endowment at Carroll Community College, which is expected to provide a scholarship to a veteran “in perpetuity.”
Gamboa said Carroll Post 31 is committed to attracting more younger members. Maybe that means investing in some video games in the lounge and being more active on social media. Maybe it just means being sure they know they’re wanted. At any rate, that’s a major goal as the post embarks on its second century.
“They’ve got to see what we do,” he said, “and we have to start the conversation.”