Legion awakens A roll call of 25 vets to restart Post 111

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TURNER – A long-dormant American Legion post formed in Turner in the months following World War I plans to hold its first meeting in decades today.

And it’s all thanks to a few Sunday afternoon drives.

Legionnaires from the state office have been driving around this rural town, looking for veterans’ license plates and prominently displayed flags in an effort to find more veterans.

It worked. More than two dozen veterans plan to show up for today’s inaugural meeting.

For many, all it took was an invitation.

“People complain all the time that younger vets don’t join up,” said Paul Bernard, a Turner veteran who joined the effort after bosses showed up at his door. “We’re proving that it can be done.”

The Turner initiative was the idea of Robert Morrill, a Yarmouth veteran who coordinates legion membership across Maine.

Sure, Legion posts across the country worry about the falling numbers due to World War II vets, who are dying at a rate of 1,800 per day, Morrill said.

However, the Legion has done a poor job of reaching out to the younger people, he said.

When the national organization surveyed veterans two years ago – asking many why they hadn’t joined – the No. 1 reason they gave is that nobody asked, Morrill said.

“When the Vietnam veterans came home, they were shabbily treated by Americans,” he said. “The American Legion didn’t stand up and defend them.”

Today, there are 25,000 Legion members in Maine. There are 160,000 veterans, though.

The state organization, based in Waterville, compiled a list of 44 defunct posts. Slowly, Morrill and others have been trying to rebuild them.

A three-month-long, door-to-door campaign in Standish led to a reinvigorated post with 63 members.

When Morrill and Gard Enman, the Maine Legion’s judge advocate, showed up at Bernard’s home, he turned them down at first.

The chaplain of Lewiston’s Post 22, Bernard said he felt allegiance there. Then, he decided he could do more good in Turner. He joined the search for vets in his town.

“It felt a little funny,” Bernard said. He knocked on doors asking, “Is there a vet in the house?”

If there was, he’d talk about the Legion’s mission. If not, he’d hand them a Legion-published booklet on flag etiquette and thank the flag-flyers for their patriotism.

Every vet he found agreed to join.

To Morrill, the Legion’s mission is simple.

“We support the veterans,” he said. “We take care of the widows and children.”

To Bernard, the first job of a legionnaire is to remember.

“We feel we have an obligation to our comrades to keep the memory alive,” said Bernard, a Navy veteran.

That’s part of what he hopes to accomplish at the new post.

He has ideas for a new veterans memorial park in the center of town, similar but smaller than the park in downtown Lewiston.

He imagines flags commemorating each branch of the military and carved stones remembering the sacrifices of Turner’s vets.

State records show that there has been no Legion here since at least 1976, when Post 111 turned in its charter.

But it may have been much longer since the post was active.

Volunteers at the town museum never knew there was a post until Bernard tried researching the history.

One story has it that the post, created in 1920, disbanded in 1941 at the start of World War II. Perhaps members grew too busy with the war effort, guessed Bernard.

On Tuesday, he dug through a roster of World War I vets, checking the history of the original 15 charter members.

Name by name, they popped up in the book.

“Eventually, I want to find their descendants,” Bernard said.

He plans to start with the first meeting of the post, as the vets gather in the first floor of the Leavitt Institute Building and pledge allegiance to the flag.

Turner won’t forget its post again, he said.

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