Dozens of residents, veterans and elected officials turned out for the annual Baldwin American Legion Post 246 Veterans Day ceremony on Monday to honor those who have served the country.
Post Chaplain John Meyer opened the ceremony by sharing the history of Veterans Day, which originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, the date observed as the end of World War I. After Congress passed a resolution calling for an annual observance, Nov. 11 became a national holiday in 1938.
“Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” Meyer said. “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who have died in the service of their country, particularly those who have died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. . . . Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated and to underscore the fact that all those who served, not only those who died, have sacrificed and done their duty.”
American Legion Commander Bob Hare shared powerful stories about fellow veterans whose experiences resonated with many in the room. He also reflected on the origin of the local post.
“The veterans of [the first World War] founded this very Baldwin post just over 100 years ago this year,” Hare said. “For the past 100 years, the American Legion has been dedicated to serving those who have served. The commitment to caring for America’s veterans is one that transcends partisanship — it’s a commitment that covers all races, all genders and all faiths.”
Attendees joined Jack Wachter, the Baldwin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1434 commander and former American Legion commander, in singing “God Bless America.” American Legion post member John Atkins led the 11th hour ceremony, which commemorates the end of World War I on “the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour” in 1919. He rang a bell 11 times and shared a moment of silence for fallen service members.
“When I took off my uniform, I thought I finished my obligation,” said American Legion and VFW post member Gene Perceval, an Army veteran who was stationed near the Demilitarized Zone in Korea during the 1960s. “Years passed by, I realized I had to do something for the community, and I joined the American Legion. There are too many people out there in the Baldwin area who think it’s over when they take off their uniform. No, it’s not over. You can do a lot with a lot of other people who really need help.”
Perceval said he has found ways to assist the community since he joined the posts.
“What’s a shame is that in today’s society, young people who served in the military are so busy with so many things, it’s the last thing they can think of” to join the American Legion, he continued. “Perhaps, if they find time, they should join the American Legion or VFW, and usually they meet once a month, and it’s only for about an hour.”
Perceval reflected on the larger membership that the posts used to have and encouraged veterans to join. “If they served in the military, they should look into what they could do for the community and keep us alive.”
Today, the Baldwin American Legion post has 142 members and the VFW post has 26. They meet together at the American Legion post once a month.
“The American Legion knows that service doesn’t stop when the uniform comes off,” Hare told the crowd of people. “Thank you for your selfless service, as today we honor those who have worn our nation’s uniform. God bless all of you for being here, and God bless the United States of America.”
Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Baldwin native, attended the ceremony and thanked the veterans for their service. Enduring basic training and the challenges of becoming a member of the armed forces, Gillen said, is an accomplishment and something for which everyone in the country should be grateful.
“When I got here today, I was so encouraged to see the young people here, that they know how important serving your country is, and they know the sacrifices that each and every one of you here made for all of us and your families — families who never knew if their loved one was going to be taken away,” Gillen said. “Anything that we can do to honor you, to help you, to make sure that nobody is left behind is something that each and every one of us living here has a responsibility to do.”