By Sabrina Bates
An organization that has a long-standing tradition of service for an elite group of those who have served their country is taking its message statewide. With leadership changes on a local level, the updates for the American Legion Post #55 in Martin have drawn the attention of leaders of the Tennessee Department of the American Legion.
On Friday, more than 40 members of Legion posts across District 9 in Northwest Tennessee gathered to welcome the state’s commander and other state officers. The Commander’s Tour brought state Department Commander Luther Holsonback, state Department Adjutant and Finance Officer Dean Tuttle, West Tennessee Vice Commander Lanny Culver, District 9 Commander David Cobb, and state public relations officer Michael Lawler to the local post. Members from posts in Tiptonville, Milan, Lexington and Dresden were on hand to welcome the officers in an event that offered food and fellowship.
Adding to the roster of regional and state position holders were Legion Post #55 elected officers. After electing the slate of officers for the local organization for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year, Commander Elton Wilkerson and Vice Commander Jackie Laird have already been asked to serve in regional and statewide positions.
Laird helped form the American Legion Riders, the newest support unit for Post #55 in Martin. That organization has already put in a World War II memorial at the crash site of a bomber outside of Palmersville in Weakley County. Laird successfully raised more than $10,000 for the memorial site, which features a granite statue recognizing the crew members of the war-era plane, as well as sponsored pavers lining the site.
The Riders have undertaken a service project installing foot markers at the gravesites of late veterans across the county. Currently, they are working with Land Between the Lakes to replace foot markers at a historic cemetery at the state park, which was the site of vandalism last year. The group provides flag lines during funeral services for area service members and helps organize bike runs for various fundraisers throughout the year.
The community project known as the Field of Flags that is put in place each Memorial Day holiday along University Street on the UT Martin campus is a coordinated effort by members of the Legion Riders. Members also place electric candles on the graves of veterans at Eastside Cemetery in Martin during the holiday weekend. Those projects helped guide Laird to an offer by state officers to take on the role of state director for the American Legion Riders, which he recently accepted. It was announced locally during the Commander’s Tour Friday evening.
While fresh in his role as commander for the local post, Wilkerson also added the title of District 9 adjutant to his list of responsibilities. As adjutant for District 9, which serves Lake, Obion, Weakley, Dyer, Crockett and Gibson counties, Wilkerson will be responsible for memberships of posts throughout the district.
An impressed state commander remarked on the good turnout by District 9 members to Martin’s Post #55 as part of the Commander’s Tour. He presented a certificate of appreciation to Wilkerson for the post’s role in organizing the event and the list of accomplishments by the local post.
While the local organization still carries its tradition of service forward, changes to the lounge area of the local post and additional services are efforts to bring more respectability back to the American Legion Post #55. Members have even elected a female to serve on their executive committee as Post Adjutant — a first for Post #55.
The lounge is under new management, with Laird in charge of the House Committee that oversees the operations of the team of staff members. Sandi Johnson now serves as the post’s bar manager. Visitors to the lounge are expected to adhere to the House Rules, which includes a dress code and conduct codes.
The tradition offering steak nights every Saturday continues with Sharon couple Mike and Tracy Duke, along with their support staff, preparing dinners. To make the evenings more family friendly for dinner guests, a kids’ menu has been added to the list of options. Guests can enjoy ribeye steaks, pork chops, hamburger steaks, grilled chicken, hamburgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, baked potatoes and a salad bar. The Saturday night dinners are open to all community members, not just members of the local post.
Johnson also offers a rotating lunch menu every Tuesday and Thursday at Post #55 for anyone wishing to stop in the dining hall for a homecooked meal during the week.
Wilkerson wanted to stress that the local post is not just a good-old boys’ club, nor does it serve as just a bar. Post #55 serves as a liaison in the community for veterans and their family members. Efforts are under way for serving homeless veterans and eventually working with UTM’s ROTC program to provide scholarships. The local post is still a safe haven and support hub for community veterans.
Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series that highlights the services and divisions of the American Legion Post #55. This is the 100-year anniversary of the American Legion. Part 2 of this series can be found in Tuesday’s edition of The Press.