One of the nation’s oldest American Legion posts marked 100 years in Sidney on Saturday, Aug. 17.
The Charles L. Jacobi American Legion Post 183, named for a Sidney soldier killed in wartime France on Sept. 17, 1918, was chartered in August 1919. The American Legion itself, chartered by Congress as a “patriotic veterans’ organization,” according to legion.org, was also formed in 1919.
Organizers and featured speakers said Saturday’s local commemoration, with roughly 85 attending, offered an important opportunity to not only celebrate the post’s longevity, but thank veterans.
“It’s a very special day and it’s been a special year,” New York State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said. “The (American Legion) founders didn’t waste any time establishing a post here in Sidney … and the American Legion is a driving force for community good, patriotism and devotion to America.”
“We cannot thank our veterans enough,” Seward continued. “Without (them), where would we be in terms of our way of life and our democracy? I wanted to be here today to express my deep appreciation to the members … who served while they were in uniform and then came back home and served in their communities. That needs to be recognized.”
Additional speakers included New York State Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Bainbridge, New York State American Legion Commander Gary Schacher and Post 183 Commander Jim Omahen.
Schacher, the first Iraq War veteran to serve as state commander, said Post 183 is one of 840 American Legion charters statewide. While dwindling Delaware County membership mirrors a national decrease, he noted, the Sidney post remains distinctive.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “The post can go back to its original charter and see the names of community members. A lot have come and gone, but it’s such an honor to be here … and members are so honored to be part of a 100th anniversary post.”
With roughly 220 veterans from Bainbridge, Mount Upton, Sidney, Sidney Center, Rockdale and Unadilla, Omahen noted, Post 183 is the largest in Delaware County.
Longtime Post 183 Legionnaire and Sidney native Richard Dickson, 89, said he joined the local charter 66 years ago.
“I’m very lucky to be a member of a post that’s been here from the beginning to the present; very few posts can say that,” Dickson, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War, said. “It’s really remarkable … and this has me reminiscing from way back.”
Twenty-five years ago, Schacher noted, New York was home to roughly 225,000 Legionnaires; today, he said, there are about 100,000. Schacher and Omahen attributed the decrease to wartime veterans dying off and membership requirements.
Previously, Schacher said, Legionnaire eligibility was determined by specific dates of wartime service, though recent legislation has modified those requirements to promote membership. According to legion.org, President Trump signed the LEGION (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service) Act on July 30.
“They just passed a resolution to open it up to anyone who served from 1941 on,” Schacher said. “There are about 4 million veterans that fall into that category, so this gives them an opportunity to belong to the world’s largest veterans’ organization.” Worldwide, he noted, the American Legion counts about 2 million members.
“President Trump just changed the cutoff for members,” Omahen, 65, a 37-year Legionnaire, said. “It used to be that you had to have wartime service, but now it’s open to any veteran.”
Together with Omahen and auxiliary members Brenda Flowers and Helen Martin, Sidney resident Larry Halbert sat on the four-person committee responsible for organizing Saturday’s celebration. Halbert is a member of the Sons of the American Legion. Plans, he noted, got underway “a couple of months ago.”
“We just love and honor our veterans,” Halbert said. “That’s what this is all about.”
For more information on the Sidney charter, find “American Legion Post 183” on Facebook, call 607-563-8031 or visit the post at 22 Union St. in Sidney. Also, visit legion.org.