American Legion gets new home

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

When the city of Suffolk moved its senior citizens group to the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, things changed for more than just the folks who took advantage of the city’s senior program.

The 140 or so members of Suffolk’s American Legion post moved along with the senior citizens when the city decided it was no longer interested in maintaining the old building where both groups met.

Before long, however, members realized that the new arrangement wouldn’t work.

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“We met a little while at the SCCA, but it was not big enough,” Billy Cones, a past Legion Post commander, said last week.

Members began a search for new quarters that eventually led them to the Elks’ Lodge on W. Constance Road, where they now share space with both the Elks and the Suffolk Rotary Club.

It was a decision that has worked out well for the veterans.

“That’s a nice place,” Cones said of the facility. “It works out good for us.”

With a location in the heart of Suffolk, the new post meeting place is easily accessible to all its members, said Cones and another past commander, Robert McDonnell.

McDonnell said the American Legion is a great place for veterans to gather once a month to swap stories and jokes and to compare one another’s military experiences.

Members, he said, enjoy “getting together once or twice a month to socialize with guys who’ve been through something similar” or to learn things about other conflicts that they didn’t know.

“Personally, I’ve always enjoyed socializing with the guys from the World War II era,” said McDonnell, who is a Vietnam-era Navy veteran. Cones is an Army veteran from the Korean War.

The Suffolk post has suffered from a decline in membership through the years, as the number of World War I and World War II veterans has dwindled.

Younger service veterans, McDonnell said, often seem to have too many things going on — “families, jobs and stuff” — to find time to get involved with the American Legion.

Even McDonnell, who doesn’t hesitate to point out the way the organization can benefit veterans, said he didn’t get involved until after his children were grown.

“But the big difference now is … maybe when (service members) come home, they have been on two or three deployments, and maybe they don’t want to be involved in military things anymore.”

Those who do join the group, however, find more than just good fellowship. They get support from lobbyists in Washington who argue their cause before Congress, they get personal help with navigating the world of veterans benefits and they get the opportunity to help support other local organizations, such as American Legion baseball teams.

The Suffolk post meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.