MARION, Iowa — Established in 1919, American Legion Post 298 in Marion is celebrating its 100th year in 2019, the same anniversary the American Legion is celebrating nationwide.
Post 298 is Iowa's largest based on membership after absorbing Cedar Rapids' chapter during the early 2000's. But it's also one of the few posts nationwide that has been around since the Legion was founded. America's oldest veterans organization, the American Legion was founded after World War I. Soldiers were looking for representation and a lobby to care for their needs. They formed around four core principles that still stand today.
"Taking care of veterans, a strong national security, Americanism and children and youth and that's what makes the legion what it is. Those were the principles that were established in 1919 that we still follow,"Roger Norfolk one of the members of the centennial committee said.
Norfolk is proud of what the Legion has accomplished in 100 years. They were the original author of the GI Bill supporting thousands of veterans to this day, they have established scholarships worth thousands of dollars to make sure children and youths can get the education they need. Marion has been shaped by Post 298. What is now Thomas Park once belonged to the legion. They sold the property for a fraction of what it was worth to the city, so everyone in the community could enjoy it.
"They see us leading parades with our color guard, we are visible in a lot of places and most communities can use at least a little dose of patriotism and we can provide that," Norfolk said.
For American Legion District two commander Dick Hogan, the programs he and his fellow legionnaires have led and are still leading are an integral part of why he thinks the Legion will exist another 100 years. To him however one of the hallmarks of his organization is the caring for veterans who are less fortunate than them or those who desperately need help.
"One thing we are really concerned about is the number of veterans' suicides,"Hogan said. "We try our best to call attention to it and try to see what we can do to help. I don't know who would advocate as much for the veterans as much as the Legion does. The Legion is not about a bar it's about helping the community."
Norfolk served on active duty for 20 years. When he returned he found himself looking for the same comradely that had been present in the military. The legion gave him that. Just a couple of months ago Tom Thompson celebrated his 50 year return from the Vietnam War. Legion Post 298 is a place to celebrate his service with others but also spread hope and the values the Legion stands for.
"I may not be able to personally be able to help them," Thompson said. "But I can get them to somebody who is familiar with their issues and can help them out. It's about helping out in the community.