Bridge Club

Members of Oak Harbor’s American Legion Post 129, the Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the Amercian Legion stand at a lookout point at the Deception Pass Bridge. From left are Cmdr. Lenord Little, Manny Valenzula, Dennis Jones, Julia Dietz, Buddy Badger and Jake Dietz. Kathy Reed/Staff photo

You have no doubt heard the phrase, “Let’s build a bridge to the 21st century.” Well, when it comes to bridge-building, take a page from someone who’s actually done it — Oak Harbor’s American Legion Post 129.

Also known locally as American Legion George Morris Post 129, the Oak Harbor group’s efforts literally built the bridge over Deception Pass, thanks to its formation of the Deception Pass Bridge Association. Today the group is still putting just as much energy into overcoming 21st century obstacles.

The American Legion’s work is carried out by dedicated members, both locally and nationally, says Lenord Little, commander of the local chapter. And although Deception Pass Bridge was constructed over 75 years ago, the Oak Harbor organization is still in the game, as far as serving veterans goes.

“We are not done serving yet,” says Little. “From funding youth scholarships to flag etiquette programs and much more, the Legion family is in this for the long haul.”

Little explained what he meant by the “Legion family.”

“Post members, also known as legionnaires, join by virtue of their military service — even if it’s just one day of service — as long as they satisfy the other criteria, they are accepted,” he said. “Wives of post members serve in the American Legion Auxiliary, while The Sons of The American Legion receive membership through their parents’ or grandparents’ (including stepparents’) military service.”

Julia Dietz, who heads the local Auxiliary, described some of their on-going projects.

“We make and collect hand-made crafts and personal care items to take to VA hospitals and the Retsil Veterans’ Home,” said Dietz.

The Auxiliary also serves the public at Friday night post dinners, with proceeds going to a $600 youth scholarship. Memorial Day weekend sees their members distributing the familiar Buddy Poppies in front of local retail stores, a fundraiser that features poppies handmade by disabled vets.

When asked what new ventures the American Legion sees for the future, Dietz said she and others wanted to help homeless veterans through clothing drives and other ways.

“And we’d like to someday see a home here on the island for elderly veterans,” said Dietz.

National issues

In a recent telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C., American Legion national spokesman Marty Callaghan said the hot issues right now are health care and jobs for veterans. He said a common problem facing veterans is being refused job opportunities because the private sector doesn’t recognize training and experience amassed in the military.

“At our February national conference, we held a two-day credentialing summit attended by the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other key organizations,” said Callaghan. “Our goal is to see if we can’t come up with some real-world solutions to this.”

Likewise, when the government comes out with budget allocations for veterans’ health care, the American Legion analyzes those recommendations very carefully, he said.

“For example, if the claim is made that you’re increasing the spending on veterans health by ‘X’ amount of dollars but the fine print shows only a small proportion of those dollars are actually going toward new construction for VA health facilities, then that’s something that really catches our attention,” he said.

As a graduate of a Tacoma high school, and former Navy Journalist (JO), Callaghan said he was well acquainted with the Deception Pass Bridge. In fact, he once submitted an article about the bridge to the Navy’s “All Hands” publication.

“That’s a very beautiful area of the state, as I recall,” he said.

Home front

In an election year, “education” is yet another hot buzzword.

No surprise that the local post is at work there as well, thanks to the breakfasts they host the second Saturday of each month to fund two $500 scholarships, one offered by The Sons of The American Legion.

“Given the high cost of education these days, some may question how far even a $500 scholarship will go,” said Little. “Well, for one thing, it will go a long way towards paying for a semester’s worth of books.”

The American Legion is perhaps best known for the military honors they provide at veterans’ funerals and the American flags they set out on Memorial Day. Little says they display the flags on gravesites in four different cemeteries in Oak Harbor and Coupeville, as long as they have family permission.

“If there’s a veteran without a marker on his or her grave, we’d like to know about it,” said Dietz.

And if that weren’t enough, the Post has an ongoing project to collect war memorabilia and artifacts for a display cabinet. Little says they could especially use mannequins to display male and female models outfitted with World War II uniform items.

Whether legislatively, or in other ways, all these efforts result in a world of good for those who fought for their country. Little invites anyone else who feels the same way and would like to help, to come see them at George Morris Post 129, located at the corner of Barrington and Dock streets in Oak Harbor.

Post members meet at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month. The American Legion Auxiliary meets the third Tuesday at 7 p.m., while The Sons of The American Legion holds its meeting on the third Thursday, also at 7