Past commander Rick Walter stands outside Findlay American Legion Ralph D. Cole Post 3. The Legion was one of the first in the country, and is marking its 100th anniversary with a public celebration Saturday. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By SARA ARTHURS

Staff Writer

Findlay’s American Legion post is celebrating its 100th birthday, and the public is invited to the party.

The anniversary of Ralph D. Cole Post No. 3 coincides with the anniversary of the American Legion as a whole.

Shortly after the end of World War I in March 1919, a group of 20 military men from the American Expeditionary Forces met in Paris to discuss the formation of a fraternal organization to tend to the needs of American servicemen, according to Rick Walter, past commander of the Findlay post. Among those present were Lt. Col. Ralph D. Cole of Findlay, as well as Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

Findlay’s American Legion was one of the first in the country, and received its charter on June 6, 1919, originally with the name John Hancock Post. The name was changed in 1932 to honor Cole after he was killed in an automobile accident.

Membership in The American Legion was formerly restricted to service members who had been on active duty in the U.S. armed forces during dates of active war. But a new law this summer opened up membership eligibility to anyone who served in the armed forces from December 7, 1941, onward.

Walter said Findlay’s Legion post is a place where veterans can come and talk. “And there’s a certain camaraderie here,” he said.

He said there are times the veterans are talking and complete one another’s stories. There are political debates sometimes, too, but they remain friendly.

Anyone can come for lunch, not just veterans.

“It’s not fancy fare, but it’s good,” Walter said.

Walter did say that, like many other organizations, the Legion’s membership tends to include more older veterans than younger ones. One goal of the Legion’s upcoming anniversary celebration is to raise awareness of who they are and what they do.

“If we get younger people, we can do more things,” he said.

The post’s membership is mostly men, but there are some women — including Walter’s daughter, an Army veteran. The Legion also has membership programs for family members including the Ladies Auxiliary, Sons of the Legion, and the Legion Riders motorcycle group.

The post has sent high school students to Buckeye Boys State since the program’s inception in 1936. It sponsored a special needs Boy Scout troop from 1965 until 2017, and has awarded scholarships to Legionnaires’ family members. It has sponsored American Legion baseball annually for many years, with the assistance of Garner Trucking, and has funded protective vests for the Findlay Police Department’s K-9 officers. The Legion has been involved with Flag City Honor Flight, and contributes to state and national organizations.

And the American Legion post is home base for the Hancock County Veterans Memorial Squad, which performs military rites at veterans’ funerals. And the post donated to replace the minibus used to transport the squad to and from funerals.

Walter said it can be comforting to veterans to know that rites are conducted at a funeral and respect is shown to the veteran’s family.

Post members are also helping spread respect for the U.S. flag. A Legion member teaches flag etiquette, and there’s a box at the Legion where old, ratty flags can be dropped off, to be disposed of with respect.

Why is Walter committed to staying involved with the Legion? “It helps veterans,” he said.

Walter said the Legion will also help advocate for members on Veterans Affairs health care issues.

The 100-year anniversary celebration begins at noon Saturday and is open to the public. It will feature remarks from Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn and Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague. (Sprague, formerly the Findlay area’s representative in the Ohio House, is the great-grandson of Cole, for whom the post is named.) An open house will be held from 1-5 p.m., with a steak fry from 5-7 p.m. The steak fry costs $10 (veterans eat at a reduced price) and includes steak, a baked potato, salad and dessert.

The Legion is located at 120 W. Front St.

Walter said the ideal of the World War I veterans who formed the first Legion was that there would be no more wars.

“Sadly that hasn’t worked out,” he said. But, he said, the Legion is there to help those who have served.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494

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Twitter: @swarthurs

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