By Lee Winocur Field and Marion K. Jacobs
Chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919, the American Legion is devoted to advocating on behalf of all armed service members and veterans. But as Laguna Beach’s Post # 222 Commander Frank Daniel explained, “Representing veterans is but one of the four pillars of our work. Our other vital Legion missions are mentoring and sponsoring youth programs in the community, promoting patriotism and supporting a strong national security.”
Working closely with Diane Connell, president of the women’s American Legion Auxiliary, and its 81 members, the Laguna Beach post is engaged in an impressive array of community projects. They put up the flags we see around town on patriotic holidays, welcome home troops, visit VA hospitals and assist with events for hospitalized veterans, throw a big Christmas party, Santa Claus and all, for underprivileged children, hold an Easter egg hunt for 300 children at the high school sports field, support Camp Pendleton families, raise money for the Ronald MacDonald House for kids with cancer, support disabled veterans by selling the poppies they make, and receive American flags that are no longer serviceable and see to their proper and respectful destruction. They even clip coupons worth thousands of dollars that service personnel overseas can use to purchase products in their commissaries.
Of special significance to Daniel is the Memorial Day service the post holds at Monument Point in Heisler Park. He finds it personally gratifying to pay tribute to all veterans, most especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and says it’s heartwarming to see the reaction of the Laguna Beach community, whose numbers at the service grow every year.
Both Daniel and Connell extol the virtues of their respective involvement with the Boys State and Girls State programs. Working with local high schools to select delegates to the program, they go through a careful selection process based on a detailed evaluation of each youth’s potential leadership qualities. Those chosen have a unique weeklong summer experience where they learn about government and parliamentary procedure through active participation. After being divided into two hypothetical political parties, the young people set up their own miniature city, county and state governments, campaign for office, debate, rally, vote, and generally learn how governments work and what it means to be an involved citizen.
“When they come home, I see girls excited about life and learning,” said Connell. “They want to make a difference. These girls and boys that go to Boy and Girl State are our future.”
A growing concern for the American Legion, both nationally and at the Laguna Beach post, is connecting with younger veterans. Daniel sees the challenge as learning to effectively communicate with a generation that is used to tweeting and texting. Connell sees some of the more recent recruitment difficulty arising from people’s busy schedules and their concern about finances. She is quick to reassure them that Legion and Auxiliary dues are very modest and merely the act of joining adds to the organization’s national numbers, and thus to its voice when it advocates on behalf of veterans’ issues. The message, as Daniel points out, is “The American Legion, a way to continue your service.”
So the next time you pass the Legion Hall, with its familiar gray rocket and gun in the front yard, perhaps you’ll have a broadened picture of the purpose and work of this, the nation’s largest veteran’s service organization.
We’ll close with a story about how Post 222 came to be at this location.
In 1927, the year Laguna Beach was founded, the city auctioned the vacant lot at the corner of what is now Legion and Catalina Streets to the American Legion Post #222 for $1. The Post then bought the original local schoolhouse that was located where the high school sits today. A hearty group of veterans pitched in to build a foundation and then proceeded to roll the old schoolhouse down the hill to its new home on telephone poles! That schoolhouse is still incorporated into the upper structure of today’s building.
For more information about the American Legion, contact post adjutant Richard Moore at 949-376-6340; and for more information about the Auxiliary, contact Diane Connell at 949-494-2065. Your inquiries are most welcome.
Lee Winocur Field is a coordinator of the LB Community Alliance and an adjunct professor at National University and Dr. Marion Jacobs is a practicing psychologist in Laguna Beach and an adjunct professor at UCLA.