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 explains, “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 Pendleton families, raise money for the Ronald McDonald 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 Frank 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.
Also a priority for Post members is their involvement with the Boys State and Girls State programs. Working with local high schools to select delegates to the program, Daniel and Diane Connell 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,” says Connell. “They want to make a difference. These girls and boys that go to Boy and Girl State are our future.”
A challenge for Legion posts nationally and locally is recruiting younger veterans. Daniel sees the challenge as reaching a generation that relies on tweeting and texting. Connell sees the hurdle arising from busy schedules and concerns about finances. She points out that Legion and Auxiliary dues are modest but the mere act of joining adds to the organization’s voice when it advocates on behalf of veterans’ issues. Daniel points out that organization is “a way to continue your service.”
The Legion Hall, with its familiar gray rocket on Legion Street, is more than the local home of the nation’s largest veteran’s service organization. Post 222 holds a special spot in town history also.
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, 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.
American Legion Post Adjutant Richard Moore and the Auxiliary’s Diane Connell welcome your inquiries at 949 376-6340 and 949 494-2065, respectively.
Dr. Lee Winocur Field is a coordinator of the LB Community Alliance. Dr. Marion Jacobs is a practicing Laguna Beach psychologist.