By June Allen
May 23, 2002
The American Legion was founded after World War I. The Veterans of Foreign Wars was organized after World War II.
In 1922 the veterans marched from Pioneers Hall, their first meeting place, through town and out Stedman Street to the cemetery, accompanied by the town's marching brass band. Their color bearers and guards were R.R. Spaeth, Harry Lyons, Arthur Ela and George Talbot. The Legion still has an account and a photo of that historic event. There were in 1920 when the local veterans submitted their application for an American Legion Post, 117 members enrolled and an estimated 150 ex-servicemen in the district! Ketchikan's year-round population at that time hovered near an estimated 3,000 souls. There were names among the Legion's charter members recognizable to this day: Bartholomew, Elliott, Story, Talbot, (Doc) Walker, Williams, Daly, Hansen, Johnson and Nelson, Zeigler - and more.
There may have been other early-day Memorial Day observances in Ketchikan in the 20+ years before the Legion was formed that are possibly recorded in old newspapers. The
The new Ketchikan Legion Post's first purchase in 1921, after initial organization - made partly possible by dues of $3.25 per year - were colors for the meetings hall and parade purposes. The cost was $174, a blow to the treasury. To make up any deficit, the boys organized a series of smokers and parties. Boxing and wrestling were popular sports in early Ketchikan. And many of these veterans of the trenches had, after all and in spite of Prohibition, a taste for French wines, and other beverages!
With money in the bank, the Post was free to get down to business. Among the Legion's priorities were those to promote patriotism, to preserve comradeship and lessons learned in the Great War, to promote peace and good will on earth, and to safeguard the principles of justice, freedom and democracy. But the members also pledged to help one another, aid
The Legion took up community projects, one being support for the town's Boy Scout Troop #1, a role filled by Emery Tobin. The Legion vets also actively lobbied for a much needed, larger and more modern school for Ketchikan and were instrumental in pushing through the construction of the concrete Main School built on Grant Street hill in 1925 - which served the city's children for almost 50 years. And in 1923 when President Warren G. Harding visited Ketchikan as part of his historic visit to the Territory of Alaska, the American Legion Post 3 members served as escorts and bodyguards for the President.
Two 1924 Legion events were the erection of the first flagpole at Bayview Cemetery. Members also imported the red-berried mountain ash trees from Wrangell and planted them at Bayview. That year members also oversaw the piling driven for their planned dugout, to be located on tideland close to the tideflat ballfield where the town's competitive baseball players dared teams from Metlakatla and Prince Rupert to combat. The following year the waterfront dugout meeting hall was built.
It was in 1927 that Legion events grew in scope. Energetic Roy Jones was commander when popular Doc Walker suggested that Post members suggest objectives for membership projects. A major project suggested was the rescue of totem poles from abandoned Native villages on regional islands. Work started the following year. Each Indian family that owned the poles was contacted and permission gained to move the poles to town. Some of the
The Legion had gradually refined and expanded the annual Memorial Day ceremonies with such additions as a firing squad salute and bugled Taps. In 1928 a half-day city holiday was observed through efforts of the Legion, with stores closing for that half-day. Two years later the Post added to patriotic occasions its own drum and bugle corps, in charge of Rev. George V. Beck.
As the years passed, the Legion's activities grew with the times. The Post Auxiliary staged the play "The Beauty Shop" and other productions on the stage of the elegant Coliseum Theater in 1931. A new and taller flagpole was erected at Bayview Cemetery the next year. By that time the Post knew it had to vacate its waterfront dugout to make room for the new federal post office to be built on the drained and filled tideflats.
So in 1937 the Legion started the project to build a new dugout at property purchased at 631 Park Avenue. A working party went to Boca de Quadra and salvaged about 8,000 feet of timber. Forms were poured for the foundation. Members turned out in numbers that
Just this past year the 64-year-old log cabin was extended and extensively remodeled. The dugout will now last many more decades. The Post holds an Open House each Memorial Day morning before the 11 a.m. ceremonies at Centennial Square in front of the library-museum complex, an opportunity to see it for yourself.
The schedule for this year's Memorial Day observance will be in the Ketchikan Daily News and on Sitnews. If possible, attend the ceremony at Centennial Square and later at the cemetery. It is a good time to reflect on our nation's veterans, what they have done for our country and have contributed to our communities. It is a short but moving ceremony, a small town occasion of the greatest importance, well worth experiencing, especially in light of 9/11 and affairs in Asia.
Honor your veterans past and present. Their many contributions are part of what makes Ketchikan what it is to all of us, "our town."
Digital Photos by Gigi Pilcher & Dick Kauffman...