The American Legion and Flag Day.
Both date back to the early 1900s, and every June 14th they solemnly come together as American Legion posts across the country retrieve all the faded and weathered American flags that they’ve collected from residents and properly dispose of them as outlined by the 19th National Convention of The American Legion in 1937.
Locally, at Huntley’s American Legion Post 673, George Hellner oversees the ceremony for disposal of unserviceable flags. In talking with the 32-year Air Force veteran, one gets a hint of the patriotism and merriment within the post. When asked why the post’s flag disposal ceremony begins as 7 p.m., Hellner shrugged and said, “It’s a good time to start,” a response that, in its simplicity, drew roars of laughter from Hellner’s fellow former servicemen.
Fun has been had at Huntley’s Legion post since it was formed in 1921, just two years after Congress chartered the veterans’ organization itself. Early meetings were held at various sites within Huntley before 1951m when the post settled into its quarters at North Woodstock and Coral streets, across from James Dhamer Square. The American Legion building has seen its share of Huntley history.
“This (building) was, at one time, a gas station and then a meat locker,” said Pat Conley, who served four previous one-year terms as post commander and will assume the duties again in July.
But just as the Legion building can serve as a piece of the history puzzle, so, too, can its inhabitants, although one of the misconceptions of any Legion post — and there are more than 14,000 worldwide — is that it’s made up of old guys swapping war stories.
“When you’ve been through a hard time, like a war, a lot of people don’t talk about it,” said Hellner, who served during Desert Storm. “I remember the good times.”
Conley, who served aboard the USS Vigil during the Vietnam War and is a retired Chicago firefighter, agreed.
“What people might tell you about is a funny thing that happened to them in the service because they don’t want to talk about being shot at,” he said.
One topic, however, that the post’s 250-plus members do discuss frequently is their year-round activities and fundraisers. And there are plenty of them. For instance, Huntley’s American Legion and American Legion Auxiliaries members recently joined their fellow members nationwide and the Veterans of Foreign Wars to hold their annual Poppy Day, accepting donations in exchange for poppies.
Huntley’s Legion also is responsible for the village’s annual Memorial Day parade, which Conley organizes. Post members provide free food and drink for kids who participated in the parade. For the vets who participated, there’s, ahem, tasty beer kaese sandwiches, a Huntley Legion tradition.
Beer Kaese “is a real stinky cheese,” Conley said. “It’s worse than Limburger.”
Legion member Tom Schaefer was more forthcoming.
“It tastes like you vomited in your mouth,” he said.
Among the Legion’s other popular fundraisers are its golf outings, Gifts for Yanks program, and annual Feather Party, in which meats such as turkey, chicken and beef are raffled off each November. The group also rents out its space to weddings, banquets and parties, and, of course, it is open to the public.
“A lot of Legion posts are closed to nonmembers,” Hellner said. “We don’t operate that way. Most of the people who come in here are not Legion members. I’d say 25 percent of the people that come in here are Legion members. We have great friends who come in here; people who have been in town 30 or 40 years. They know the Legion.”
Proceeds from Legion events benefit an array of programs and causes, including the Lake-McHenry Veterans and Family Services Drop-In Center, which helps veterans secure employment, and New Horizons, a transitional living center in Hebron that provides food, shelter and case management services to homeless veterans.
Additionally, the Legion, a nonprofit organization, supports the local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Special Olympics and DARE program among others. They also award two $500 annual scholarships to local high school students, a distinction that Conley estimates has been in place for at least 30 years.