National commander: VFW seeing a revival

 

POST 155 VISITED — Dale Barnett, the 2015–16 National Commander of the American Legion, stands outside the American Legion Post 155 in Naples on Saturday. Members of the Legion treated Barnett and attendees to a multi-course meal during the banquet. (De Busk Photo) COMMANDER CUTS CAKE — National Commander Dale Barnett cuts a patriotic cake during the banquet at the American Legion Post 155. (De Busk Photo)

POST 155 VISITED — Dale Barnett, the 2015–16 National Commander of the American Legion, stands outside the American Legion Post 155 in Naples on Saturday. Members of the Legion treated Barnett and attendees to a multi-course meal during the banquet. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett has an incredible sense of duty to his country.

He has a sense of humor, too.

That was evident from the frequent friendly laughter as Barnett spoke during a dinner banquet at American Legion Post 155 in Naples on Saturday.

He joked that his grandson was better at speaking than he was; and when his grandson grabbed the microphone at the 97th National Convention in Maryland this fall, Barnett thought the younger generation would walk away with all the votes.

Since September 2015, when he was elected National Commander, Barnett has been on a whirlwind tour, traveling around the United States, talking with the people who belong to the American Legion family.

“You have a great leadership team here in Maine,” he told those attending the Naples’ banquet.

“We are ready to move forward and do great work in Maine,” he said.

On Saturday prior to arriving in Naples, Barnett made five stops to Legion posts in Maine and he visited Togus, the medical facility which is operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. While touring Augusta, Barnett even had a 15-minute sit down with Gov. Paul Le Page, he said.

He stressed that the American Legion does not back any one political party.

The National commander commended the State of Maine for its passage of veteran-friendly bills. One bill set aside extra funding for at-risk veterans; that legislation that also provided funding for homeless individuals. The homesteader tax break was extended to Mainers serving overseas or at military bases outside of Maine.

In the packed upstairs room of the Legion Post 155, Barnett treated the audience to a quick and lively story of how he spent Veterans’ Day 2015.

“I got an invitation from the president of the United States. I didn’t go. I sent national vice commander. I had a dream that I had to go to Selma, Alabama, on Veterans Day,” he said, adding he planned to be in Montgomery and march in the morning parade.

POST 155 VISITED — Dale Barnett, the 2015–16 National Commander of the American Legion, stands outside the American Legion Post 155 in Naples on Saturday. Members of the Legion treated Barnett and attendees to a multi-course meal during the banquet. (De Busk Photo) COMMANDER CUTS CAKE — National Commander Dale Barnett cuts a patriotic cake during the banquet at the American Legion Post 155. (De Busk Photo)

COMMANDER CUTS CAKE — National Commander Dale Barnett cuts a patriotic cake during the banquet at the American Legion Post 155. (De Busk Photo)

“There had been some talk in town. We were met by the post commander. He had the most beat-up pick ‘em up truck,” he said.

“We went down the road to Brown Chapel in that pick ‘em up truck,” he said.

The group went to the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had organized protests in 1963, ’64 and ’65. (King was assassinated on April 4, 1968; the anniversary happened this week.)

“We were briefed by an Air Force veteran. He briefed us about what happened in Selma. We briefed him on the American Legion, and he became a member,” Barnett said.

The mode of transportation switched from a dinged-up, rusty truck to two white Cadillacs on loan from the funeral home.

“I got into that beautiful white Cadillac, and there were World War II vets. They were so thrilled to go to the memorial,” he said.

Barnett provided a quick history lesson.

“In 1926, in Selma, the American Legion went to court against the Ku Klux Klan,” he said.

The names of African-American people who had served their country during war time — those names had been purposely left off the Veterans’ Monument in Selma.

“In 1926, the American Legion won the court case and added all the names of the veterans,” he said.

Fast forward to the afternoon of Nov. 11, 2015; and a group of people are standing at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They are told that they cannot cross the highway, U.S. 80, because it is dangerous.

“That is not the end of the story,” Barnett said.

“There at the bridge, the mayor, the U.S. Boy Scouts troops and the boy and girl staters” (members of the American Legion youth program) prepared to cross the bridge,” he said.

“We were crossing the bridge about 4:30 p.m. The sun was setting over the Alabama River as we crossed the bridge, arm in arm with our American Legion family,” Barnett said, adding that a local television helicopter passed over and reported a protest was happening.

The evening’s energy did not go down with the setting sun. The Legion group walked into a church with more than 200 people.

“We had a revival of the American Legion,” he said.

“We healed the city that day. I knew there were good people who lived in Selma. The only way to get healing was courtesy of the American Legion,” he said.

“Sometimes, in life, you’ve got to do what is right. You’ve got to follow your guts. I am so glad I went to Selma, Ala., on Veterans Day,” Barnett said.

Also, on Saturday, Barnett expressed his concern about the status of the U.S. National Defense.

“If you look at the number of naval ships, it is at an all-time low,” he said, explaining earlier that there are fewer ships than there were during World War II, yet maritime conflicts still occur.

“The army numbers have gone down. They are the lowest since pre-Vietnam,” he said.

The national budget for the military is not sufficient; and spare parts of old aircrafts are being used on modern planes, he said.

“I think there is a problem when we are putting used parts on million dollar planes and equipment,” he said.

“We have no strategic reserve. If a conflict arises, I am really concerned,” he said, adding, “No one is talking about it too much.”

“We, the American Legion, need to stand up and be heard” on these issues, he said.

Barnett said that his involvement in the American Legion youth program, Hoosier Boys Nation, in 1969, put him on the path to attend West Point. His experiences as a young man kept him involved in the Legion for decades — something he hopes to encourage in today’s youth.

Barnett has some background in relating to the next generation. Once he retired from the U.S. Army in 1996, he began teaching. He received the 2005–06 Teacher of the Year award at Creekside High School.

“It’s important that we teach the next generation of leaders in our country 1.) How government works, 2.) That they can make a difference, and 3.) about the sacrifice it takes to be a leader,” Barnett said during an interview before the banquet.

The upcoming years will be an exciting time as the American Legion family prepares to observe their 100th year anniversary in 2019, he said. The Legion was established in 1919, he said.

During the dinner, he wrapped up his speech with “My motto is duty, honor, and country.”

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