Sunday, January 27, 2019
A Standing Ovation for a Wounded Marine
ALBANY — Department Commander Gary Schacher stood at the podium, looking out at the packed banquet hall Saturday evening during the Mid-Winter Conference, and said:
“I have a good friend here — Sgt. Eddie Ryan.”
Suddenly everyone was standing and applauding.
Ryan, a Marine confined to a wheel chair after being shot in the head and face in Iraq in 2005, was a guest of honor. He also was the honor veteran last September at the Patriot Highlander Challenge, an obstacle course race that Schacher co-founded to raise money for wounded warriors.
The commander introduced Eddie’s father, Chris – to which Eddie quipped: “He’s my best friend.”
Schacher then asked any Marine veterans present to come forward and surround Eddie for a group photo.
Schacher noted that Eddie had been a member of The American Legion, but with his family focusing on his rehabilitation, his membership lapsed. The Department took steps to make sure that didn’t happen again. Retired Sgt. Eddie Ryan is now a life member of Lake George Post 374, the commander said.
Before Department Adjutant James Casey introduced featured speaker Paul Dillard, the 2020-21 candidate for national commander, he called National Auxiliary President Kathy Dungan up to the podium to address the gathering.
“My theme is, ‘Serving Our Heroes.’ YOU are my heroes.”
It was just a few words, but she got a standing ovation.
Paul Dillard, a Vietnam era veteran who hails from Texas, also pointed to what his theme would be as national commander.
“No veterans left behind!”
He received rousing applause for that, and went on to say:
“I honestly believe, a hundred years ago, that was the intent of those doughboys” who founded The American Legion on the four pillars of Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Children & Youth.
Those pillars need a foundation, he said, which is the membership.
Membership rolls suffer due to the number of older veterans going on to “post everlasting,” and the number who do not renew. It’s time to turn that around, at the post level, by making personal contacts with members, letting them know “you appreciate” their support of the Legion. And by asking neighbors, in-laws, co-workers and professional contacts if they served and urging them to join The American Legion.
He recounted how World War II veterans mentored him. “Those World War II guys would call every member and thank them” for being a member, for paying their dues, for supporting the work of The American Legion.
“Let’s take that with us and go back to our posts.” He urged the audience to carry on the mission, to carry on “what the founding fathers did for this organization,” which turns 100 on March 15, 2019.
After all, “where would veterans be, where would America be, without The American Legion?”
The banquet capped a day of seminars and meetings on Legion programs and veterans’ issues.
Commander Schacher and National Commander-Candidate Dillard got to share their thoughts on the Legion and veterans’ concerns with representatives from several news media outlets (The Saratogian, The Times-Union and CBS WRBG Channel 6).
A reception prior to the banquet featured number of patriotic and popular tunes performed by the Yankee Doodle Concert Band from Rensselaer.
Following the banquet, a newly formed Sons of the American Legion rock ‘n roll band, SALute, entertained the Legion Family to bring attention to the Sons’ campaign on behalf of the Legion’s Child Welfare Foundation. Performing were SAL members Joe Guidice (keyboards and vocals), Gabe Cinquegrana (guitar and vocals), Kevin Harrington (percussion), Joe Possavino (bass guitar) and Larry DiLorenzo (lead guitar).