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  • Monday, October 06, 2014

    Awards and Message Highlight Leaders’ Visit to Central NY

    ROME/UTICA — The leaders of the New York State American Legion Family visited Central New York over the past few days, bringing their message of action-oriented support for veterans and communities. But the attention at a luncheon at Oneida County’s Utica Post 229 on Oct. 3 was on a Camden man and a Utica rehab program.

    Honoring Frank Bergin

    Oneida County Commander Anthony Palladino (left) and Department Commander Frank Peters honor Frank Bergin. Photos/ Doug Malin.

    Department Commander Frank Peters and Oneida County Commander Anthony Palladino presented Oneida County American Legion A

    wards of Excellence to Camden resident Frank Bergin and to Sitrin Health Care of Utica.

    Bergin was honored “for patriotism and devotion to veterans that led to the creation of Camden’s Freedom Park in honor of Oneida County’s fallen heroes,” Palladino said.

    Jackie Warmuth and Cheryl Jassak accepted the award on behalf of Sitrin, its staff and volunteers, which was “for a Military Rehabilitation Program that provides a comprehensive healing environment for wounded warriors, veterans and their families,” Palladino noted. Warmuth is Sitrin’s vice president for clinical development and Jassak is Sitrin’s special events/planning associate.

    Honoring Sitrin.

    Sitrin’s Jackie Warmuth (2nd from left) and Cheryl Jassak accept award from Oneida Co. Commander Palladino (left) and Dept. Commander Peters.

    Accompanying Peters were Department Auxiliary President Diane Gerber and Sons of the American Legion (SAL) Detachment Commander Chuck Depot.

    Following the luncheon, the state leaders toured Sitrin Health Care’s Military Rehabilitation Program, including its rural Camp Sitrin where wounded warriors and other veterans take part in retreats and other outdoor rehab/recreational activities. They got to meet four veterans involved in the Sitrin program. Three of them joined the Legion on the spot; the fourth was already a member. The veterans are: retired Army Command Sergeant Major Joe Ruggiero, an advisor to the program; Army Staff Sgt. Scott McCumber; former Marine Sgt. Kevin Corrigan, and former Army Specialist George Brandt.

    In the evening, Peters, Depot and Gerber spoke at a dinner in their honor at Rome Polish Home in Rome. Some 200 Legion, Auxiliary and SAL members attended.

    In Jefferson County Oct. 5, Peters, a retired ferryboat captain, suddenly found himself in his element as they plied the autumnal waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway aboard an Uncle Sam Boat Tours craft. He was all smiles as he took the wheel of the boat.

    Peters at wheel.

    Dept. Commander Peters is all smiles as he takes wheel of a tour boat on the St. Lawrence. Photo / Doug Malin.

    Lunch followed at Alexandria Bay Post 904, and then a drive to Watertown before heading to Lafargeville for dinner at Kock-Smith Post 1788.


    In their dinner talks, Chuck Depot summed up the dynamo behind the American Legion in one word — “family.” The Legion, Auxiliary and the SAL, working together, make a difference, he said.

    “We have to do it all as a group.”

    Depot and Peters both talked of the importance of submitting consolidated reports. With less than half of the posts submitting reports, “I can’t tell half of the story,” Peters said. “We need to tell the whole story of the great work of the American Legion.”

    Depot pointed to some $2.1 billion in volunteer hours provided by the Legion Family. Imagine what the Legion nationwide could tout if 100 percent of consolidated reports were submitted (as they were in the 5th District, Department Vice Commander James Ellis noted).

    Like other SAL members, Depot joined to honor his veteran father, and “it’s been the greatest experience of my life.” It’s a way of paying his dad back “for giving me my freedom.”

    His personal project is to support Commander Peters’ efforts to raise money for the National Emergency Fund (NEF). The NEF, Peters noted, poured $500,000 directly to New York Legion Family members who were hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy and subsequent storms.

    State Legion leaders.

    Frank Peters, Diane Gerber and Chuck Depot.

    Depot said his goal for the Sons is to recruit 2,500 new members, swelling New York’s SAL membership to over 30,000.

    Peters struck a similar tone on membership growth, pointing to the Legion’s 100th anniversary coming up in four years, and noting that a strong, growing membership makes possible all the great programs of the American Legion.

    Echoing Depot’s remarks on the Legion Family, Auxiliary President Gerber said it has been gratifying “to see a true American Legion Family” at work during their travels. And she was proud to announce — to applause and cheers — that the NY Auxiliary walked away with 21 national awards at the national convention. The convention launched a program called “Honoring Our Female Veterans,” aimed at getting women veterans to join as dual members (with the $9-national portion of the auxiliary dues  being waived for the first year). The national Auxiliary established an overall goal of signing up one million new members, emphasizing the theme, “making a difference in our communities.” The upcoming Mid-Winter Conference in Albany in January will offer training on the recruiting campaigns, with the national Auxiliary president participating.

    Gerber’s personal project is to raise funds for “Soldiers’ Wish,” which helps with unmet needs of veterans and service members.

    She closed by asserting: “I thank each and every veteran in this room for my freedom.”

    Department Commander Peters pointed to “honoring all veterans” as his theme for the year. It started with World War I veterans, who founded the American Legion. Then World War II vets came home to the GI Bill, thanks to the Legion, which authored the legislation. In fact, WWII vets swelled New York Legion ranks with 100,000 new members. With older veterans passing on and the need for younger men and women to get involved and assume leadership roles, he said it was vital to put a focus on attracting new members. “Every veteran in this room knows someone who is eligible to join. All you need to do is, just ask.” He’ll even award a special membership pin to anyone who signs up a member.