Mike McDermott of Homer is the first person from Cortland County to serve as New York State American Legion commander in the Legion’s 100-year history.
The Vietnam War veteran’s election capped the Department of New York Convention held in Buffalo July 18-20.
McDermott served in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1967, including a year in Vietnam where he worked in communication and intelligence with a Marine support battalion. On base he also served as a rifleman and assistant M60 machine gunner. While in Vietnam, he was promoted to petty officer 2nd class (E-5). Prior to deploying to South Vietnam, he attended jungle warfare school for weapons and survival training, and before that, he served in Germany as a cryptologic technician.
He joined The American Legion in 1980, he noted, after missing the camaraderie with fellow veterans. He has served in leadership roles at various levels of The American Legion, including 13 years as commander of Burns-McCauliffe Post 465 in Homer and four years as commander of Cortland County American Legion. He also served as commander and vice commander of the Legion’s Sixth District. In 2010 he was the Sixth District Legionnaire of the Year. He is a former member of the Department Membership Task Force and is a member of the Legion’s National Security Council. He also is a graduate of American Legion College, and a member of the National and New York State American Legion Press Associations.
His military medals include the Purple Heart, the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, various South Vietnamese awards, and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross and Service Star.
After retiring from the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier, McDermott got involved in local politics, serving three terms as village trustee and three terms as village mayor.
Born in Binghamton, he was raised in Cortland where he graduated with honors from St. Mary’s High School. Over the years he also attended Onondaga Community College, University of Maryland, SUNY Cortland, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.
His family includes his significant other, Diana Moreland, plus three children and six grandchildren.
The Department of New York encompasses over 800 Legion Posts spread across the state’s 62 counties. During his one-year tenure, McDermott is visiting every county to meet with members of the local Legion Family. His focus is on building membership and getting the word out about what the Legion does, such as advocating for veterans and working with youth through such programs as Girls State, Boys State and American Legion Baseball.
McDermott also emphasizes that The American Legion is about families – something he experienced as a kid.
“It was for families,” he said. “You brought your kids in, they had clam bakes, games for kids.”
He is excited about his year as state commander, calling it “probably one of the greatest accomplishments I’m ever going to have in my life.”
That is, “besides my kids, and grandkids.”
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