The Post began its tradition of community service in Fall of 1946 by pressing the Mongomery County Commissioners to install street lights in Damascus. And, within a year, they were burning brightly!
Later that same year, the Post sponsored an "oyster scald", initiating another Post tradition: the bi-annual oyster roasts to raise funds for our many community service and youth programs.
1946 was also the year that Luther Burke built the storage cabinet for the Post gavel, flag and temporary, charter. The cabinet is mounted on the wall downstairs, and we still use it for the gavel, bell and miniature flags. Both the temporary and permanent Post charter are beautifully framed and displayed downstairs.
We had a banner year in 1947 when the Building fund was started with $1704.25 from the Post treasury, and the Post entered into a cooperative agreement with the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department to purchase the Thatcher farm. That purchase was consummated in January 1948, and the Post obtained about fourteen acres for building the Post Home for the sum of $1.00! About one year later, excavation for the Post Home began, including a well ninety-three feet deep.
Post activities got even busier in 1949. In early January, the members were advised to alert their wives that the President of the Southern Maryland District American Legion Auxiliary would be visiting in early February to organize an Auxiliary Unit for the Post. Unit 171 was chartered in September; Bernice Cline was elected Charter President. That same month, the Post led the community drive to relocate Route 27 to its present location between Damascus and Cedar Grove.
We incorporated the Post in March 1949, and initiated two important traditions; Elected the first Boys' State Delegate (Ray Harding), and presented the God and Country Award (now called the American Legion School Award) to the most outstanding boy and girl at Damascus and Clarksburg Elementary Schools. Since then, the Post has sponsored hundreds of young men for Boys' State and awarded the School Awards to outstanding boys and girls at local elementary and middle schools each spring.
By mid-November 1949, the new Post Home was under roof and closed in, the fireplace was working, and $103.65 was left in the Building Fund. All the construction was done by Post members and their friends using mostly scrounged materials. On March 13, 1950, Post members gathered for their first Post meeting in the new Post Home, relishing their accomplishment.
Soon the new "Legion Hall" was the center of Damascus social life, a hot spot with barn dances on Wednesday evenings, and our own Deputy Sheriff (Guy Jewell) to maintain order. Patsy Cline, Jimmy Dean and Roy Clark performed on our stage along with many other great musicians, including locals Jonny Glaze, Bill Earl, Ken Painter and member Jimmy Purdum.
During the fabulous fifties, following the Korean Conflict, Post members recruited numerous new veterans. They also collected donations and put them to good use for the citizens of the greater Damascus area. One project, for the federal Civilian Defense Program, entailed housing an entire emergency field hospital for the community. Members also delivered food baskets to needy families, ran raffles at the annual Damascus Community Fair, and hooked up the Post Home to the public water system.
In 1959, Charter Commander Carroll Fetzer was made an Honorary Life Member. Comrade Fetzer went on to Post Everlasting in 1967.
Also in 1959, the Post began what has become a most successful program - the Baseball Team. Almost every year since the Post 171 team has posted a winning record and participated in many playoff tournaments. The Post team was the Legion Maryland State Champion in 2000.
On Memorial Day in 1962, we dedicated the monument in front of the Post Home, which reads; "Dedicated To The Men And Woman Of Damascus And Surrounding Area Who Gave Their Lives In The Armed Forces In Order That We Might Remain Free."
In 1992, the new flagpoles were installed and dedicated. One - the Service flagpole - as a memorial to long-time member Chester Pearce, funded by his friend and family. In 2000, two more flagpoles - for the POW-MIA banner and the American Legion standard - were added and dedicated as memorials, also via donations by friends and family, to 55-year Post member Jack Day. Subsequently, in 2001, the American flagpole was dedicated to the memory of Past Commander Gerald Duvall, and, in 2003, the Maryland flagpole was dedicated to Past Commander Luther Burke as a living memorial for his extraordinary service to the Post. In 2004, two more flagpoles were installed - one for the Auxiliary and one for the SAL flag, both funded by donations. Few other Legion posts fly seven flags simultaneously. We do!
According to some of our long-term members, three additions were made to the Post Hone - In the late 1950s, the early 1980s, and in 1991. While most of the labor was again done by Post members and friends, material costs for the first addition necessitated a mortgage, which was paid off early, and the members celebrated with a mortgage burning ceremony on August 19, 1972. Smaller but significant improvements were made in the late 1990s and in 2000. And, in 2005 the latest improvements - new walls and fresh painting was done by member Orville Martin and his crew of both Post members and some of his family over the past few weeks.
Over the years, we've provided a place to gather for our Legion family and myriad other community organizations, including the Damascus Teen Club, the Damascus Jaycees, and the annual Damascus health and Safety Day. The Post Hone has also served many members and local citizens by providing top-notch facilities for gatherings and celebrations at very reasonable cost.
In September 1981, our Auxilary Unit was reformed by the wives of our Post members. Miriam Divall was elected Charter President, and she went on to the Department "ladder to serve as Department of Maryland Auxilary President in 2001-2002.
In 1983, the Post stated our very successful Bingo program which takes place here each Thursday evening from September through June. Together, rentals and Bingo provide the bulk of funds for the numerous charitable and youth programs our Post sponsors and supports.
In addition, the Baseball, Boys State, and the School Awards Programs described above, the Post provides annual competitive college scholarships, runs the oratorical contest, the Our House, a local organization for disadvantaged young men, and supports several other charities and Legion programs. We honor our local police, fire, rescue, and emergency medical people, and every year we contribute substantially to the National Emergency Fund, which provides financial support to victims of national disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The Post also supports a variety of veterans' activities in providing aid and assistance to our wounded comrades and those in need.
Post 171 has been a consistent leader in membership. During periods when membership in veterans organizations dropped off, our Post managed to grow. Over the past twenty-five years, we've won the Department Four-Star award twenty-one years and the Three-Star award twice. In 2004, we received the All-Time High award with 417 members.
Since we celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 1995, the Post has made great strides. We started a good periodic newsletter going to convey information to our widespread membership. In 1997, we made a very tough and controversial decision - to reduce the health risks to our members, their families, our renters, and our Bingo patrons by putting an end to the smoking in the Post Home. We also started the annual Veterans' Day program, one of the first guest speakers was Luis Goldstein, the Maryland Comptroller, known widely as the "Veterans" Veteran. And we began a greater level of participation in community activities.
We began the very successful monthly pancake breakfasts, and we also improved the newsletter and started publishing in bi-monthly. The periodic Ferrell's Feasts, movie nights, and holiday get-togethers were started along with bus trips to memorials, monuments, and ceremonies. We were challenged by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the after-effects, but we also began the several flag-raising ceremonies and sharing-our-experiences sessions we do each year at local schools. We also provide the American Flags that decorate the streets of Damascus.
Our programs for young people and community service have been most successful. Since 2000, for posts of our general size, we have won the Department of Maryland American Legion awards for Americanism, Community Service, and Child Welfare almost every year. We've also received awards for the best Newsletter and Scrapbook and Boy Scout and Chaplain's programs. We are also most proud that we were able to create the Damascus Sons of the American Legion Squadron in 2004! We also honored our WWII members at a special ceremony in 2004, and we visited the new WWII Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Certainly, we can point with pride to the many memorable moments of comradeship and our numerous superb accomplishments at Post 171. But, as we do so, we must stop and reflect on the realization that during that same period - the last ten years, we've borne the burden of sending more than ten of our Post comrades each year off to Post Everlasting. We miss our brethren with whom we shared foxholes, ships and aircraft and the memories of our common experiences in the service of our nation.