Local American Legion post marks 90th birthday

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 31, 2009

Brookhaven was a vastly different town in 1919.

Horses were still a popular mode of transportation, radios werecutting edge technology and almost 5 million Americans were beingdischarged from the services after taking part in World War I.

Now, 90 years later, the government is urging hybrid electriccars, 63-inch digital televisions can be purchased for low monthlypayments and the last surviving American veteran of The War to EndAll Wars, Frank Buckles, is 108 years old.

However, Brookhaven’s John Edwards Post 12 of the AmericanLegion still exists. The local veterans’ organization turned 90years old in August.

“It’s a very good milestone,” said Col. Keith Reeves, commanderof Post 12 and the Mississippi State Guard’s 3rd Separate InfantryBrigade. “It’s kind of like living. A lot of posts don’t makeit.”

When the state branch of the American Legion was formed in 1919,the new organization passed Resolution I, which promised to assistapproximately 2,500 Mississippi servicemen who were disabled inWorld War I. Part of the resolution read, “We pledge ourwhole-hearted support and effort to disabled men in assisting themto get the full benefit of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act asadministered by the Federal Board,” and, “RESOLVED: That all localposts are hereby requested to collect and furnish to the Secretaryall information possible concerning disabled soldiers in theirrespective localities.”

When the 1919 state convention ended, the Legionnaires dispersedto their home posts to begin assisting fellow veterans. They’restill doing it today.

“Basically, we try to be active in veterans’ affairs, keeppeople posted on what’s going on and help former servicemen withtheir questions concerning veterans’ affairs,” Reeves said.

Brookhaven’s Post 12 participates in Boys State, one of theLegion’s largest and most prestigious programs, which makes youngmen of boys by teaching them government and leadership skills. Thelocal post also decorates around 700 servicemen’s graves eachMemorial Day and Veterans Day, and often hosts local politicalfigures annually to communicate veterans’ needs.

“The American Legion has political clout,” Reeves said. “It isone of the top promoters of veterans’ affairs there is in thiscountry beside the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).”

The Legion ran a baseball team in the mid-20th century, and onceowned the Exchange Club Park before selling it to thatorganization.

Post 12 is facing a problem in 2009, however.

Its membership is aging, and participation has grown scarce.Reeves said the post has 41 members, but many are inactive.

Despite the ongoing participation by Brookhavenites in the Iraqand Afghanistan wars, young soldiers returning home have not joinedthe American Legion, a fact which saddens Reeves, Post 12 chaplainthe Rev. W.A. Matthews and all involved.

“It’s held us back,” Reeves said.

Matthews said the values of the Legion are the same they were 90years ago, and the same that sends local teenagers and young men tothe other side of the earth with rifle in hand today.

“The Legion stands for patriotism and love for one’s country,support of our military forces,” he said. “It’s a good organizationand has played an important part in the history of our country. Thelongevity shows it has served a great purpose in our society.”

Brookhaven’s post was founded on Aug. 25, 1919, one month beforeCongress officially chartered the American Legion in September ofthat year.

According to old clippings belonging to Matthews, the 12th postfounded in Mississippi was named after John May Edwards, aBrookhavenite who died of meningitis in February 1918 whilestationed in the U.S. Army in Louisiana. He had earlier served onthe Mexican border in the Mississippi National Guard.

Post 12’s charter, which is now on display in the MilitaryMemorial Museum, was signed by 15 Brookhaven men – O.N. Arrington,Perry A. Coker, T.E. Coker, N.B. Fisher, George C. Hoskins, DelbittW. Love, Aubrey Magee, N.A. McLeod, C.T. Montgomery, EugeneMontgomery, L.P. Oberschmidt, I.L. Parsons, B.H. Storm, JosephWest, Jr. and W.C. Williams.

The newly formed Post 12 and its members would help organize theAmerican Legion’s Mississippi branch only months later.

According to “History of the American Legion, Department ofMississippi, 1919-1943,” written by department historian Arthur C.Short in 1943, Ira Lee Parsons, who practiced medicine inBrookhaven until 1916, when he joined the National Guard and servedon the Mexican Border, would go on to be an American Legiondepartment commander in 1921. He entered the public health servicethat same year, and would serve as the chief medical officer forthe Veterans’ Administration’s Jackson and Biloxi offices.

When the temporary organization was formed in April 1919, Post12 charter member George C. Hoskins was selected to attend thenational convention in St. Louis in May 1919. Hoskins also servedon the executive committee at large, while Brookhaven’s Shelby A.Cowart represented the congressional district.

When the state convention was held in October, Brookhaven’sAlbert Edwards and W.S. Rutter joined charter members Parsons andO.N. Arrington to represent Post 12. Parsons was selected to serveon the state executive committee.

Brookhaven’s post was 12 of only 33 posts organized by the timeof the convention. The following year, the number had grown to119.

McComb’s James H. Price and Fayette’s James McClure were alsonamed to positions at the April pre-convention. Magnolia’s Van H.Weathersby and McComb’s K.G. Price were named to positions at thestate convention in October.

Other local natives who played roles in the early days of theAmerican Legion include Monticello’s Forrest Graham Coooper, whoserved as department commander in 1931, and Summit’s Clyde McGehee,who served as department commander in 1941.

Prominent Post 12 officials in recent history include the latecommanders Versie Adams and Bernard McClelland, and adjutant LloydEdge. The post went dormant after McClelland’s passing, but wasrejuvenated by Reeves in the mid 1990s.

Post 12 is scheduled to meet on the third Tuesday of everymonth. Veterans interested in joining may call Reeves at601-833-5438.