Library Marks American Legion Post 1’s Centennial, Honors Oldest Member, Joseph Gompers, 95
American Legion Post 1’s 100th anniversary was celebrated Tuesday with a Lunch With Books program at the Ohio County Public Library.
A special presentation was made to 95-year-old Joseph Gompers, the oldest member of Post 1. The retired Wheeling attorney also is a past commander of the post.
Library staff member Erin Rothenbuehler gave Gompers a framed copy of his entry in the library’s Memories in Hand veterans’ project. In his remembrance, Gompers recalled that, at age 7, he accompanied his father, a founder of Post 1, to the dedication of the Doughboy statue at Wheeling Park on Memorial Day in 1931.
The program featured a talk by John Powell, Post 1 commander, on the history of the post and the role that the American Legion has played in the nation. Library archivist Laura Carroll discussed current efforts to preserve Post 1’s artifacts. Rothenbuehler talked about a fund drive underway to finance the restoration of the Doughboy monument.
Wheeling Post 1 is older than the Legion itself, Powell said. Post 1’s first meeting was held on March 1, 1919, in Edmund Lee Jones’ office at the Laconia Building. The American Legion as a whole began on March 15, 1919, during the Paris Caucus held by American expeditionary forces in France.
From its beginnings, the American Legion has had a mission to help widows and orphans; to change public perception of veterans; to fight for veterans’ benefits and to promote patriotism, education of children and the pursuit of peace and goodwill, Powell said.
“The founding generation was ahead of its time,” he said, adding, “Women veterans were leaders of the American Legion before they had the right to vote for president of the United States.”
Carroll said Post 1 invited library representatives to assess the post’s historical materials that needed to be safeguarded and preserved. Items from the collection, including original World War I posters and other memorabilia, were displayed in the library’s auditorium for Tuesday’s presentation.
“I’m honored to be part of the library. We worked to save and preserve this impotant part of Wheeling’s history,” she said. “The records, the artifacts, are the stuff that tell the story.”
Carroll said they found Post 1’s membership cards from the 1930s through the 1970s, as well as scrapbooks, programs, letters and several other artifacts. Post 1’s auxiliary “kept meticulous records,” including minutes books from the 1930s and “beautiful scrapbooks,” she said.
Rothenbuehler said a committee has been formed to raise funds to restore the Doughboy monument, and a conservator has agreed to work on the project. The work will include replacing the statue’s missing rifle, repairing its hand, removing dents and restoring the monument’s finish to its original bronze patina.
“It’s a community campaign to bring him (the Doughboy statue) back to his former dignity for the generations,” she said.