OP-ED: Don't leave the American Legion behind

Photo by Brian Heyman

Photo by Brian Heyman

While the nation was mourning the death of WWII Naval Aviator and 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, the building housing the American Legion Post 723 in Hollydale was demolished by Los Angeles County, which owns the parcel in Downey, to make way for a proposed veterans' housing project.


The flag flying at half-mast in front of the building to honor our former Commander-in Chief was sadly apropos, as bulldozers brought down the walls of a place where so many local veterans of our wars have gathered since the Hollydale Post was established in the 1940's.


For all intents and purposes, the demolition of the building is akin to the death of American Legion Post 723. The contents of the building were removed by its members and transferred to storage before demolition, but without a permanent meeting place to gather, it is unlikely the post will survive.


Downey's American Legion Post 270 meets on the third Tuesday of the month in the Sizzler Restaurant on Lakewood Blvd. at 7 p.m., but it is struggling from declining membership. Its remaining members are still active in Downey by supporting both the Veteran's Day ceremony at City Hall and the Memorial Day ceremony at the Downey Cemetery, but in declining numbers every year unfortunately.


Veterans of our military conflicts in the 21st century don't seem to be interested in joining the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as almost everyone did after service during WWII, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. This isn't isolated to Downey; American Legion and VFW posts across the country struggle with declining membership.


Downey honors the active duty service of our citizen soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen through the military banners posted along Firestone Boulevard. It also honors veterans of all of the branches of the military through the beautiful veterans memorials in the Civic Center, and at the niche wall in the Cemetery.


There is also a memorial to the young Downey men killed in Vietnam in the plaza of the Downey Theatre.


Downey has another veteran's service group which is doing good things in our City, as well as for "at promise" students at Columbus High School. It's called "Courage Forward."


Courage Forward is a non-profit whose members are primarily veterans of the War on Terror. They are young, idealistic, enthusiastic and ambitious. The group came together initially as a social club of sorts, but with the vision and leadership of then council candidate and now Mayor Rick Rodriguez, it has evolved into a strong service group and force for good in Downey.


With the demise of Hollydale American Legion Post 723 and the declining membership of Downey American Legion Post 270, Courage Forward has an opportunity to join forces with these service groups to make them stronger.


Military combatants have a credo they are all willing to die for: "No one left behind" on the battlefield.


I pray and hope that members of the American Legion in Downey aren't left behind.

Brian Heyman is a United States Air Force veteran and member of American Legion Post 270.