American Legion members and other guests dance at the black-tie gala at Pasadena American Legion Post 13 in celebration of the American Legion Family's participation in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Photo by Mitch Colagrossi/The American Legion

Sharing the American Legion Family with millions

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Chartered in 1919, Pasadena (Calif.) American Legion Post 13 has a long history with the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, one that included publishing the parade program until 1966. So it was only fitting that Post 13 hosted a black-tie event on Dec. 30 to celebrate the American Legion Family’s float in one of the world’s most famous parades.

The Legion float, which celebrates the organization’s 100 years of “Still Serving America,” will take part in the 130th annual Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1. At Post 13, Department of California Legionnaires, national American Legion Family leadership and float riders gathered for an evening of camaraderie that included dinner, live music and four Medal of Honor recipients.

Post 13 Commander Tony Martinez said the post couldn’t let the opportunity to bring all of those groups together go by. “This has a lot to do with the 100-year anniversary,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to get the family together.”

Martinez said the parade entry has strengthened the American Legion Family, bringing “everybody together. We’ve never been so close. Everybody really worked together. (The float) lets everybody know we’re still out there working for our veterans.”

Showing the components of the American Legion Family working together was one of ideas that occurred to Sons of The American Legion Past National Commander Gene Sacco – a member of SAL Squadron 13 – when he first pitched the float idea to national American Legion leadership. Sacco has since served as a local coordinator for the project, reviewing designs, meeting with the float’s builders, Phoenix Decorating Company, multiple times and then helping coordinate volunteers to help decorate the float.

“We do a lot of things great together,” Sacco said. “The 100th anniversary is a great time … to get the Legion Family across the nation excited. What better thing, in my opinion, than was the Rose Parade? You’re talking about 700,000 people along the parade route from all over the country, and then 4 million people watching it on television. It’s not a regional thing. It’s not a local thing. It’s a world-wide event now.”

Sacco said that American Legion Family members from all over the nation – at least 22, he said – reached out to him wanting to come to the parade. “I expected it,” he said. “I felt this was going to bring The American Legion together, and I think it has.”

American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad was at Post 13’s event after concluding a lengthy visit to the Far East. For the national commander, the Rose Parade float gives the American Legion Family a unique opportunity.

“I think the exposure that it gives us is something beyond expectation,” Reistad said. “It’s certainly a tribute to the organization and its 100 years of history. I think that the folks that are joining us on the float are high profile themselves and will give a great deal of credibility to our float.”

At Post 13, those who will be riding on the float were able to meet Legion Family members. Among those in attendance were:

• Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, a lifetime member of American Legion Post 177 in Barboursville, W.Va., who will join fellow Medal of Honor recipients Ron Rosser, Walter “Joe” Marm and Britt Slabinski on the float. Williams said he’s proud the organization he’s a member of will have a float in the parade. Riding on the float also helps Williams achieve a longtime goal. “I’ve never had an opportunity to participate in the Rose (Parade) before, and I’ve always had a desire but was never able to fulfill,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the parade.”

• U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Raymond Jackson, who heads the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team based out of Terminal Island in Los Angeles, will represent his branch of the service on the float. A California Legionnaire, Jackson said his military unit provides sweeps of the floats and participants in the Tournament of Roses Parade. “The first year I came (to the parade) as a person in the stands watching,” Jackson said. “The next year I sent my folks out. This year, being able to have the honor to ride in the float, it’s just kind of a capstone for my time here in L.A. before I depart.”

• 2018 Boys Nation President Joshua Cheadle, a California resident, couldn’t pass up a chance to ride on the float. “It’s just an incredible opportunity to meet more people in the American Legion Family,” he said. “And also, just to showcase the incredible programs that The American Legion has. Because when people think ‘American Legion,’ sometimes it’s just veterans or people that are actively serving. But then you understand that they have the Auxiliary, they have the baseball program, and then they have a bunch of youth programs like Boys State, Boys Nation. So it’s just to showcase the diversity and how active the Legion is in every community.”

While touching on The American Legion’s Four Pillars, the float also stresses the strength of the American Legion Family – something not lost on American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan, who also spent last week helping decorate.

“We are a family, and I think that’s what we want to be seen as,” Dungan said. “I truly believe that working together as a family we can accomplish any mission that we have.”

Helping decorate the float for three days “has been amazing,” Dungan said. “(California) Girls State and Boys State came one day, and just to watch them work, that was a very memorable experience for me.”