Department Spotlight: Visit to South Carolina State House dates back to 1970s

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Since at least the 1970s, The American Legion’s national commander’s visit to South Carolina has included a very high-profile stop: the South Carolina State House in Columbia. South Carolina is the only state where the national commander addresses the legislature every year.

One possible force behind the tradition may have been Legionnaire E. Roy Stone. Born in 1912 and raised in South Carolina, Stone served in both war theaters in the Navy during World War II. He joined the Legion soon after his return home, and over the years served as a post commander, district commander, department commander, national commander by special vote of the national convention (in 1987), and a National Executive Committee member from 1953 to 2001. He died in April 2001 at 88; the next month, a meeting room at National Headquarters in Indianapolis was renamed for him.

National Commander Charles Schmidt continued that special tradition March 8, receiving a warm reception from a joint assembly of the South Carolina Legislature. Schmidt reminded state lawmakers there that The American Legion is an effective resource for communities in need.

“In times of natural disaster or a community crisis, it is not unusual for The American Legion Family to step up. From ham radio communications to emergency shelters and assistance, The American Legion believes in serving our communities – just as we served our country when we proudly wore our military uniforms,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt added that South Carolinians came to The American Legion’s assistance when Post 40, located near Myrtle Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew last October.

“The area was compared to a combat zone by Post Adjutant Bill Shoe,” he said. “The flag floating in flood waters, trees upended and ruined floors, walls and cabinets were just some of the obvious costly repairs that the post was facing in order to have a place to meet.”

Fortunately, Schmidt said, Home Depot stepped up with donated supplies and labor, Service-Pro provided a large discount to remove bacteria and mold, and a local library and restaurant provided meeting space.

“That’s what families do for each other, and South Carolina has always been a welcoming place for active-duty servicemembers, veterans and military retirees,” Schmidt said.

“We’re the only VSO (veterans service organization) that gets to do this,” said South Carolina Department Commander Bob Scherer. “I don’t think we can overstate its importance. Just the visual of the national commander representing all veterans from around the nation is a good one.”

The testimony was the capstone of a four-day tour of the Palmetto State, which included visits to Shaw Air Force Base, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Cowpens Battlefield and several American Legion posts.

As Schmidt continued to pound the drums about the importance of membership, Department Adjutant Nick Diener offered some positive news about his department. “We will exceed our 90 percent target date and expect to be at about 92 percent during the deadline,” he said before a packed meeting of American Legion members gathered in Columbia. “We have 40 posts that are over 100 percent so far.”

The department presented Schmidt with $53,325.16 of donations for the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund raised by posts and American Legion Riders chapters throughout the state.

During his appearance before the legislature, Schmidt told a story that struck a nerve for those who understand the significant role that South Carolina plays in American Legion history. “An 88-year-old veterans was recently turned away from a (state) home in Columbia. This was particularly painful to us because it is the E. Roy Stone Veterans Pavilion,” Schmidt said. “Mr. Stone was a much beloved Past National Commander of The American Legion. He was so dedicated to our organization that he was often called ‘Mr. Legionnaire.’ A proud World War II veterans and native of Greenville, E. Roy Stone is the last person on earth who would turn away a fellow veterans. But this story has a happy ending, as a closed wing at the home was re-opened and the veteran was finally given a space.”

But Schmidt also added, “the high cost of private long term care too often wipes out the entire savings and assets of the (veterans and) families that love them. The American Legion wants to thank this legislature for funding three new state veterans’ homes.”

Schmidt reminded the legislature of the many local contributions that The American Legion makes. “In addition to influencing policy in Washington, The American Legion is pleased to be here in your communities. Sponsoring Boy Scout troops, conducting blood drives, teaching about our flag and volunteering at VA hospitals are just a few examples of how we improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

“And by virtue of your membership in this great legislature,” he added, “I know that you share the same dedication to improving life for everybody living in the Palmetto State. The American Legion salutes you all for your service to your communities, and nation.”

He then closed by presenting plaques to State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, as “The American Legion Department of South Carolina Outstanding Members of the Legislature” for 2017.