American Legion Executive Director Peter Gaytan addresses a crowd at a press conference in Harrisburg, Pa.

Legion strongly opposes Gettysburg casino

Once again, The American Legion's national headquarters expressed strong opposition to a proposed gambling casino that would be located next to the battlegrounds of the Civil War's most crucial battle.

Speaking at a Sept. 21 press conference at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., American Legion Executive Director Peter Gaytan told the audience, "Many say the issue of Gettysburg and this casino is a local issue - I say they are wrong. The history of the country is a national issue and The American Legion believes in protecting Gettysburg - protecting the honor and sanctity of the grounds that those men died and fought for."

Gaytan's remarks reinforced an American Legion press release issued Aug. 12, calling a plan to build a casino near the Civil War landmark a "national disgrace." The proposed casino site is right next to land where Union and Confederate cavalry fought a bloody engagement.

The formation of a new anti-casino group, Veterans for Gettysburg, was announced at the press conference, where a group of Gettysburg citizens, some sporting "No Casino" T-shirts, stood on the Capitol's main staircase behind the featured speakers: Gaytan, Jan Scruggs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and historian Edwin Bearrs, who is also a decorated World War II veteran.

Veterans for Gettysburg also sent a letter to Gregory Fajt, chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, asking the board to reject a developer's application to open a gaming facility a half-mile from Gettysburg National Military Park.

"We are not against a casino; rather, we are for Gettysburg," the letter said. "We concur with the judgment of over 275 American historians who also voiced their concern for this project's unavoidable conflict with Gettysburg's place in American history.

"We stand on behalf of the millions of Civil War veterans who endured four harrowing years of combat, but are no longer with us to speak for themselves. As you would honor (veterans') service, we ask you to remember theirs."

Representatives of the Civil War Preservation Trust also attended the press conference. The organization's president, James Lighthizer, applauded the formation of Veterans for Gettysburg.

In a statement, Lighthizer said that Gettysburg "holds a special place in the hearts of all Americans, but it is particularly dear to those who have felt the heat of battle. The call to military service is a tie that stretches across the generations and makes all of our nation's veterans truly one ‘band of brothers.'"