Legion post helps deliver day of recognition and service

For 11 years, Daniel W. Dowling American Legion Post 769 in Ambler, Pa., has conducted a ceremony to honor the birthday and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the post wanted to make sure a group of high school students understood both the work of King while honoring area veterans.

Following the post’s annual Martin Luther King Junior Day breakfast, Legionnaires from Post 769 and students from Wissahickon High School went to area retirement homes to visit with veterans now living there.

“It starts with a breakfast where we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King … and his good works,” Post 769 Adjutant Warren Barnhart said. “But we’ve also tried to make it a day of service toward others. We’ve tried to grow the event from just being a recognition day … giving proper recognition of the importance of the day while adding a service-related act.”

For the second year in a row, Bill Anderson – a reporter with Fox 29 in Philadelphia – both attended and covered the event for his television station. Anderson said in his coverage the event was “a visualization of Dr. King’s dream: Various races and ages all together to continue his legacy, and all us exploring how to make sure – even now, 50 years removed – that Dr. King’s message isn’t compromised.”

Barnhart said that getting Anderson to attend last year’s event “was a very big accomplishment for us. This year he was very interested in being a part of it again.”

Post 769 has been a mainstay in its community for decades. Founded in 1945 by a group of 18 African-American veterans returning from World War II, Post 769 is named for the first African-American from the area to volunteer for Civil War service with the Union Army’s 24th US Colored Troop Infantry Regiment. Years later, Dowling’s son Charles became the first African-American in the area to be drafted for service in World War I.

Thanks to its strong presence in the community, Post 769 is able to get sponsors for the breakfast, including individuals, community organizations and local businesses. This year’s MLK Day event started with a breakfast attended by 400 people at Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center that also serves as a fundraiser for Post 769’s Dowling Scholarship program. This year, the post gave away three $3,500 college scholarships to local students; Barnhart expects to award more next year.

“We’re a very small post of about 100 active members,” Barnhart said. “Last year we raised about $13,000. This year we’re trying to hit $20,000. We’re trying to grow it, and we really put a lot of effort into it. But we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

Later in the day, members of the post teamed up with the local students to visit veterans living in area retirement facilities. Post 769 Commander Mark Futch told Fox 29 that the goal of having the high school students meet with the veterans was “to come out here, which they probably wouldn’t have done without (Post 769), without this day, and to talk to others that are not like them in the community, to see that we’re all the same.”

Brianna Robinson, a student at Wissahickon High School, told Fox 29 that even though she and none of her fellow students were alive to see King’s work, “Going to see the veterans at the post and then coming to (the retirement home) to visit, you feel the significance of the event.”

To watch video from this year's event, click here.