Photo by James V. Carroll

Good Neighbors, Part I

Years ago, in the Mexican farming community of Magdalena Petlacalco, a small group of people tried to change the name of the local school. Villagers refused to do it.

Escuela Legión Americana would keep its name – the School of The American Legion – in honor of the veterans who built it.

Serving 1,500 students in first through sixth grades, Escuela Legión Americana is run by the Mexican government. But in 1957, a benefactor and friend of The American Legion donated land for the school in the mountains south of Mexico City, and members of Alan Seeger Post 2 chipped in money to build a six-room structure there.

The children of Magdalena Petlacalco know their school is here because of The American Legion – “and their parents know it, too,” says Dave Pedersen, Post 2’s adjutant and the Department of Mexico’s service officer.

After construction, Escuela Legión Americana was turned over to Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education to administer and staff with teachers. Over time, at the urging of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the government provided electricity and water at the school.

Within the first 20 years, the school became overcrowded; some students were traveling as far as 15 or 20 miles to attend. The American community in Mexico mentioned the overcrowding problem to the wife of then-President José López Portillo at a social event. Soon, a three-story annex went up behind the original building.

Today, Escuela Legión Americana still relies on outside support, and Post 2 has always helped however it can, providing tables, storage sheds, paper, pencils and other classroom supplies. Post and Auxiliary members also hand out graduation awards and, when financially able, holiday gifts for every student.

The post’s biggest gift was five computers, paid for with the proceeds from a jazz concert put on with the help of local friends of the Legion.

On Dec. 2, a group of Legionnaires from Post 2 visited Escuela Legión Americana. They arrived during recess and were immediately surrounded by hundreds of wide-eyed boys and girls curious to know their names. The children asked the veterans for their autographs, holding out notebooks, scraps of paper, even their arms for the veterans to sign.

“I was thrilled to see the smiles on their faces,” says Thor Stromsted, a World War II Navy aviator whose company, Aqua Bio Technologies, has offered to provide the school with a water-purification system. “Part of our reason for existing is community service, and this is as original as community service can get.”

Post members plan to purchase 15 more computers for the school, along with computer programs and books for English language instruction, Pedersen says.

“Some of our members are getting up in age, and because of that, our support isn’t as intense as it used to be,” he says. “We used to visit every month. But we’ve never forgotten the school. We’re proud of it.”

To help support Escuela Legión Americana, send donations to American Legion Alan Seeger Post 2, Celaya 25, Colonia Hipodromo Condesa, 06100 Mexico, D.F., or contact Post 2 Adjutant Dave Pedersen at All contributions are tax deductible.