'Family First' hits New York City

When she was elected national commander of The American Legion, Denise Rohan asked Legion posts to open up their doors to veterans and their communities for Legion family dinners on and around Veterans Day.

During her stop in New York City last weekend, Rohan was a special guest at two of those dinners: one hosted by New York City’s five counties on Nov. 10, and another by Legion family members at Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 on Veterans Day.

The dinners were part of a whirlwind weekend for Rohan, who also was an honorary grand marshal in the New York City Veterans Day Parade, and attended Veterans Day ceremonies at both Madison Square Park and at 911 Memorial Post 2001 aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid Museum.

Rohan said The American Legion is indeed a family, one similar to those formed during military service. “When we went through basic training, we learned … that we may have our own personal families at home, but we had a new family in our brothers and sisters within our ranks,” she said. “We got new families every place we went.

“As part of The American Legion family, we found that as we settled in new communities across the country … we found a new family in The American Legion.”

Another guest at both dinners was Department of New York Commander Rena Nessler, the first woman to serve in the position in state history. She said she’s already seen the results of Rohan’s “Family First” theme.

“People are really responding to it,” Nessler said. “At the events we’ve been going to, it’s been a lot more the family coming to it: The American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary, the Sons of The American Legion and The American Legion Riders. More are getting the message that National Commander Denise Rohan is (putting) out there.”

At the Golden Unicorn restaurant on Nov. 10, Nessler said the Legion needs to be there for veterans not just today, but “for them just as strong tomorrow. We build today for tomorrow.”

At the same dinner, Rohan said that as a youth reading history books, the sacrifices of veterans didn’t resonate with her. “They didn’t mean a thing to me until I started meeting each and every one of you,” she said. “You’re the ones who made that difference. You’re the ones who made this nation what it is.”

She also urged those same veterans to talk about their experiences with others. “Those stories are so important,” she said. “Each of you have something very special in your hearts.”

The Nov. 11 dinner at Post 1291 in Chinatown, 35 midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis were also special guests. Post 1291 Commander Kenny Wong was proud to open his post up to Rohan and Nessler.

“It’s an honor … to be hosting this event for both the national and department commander,” he said. “I also feel it’s historical because they’re both the first female commanders for national and for the Department of New York.”

Rohan hoped Legion family dinners across the country would present a more accurate view of The American Legion.

“By opening our posts up and talking about ‘Family First’ and taking care of one another … our Legion family dinners are really about opening our homes, letting the community come in … and actually get a feel and see what The American Legion is all about,” Rohan said. “We’re there to help. That’s what we’re all about.”