John Nicholas Olcese spoke about his grandfather, Tommy G. Everett, and his impact on American Legion Post 223 in Shippensburg at its Centennial Celebration Saturday.
Senior leadership noted this is one example of the youth stepping up to further the legacy of the post, and something they would like to see more often. The Legion’s celebration brought a rich history to the forefront for all members of the community to see, including this time spent recollecting Everett’s life.
The 1950 Shippensburg High School graduate served for 11 years as post commander, and spent time in other roles, including finance officer, historian, chaplain and district commander. He was a veteran of the Air Force during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
Olcese provided those in attendance with stories about the eras of his grandfather’s life, including the most important aspect: “His love of God and country.”
“That love came to life through his work with the American Legion Post 223 here today celebrating its 100th anniversary. Tommy, my grandfather, would have been in his glory on this momentous day. I'm sure he is smiling down on us as we take this opportunity to make a special occasion of recognition of the establishment of this post 100 years ago. This post and the projects it undertook and supported were of extreme importance to Tommy Everett.”
Olcese came to the celebration with several pictures, past parade plans, past plans for anniversary celebrations and other records of special events, special occasions and other legion functions kept by Tommy. One of these mementos was a plaque given to his wife, Marlene, for her late husband’s perfect attendance in all 33 military funeral services in 2010 as a member of the Legion Minutemen. He passed away in January of 2011.
“I loved hearing what Tommy Everett’s grandson had to say,” said Wendy Tomczak, senior vice commander who served three years active duty in the Army and more than 22 years in the Air National Guard. “That was very special because I knew Tommy. I don’t think any of us realized truly how much he did until he died. And, then we needed someone to do this, and this, and this. I can’t tell you how many people it took to pick up all the slack.”
Commander Guy Hayslett also spoke during the celebration, explaining the post’s mission of working to get people to understand the history of the post, and educating people about what the post stands for.
“I feel that it is important for history not to be forgotten, or destroyed. This is our legacy,” Hayslett said. “I also feel that it is important to involve and educate our youth so that they have a better understanding of what a United States Veteran stands for.”
Rep. Mark Keller (R-86) also spoke about the longevity and continued presence of the American Legion, whether it be donating more than $240,000 to the community last year, or teaching people to respect the flag.
He also thanked and recognized the Legion Minutemen, who bless deceased Veterans and their families by providing military honors at funerals.
“The Minutemen stand tall, whether the sun is shining, rain is pouring from the sky, or snow is lightly dusting the ground, to honor those fallen Veterans as they are sent to their final destination and resting place,” Keller said.
He recalled the 21-Gun Salute at his father’s funeral, and how it reminded him of his father’s sacrifice in World War II. However, it is also the time spent together at the American Legion between Veterans that he values as important.
“Perhaps the most important, the Legion gives its members an opportunity to be with fellow members, fellow Veterans who shared experiences. Many members have been involved more than 50 years. The conversations that happen over a burger or a beer are important ones,” he said.
Keller presented Hayslett with a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Saturday in recognition of American Legion Post 223 being established Aug. 15, 1919, in honor of the late Oscar M. Hykes, for which the post is named after, and the post’s overall contributions to society. Hykes was killed in action during World War I, near the French town of Montfaucon.
Another featured part of the celebration included 11 members of the Liberty War Bird Association arriving from York on a restored UH-1 Huey Helicopter 823, which was used in combat during the Vietnam War. The helicopter circled the Legion before it eventually landed.
Timothy Wright brought his “Fallen Heroes of the Mid-Atlantic States” memorial wall featuring the names of the area men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the end of the year, he said the wall will be donated to American Legion Post 223, and Hayslett will be continuing the tradition.
Boy Scout Troop 120 also volunteered their time with setup and tear down. The Scouts were included in a brief ceremony during the afternoon program for the newest name added to the wall, PO2 Slayton R. Saldana of Virginia. The name was revealed; “Taps” was played; and a salute was given.
“Volunteering is a huge part of the Legion and its sustainability. As the boys grow older, and I know some of these kids, including my son, and thinking of entering the military, we would hope they understand that volunteering is part of the sustainability of the Legion in the long-run and that these guys will someday be part of the American Legion’s long-term success,” said Clint Fogelsanger, parent leader of the troop.
Three larger military vehicles were parked at the celebration for young and old to explore, including a Military Utility Vehicle, Military Chevy and Military Humvee for viewing and pictures.
The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association were also present offering various license plates, paracord bracelets, T-shirts and patches. A military-themed US Xpress Freightliner, and a Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors Truck also paid a visit to the Legion celebration.
“I think the legacy of the Legion holds strong in the Shippensburg community,” said Amanda Page, who served as an Army Flight Medic for 15 years. “When we moved from downtown in the original building out here, I think some of that legacy was lost, but hopefully after today, with the community being invited, they are seeing all the historical documents out -- and that faith in legacy has been restored.”
The Shippensburg Town Band played patriotic melodies during the program. They asked service members to stand when their arm of the military’s song was played. Page sang the National Anthem. The Legion Minutemen posted and retired the colors. They also performed the 21-Gun Salute, and Rick Brown played “Taps” on the trumpet.
Hot dogs and hamburgers were served on the deck, while the doors to the Legion were open to all so they could soak in the post’s history.
“I’m not sure that everybody understands how much the Legion has done for Veterans and how much it means to Veterans. It’s not just a place to have drinks and dinner. It was created to help the Veterans that had come home from World War I. And that continues to be their main mission,” Tomczak said.
It’s not just those returning home, but those still overseas.
Cpl. Stephen Little recollected when the American Legion Post 223 sent 17 care packages to the Army troops stationed in Korea.
“It’s the support for us overseas, over in the military,” Little said. “They are supporting our mission.”
To learn more about the Legion’s history, visit: www.centennial.legion.org/histories.