Remembering Ron Packard and honoring World War II veterans in Rockland
ROCKLAND — "Everybody was talking about something big was going to happen. We thought they were talking about the upcoming invasion, but it was the bomb they were talking about."
Despite the weather, a small group of World War II veterans turned out at Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt American Legion Post 1 in Rockland at the end of February for a dinner to honor them for their service to their country.
Mike Phillips, the current commander of Post 1 said next month they would host a dinner honoring Korean Veterans.
“Vietnam after that and then the Gulf War,” he said. “We’re not just a place for veterans to go and trade war stories. We’re here for the veterans, but we’re here for the community, too. We have a large, very nice center here and we either rent it out or donate it for use to the public.”
Phillips served in the Army as a military policeman. Post commanders are elected for a year and Phillips' tour will be up in May.
Post 1 is just what it says. It was the first American Legion Post in Maine. Founded in 1947, Post 2 is in Augusta. Knox County has seven American Legion Posts.
The dinner took on a sad note as one of the planners had past away two days earlier.
“Ron Packard had spearheaded this banquet,” said Phillips. “He’s the main reason we did this. Every day at noon, without fail he would come in and drink a beer in the veteran’s only section. He was on the planning committee and was always pushing us to do more things for the veterans. He was a wonderful person and a great man who served in World War II.”
Packard’s daughter was in attendance at the dinner to honor her father. Packard’s seat had a black drape placed over it and an honorary glass of beer sat on the counter.
“It will stay there for 30 days,” said Phillips. “That’s just one of the ways we honor our members who have passed away.”
The post has leased an acre and a half of its land to the state for the Midcoast Veterans Memorial Wall. It sits on a small rise on the post’s land.
Leroy Peasley was a U.S. Maine in World War II. He was assigned to the Third Marine Division out of Guam.
“I was assigned to the USS Calloway,” said Peasley. “We transported troops for landings around the Pacific Islands. It was my job to bury the dead at sea. I always wanted to get assigned to Shangri-La. That’s what Roosevelt called Camp David back then.”
Shangri-La, the presidential retreat, was originally called Hi-Catoctin. It was built as a camp for federal government agents and their families, by the WPA, starting in 1935. In 1942, President Roosevelt designated the area 60 miles north of Washington, D.C., as a presidential retreat. It wasn’t until Dwight Eisenhower was elected president that he changed the name to Camp David after his son and grandson, who were both named David.
“We were assembling troops on Iowa Jima and Tinian Island getting ready for the invasion of Japan,” said Peasley. “Everybody kept saying something big is coming. Nobody would say what it was, but everybody kept saying something big was coming. We all assumed it was the invasion, but it wasn’t. It was the bomb they were talking about. We dropped the atomic bombs and the war was over.”
Phillips said the post donates a lot of time and money to the community.
“We have dances to raise money, dinners and we rent out the hall. Last year alone we gave more than $5,000 in scholarships and donated the use of the hall to a number of organizations. We ourselves are a nonprofit. We know how important help with fundraising can be to someone.”
Ron Rainfrette is the District Commander for Knox County. There are seven posts in Knox. Each post has a post commander and then there is a district commander. Rainfrette serves a post commander for Post 30 in Camden, but also oversees the other six in the county.
“I’ve been associated with the Camden post for 40 years,” said Rainfrette. “Come spring I’ll be serving as first vice commander for the state. I go all over the state and I serve on the resolution committee and the public relations committee.
District Six is Knox County and covers posts in Rockland, Vinalhaven, Camden, North Haven, St. George, Thomaston and Union. In all, Knox County has 616 registered veterans who belong to a post. Of these, Rockland has the largest membership with 332 veterans.
History: On May 9, 1919, 15 former servicemen met at the G. A. R. Hall summoned by Col. Walter H. Butler. The group consisted of former World War One veterans.
The decision to organize an American Legion post resulted from the conclusion of these veterans that the American Legion was the representative veterans' organization in this country. The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans' organization with nearly 15,000 local posts throughout America and more than three million members, who care about America, its veterans, their families and the nation's youth.
At the first meeting, Col. Walter H. Butler was elected temporary chairman. A decision was made by the attending veterans to file an application for an American Legion Post.
On June 21 1919, a Certificate of Application for a Charter was presented to the Maine State Chairman of the American Legion for the formation of a Post at Rockland, to be known as Winslow-Holbrook Post 1. On June 26, 1919, the application was returned, approved and a charter issued.
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