American Legion, BROOKNEAL POST NO. 153 — 1924
Brookneal Post No. 153, located at Brookneal, a town of between five and six hundred population, thirty-two miles south of Lynchburg, in Campbell County, was primarily organized on Monday, May 21, 1923. Those interested locally in the organization had arranged with R. Chess McGhee, Department Representative in the Sixth Virginia District, to assist in getting an organization started here. The Odd Fellows Hall had been secured, the local band was present to furnish music, but there had been a heavy rain during the afternoon and only some eighteen or twenty ex-service men were present when the time came for the meeting to start. Comrade McGhee with a delegation from Lynchburg Post No. 16, which included Major John W. James, Commander; Major Harry P. Holt, ex-Commander; Major J. M. Robeson, Lynchburg Post, and afterwards Departmental Chaplain; J. E. Canada, Vice-Commander ; also W. B. Crush, Departmental Adjutant, was present. Mr. W. H. Ginther introduced Mr. R. Chess McGhee, who acted as chairman of the meeting, and after the various members of the visiting committee had briefly outlined the principles and work of the American Legion and what it stood for, the matter of organizing and election of officers was gone into and the following officers were elected: W. H. Ginther, Commander; W. J. Lewis, Vice-Commander; A. T. Canada, Adjutant; W. A. Baker, Sergeant-atArms; Henry T. Younger, Chaplain. The new post got off with a flying start; it was an easy matter to secure the fifteen charter members, but we were not destined to fly very far because for some reason or other the spirit of lethargy which hit this country shortly after the close of the war still held sway, especially in the rural districts, and it was from the surrounding country that we expected to have our best membership. Very little interest was manifested in the new organization; it was a hard matter to get enough together to hold a meeting, and for the year 1923 we showed only a membership of sixteen or seventeen.
Those who had the work at heart were just about to abandon the old ship and take ranks with the Lynchburg Post. Four members who were at the appointed place of meeting were discussing this when a fifth member entered and upon hearing the plan, asked, “How much we got in the treasury?” When informed less than ten dollars, said, “Spend it all in an effort to right the boat before you scuttle her.” The five got out and worked. By the time of the next scheduled meeting we had enough present to go into the 1924 election of officers. W. H. Ginther was re-elected Commander; A. T. Canada reelected Adjutant, and new timber was put into the other offices-L. H. Foster, ViceCommander; F. W. Williams, Sergeant-at-Arms; Lacy B. Elder, Chaplain; H. F. Walthall, Post Historian. B. F. Ginther, Jr., was adopted as bugler. It was voted to spend what money was in the treasury in writing personal letters to a list of ex-service men in a fifteen to twenty-mile radius, putting on a supper and securing a speaker for the next meeting.
A meeting was arranged for Monday, February 11, 1924. Dr. J. M. Robeson, Departmental Chaplain, was secured to deliver an address. K. P.’s put to work, etc. When the hour arrived for the meeting a fair-sized crowd was present. Rev. W. R. Rickman, who was in the Y. M. C. A. service in the training camps opened the meeting with prayer and made a very encouraging talk to the boys; then followed Dr. Robeson’s address, which won for him at once a warm spot in the hearts of his hearers. After this came the refreshments, but best of all we had actually secured nine new members, and things again looked promising to us. From this on we gradually grew and when the 1924 convention time came around we reported thirty-one members in good standing.
“Poppy Day” was observed on May 29th, in which the local Camp Fire Girls rendered the Legion valuable service in handling the sale of the “poppies”; the Legion awarded prizes to the two young ladies disposing of the largest number of poppies-Miss Erma Ginther winning first and Miss Virginia Glass second prize. While the observance of Memorial day was really a joint observance by the Legion and Camp Fire organizations, the Legion had charge of arranging the program, the Camp Fire participating. Among those on the program were Dr. W. F. Fisher, pastor of Brookneal Baptist church; Rev. W. R. Rickman, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church, Naruna, and ex-Y. M. C. A. worker in the cantonments; B. F. Ginther, editor of the Union Star; Rev. J. M. Robeson, D. D. (better known to us as the fighting parson), Departmental Chaplain. Dr. Robeson making the main memorial address. The American Legion, followed by other ex-service men and the Camp Fire Girls, marched to the cemetery where the Legion decorated the graves of their former comrades and the Camp Fire Girls decorated the Old Confederate Soldiers’ graves. At the close of appropriate decoration ceremonies, taps were sounded and the Legion returned to their hall for final dismissal, and the Camp Fire Girls returned to their headquarters.
When the memorial and decoration ceremonies were held on the 30th of May the Post found the local cemetery in a very bad shape. Owing to the sleet storm in February a large number of trees were damaged and broken limbs strew the ground; then, to add to this a very late wet spring had produced a big crop of weeds and briars, making it almost impossible to get to or find some of the graves. The local cemetery plot of some three or five acres was donoted to the town several years ago by Mrs. Mary J. Wickliffe (now deceased), and the state of affairs in which’ her property was left has made it impossible for the town to get a clear title to the plot. There are no funds to provide care for the cemetery and the plot is only looked after by the friends and relatives of those buried there, but in right many instances there are parties buried there who have no friends or relatives in this vicinity to care for their graves. The Legion immediately took steps to clean the place up. A meeting was called, a date set for the work, and when the time arrived there was no want for help. The Legion turned out and, augmented by a large number of public spirited citizens wielding axes, saws, scythes, pick axes, hoes and rakes, fell to trimming up trees, removing or repairing broken down plot fences, cutting briars and weeds, filling sunken graves, and in a few hours’ time made a wonderful transformation, turning the cemetery from a weed and briar patch to as beautiful a city of the dead as may be found in any town of like size in the country. Many parties driving through were ‘heard to remark about the wonderful change in it. And Mayor R. D. Williams wrote the local Post a letter of thanks on behalf of the town and highly commended the spirit of civic pride manifested in the work.
Comrades W. J. Lewis and W. H. Ginther, of our Post, announced they would assist all ex-service men in making out their applications for adjusted compensating during the summer and fall. They were assisted also by B. F. Ginther, editor of the Union Star, and J. H. Foster. And to show that they did the work, too, one shipment of 250 application blanks was used up and another supply obtained from the postmaster, applications being filled out complete by the above mentioned parties for ex-service men, both white and colored, from Campbell, Halifax and Charlotte counties. Also applications were handled for claims in physical disability and back pay secured. A trip was also taken into the country with a representative from the Veterans’ Bureau and an increase secured in compensation for one partially disabled veteran.
Thus we came down to the Danville convention on our feet and going strong, reporting a membership of thirty-one. Comrades W. M. Mason and W. H. Ginther were the first delegates sent from this Post to a Convention, they being our representatives at the Danville Convention.
“In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow
Beneath the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; while in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead,
Short days ago,
Saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved,
But now we lie
In Flanders Fields
Take up our struggle with the foe,
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch,be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
Tho poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.”