The American Legion is a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization whose mission is to provide support to veterans. From left are Frank Roche, of Royal Oak; Steve Parrow, of Madison Heights; John Wendland, of Royal Oak; Roger Churchill, of Royal Oak; Don Wert, of Troy; John Williams, of Southfield; Barb Dempsey, of Troy; Ed Burkhardt, of Royal Oak; and Lynn Parsons, of West Bloomfield.

The American Legion is a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization whose mission is to provide support to veterans. From left are Frank Roche, of Royal Oak; Steve Parrow, of Madison Heights; John Wendland, of Royal Oak; Roger Churchill, of Royal Oak; Don Wert, of Troy; John Williams, of Southfield; Barb Dempsey, of Troy; Ed Burkhardt, of Royal Oak; and Lynn Parsons, of West Bloomfield.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Royal Oak American Legion celebrates 100 years

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 11, 2020

 Post 253 is named after Royal Oak native Frank Wendland, pictured below, who died in France during World War I.

Post 253 is named after Royal Oak native Frank Wendland, pictured below, who died in France during World War I.

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ROYAL OAK — The American Legion Frank Wendland Post 253, located in the heart of the city in an unassuming building near Main Street and 12 Mile Road, is celebrating its centennial this year.

The post was chartered in January 1920 and is named after Cpl. Frank Wendland, a Royal Oak native who was killed in France on Oct. 4, 1918 — a little more than a month before the conclusion of World War I. He was 24 years old.

The original American Legion in Royal Oak began with 44 service members who returned home from World War I and met up at Royal Oak High School. Following regular meetings, they would hold a “smoker,” or set up a boxing ring and hold wrestling matches.

In those first years, annual membership dues cost $1.50. Now, the annual membership dues cost $50. For active military members, the post waives the fee.

Shortly after becoming chartered, the American Legion and the Royal Oak Memorial Society held a Memorial Day parade in 1920. John Wendland, a nephew of the post’s namesake and a post historian, said the event included a plane that dropped flowers over the service, as well as the game ball for a veterans baseball game.

The post also was the first American Legion post to sponsor Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. This year, the program celebrates its 99th year, and each troop now includes one girl.

Post Commander Don Wert, of Troy, said a committee is working on changing the actual name of the post, which was misspelled “Wentland” in the original charter. A second attempt to correct the error resulted in the also incorrect spelling “Wendtland.”

“It’s not easy to get corrected,” Wert said, explaining that corrections must be submitted at the district level, the state level and then to Congress.

In 1945, the post purchased the land at the corner of Rochester and 12 Mile roads for $60,000, which Wert said was a lot of money back then. They stayed there for the next 55 years, sold the land to Walgreens, and relocated to their current building in 2000.

Post 253’s membership is up to approximately 400, in addition to 250 Sons of the American Legion and 200 American Legion Auxiliary members.

In July 2019, the American Legion changed its rules to allow any honorably discharged veteran to become a member. U.S. Navy veteran John Williams, of Southfield, said the American Legion is the only veteran service organization to lift the restrictions, and he encouraged all veterans to join.

 

A world of good
“A common misconception out there is that the American Legion is a bunch of old-timers who sit around and drink beer,” Wert said. “Well, we do have a lot of old-timers and we do drink beer, but I don’t apologize for that, because we do a lot more than that.”

The post has received the Americanism Award multiple times, which is annually bestowed on the Michigan post with the most cumulative volunteer hours.

Last year, Post 253 raised and donated more than $18,000 to the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit. Six months ago, the U.S. Department of Defense planted a tree in the front lawn of the medical center that displays a plaque dedicated to the post’s veteran suicide prevention efforts. Recently, the post adopted 11 families through the medical center and bought them Christmas presents.

The post is heavily involved in the Veterans Mental Health Consumer Advocacy Council and the newly launched Women’s Mental Health Consumer Advocacy Subcommittee, both of which operate out of the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center.

The post sponsors monthly bingo games at the medical center, brings a group of veterans to its annual picnic and fishing trips, visits hospital patients, brings personal hygiene products to patients, marches in local parades to make sure veterans are represented, and participates in Wreaths Across America at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.

The post also raises and distributes college scholarships to local students, sponsors a program called Boys and Girls State to teach students about government, sponsors the National Veterans Golden Age Games, provides temporary financial and food assistance to needy families, helps veterans returning home adjust to civilian life, and corresponds with state and federal elected officials to ensure veterans’ needs are met.

It also adopted a plane at the Selfridge Military Air Museum in Harrison Township — members wash and take care of it twice a year.

In Royal Oak, the group cleans veterans’ headstones and places flags at Oakview Cemetery for Memorial Day, participates in Shop with a Hero at Meijer during Christmastime, and purchased a scoreboard for the Royal Oak High School baseball team.

The post offers karaoke nights four times a month, entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays, and Monday beer nights. The American Legion Post 253 Riders also host breakfasts and euchre nights to raise money for Vets Returning Home and the Legacy Run Scholarship Fund, respectively.

Royal Oak resident and Vietnam-era veteran Roger Churchill, a member of the riders and the post’s finance officer, said the Legacy Run involves approximately 500 riders who travel cross country and raise funds as they go. For the past three years, Post 253 donated $4,000 to the $14 million scholarship fund, which benefits the children of veterans who died or who have a 50% or greater disability.

“It’s just awesome,” Churchill said. “As long as I can hold my bike up, I’m going to keep doing it.”

Churchill also oversees the post’s poppy sale, which sells poppies for a pay-what-you-want donation and raises approximately $7,000 annually for veterans in need and their families.

A couple of years ago, Eagle Scout Chas Osborn installed a drop box outside the post to collect old American flags. To date, the American Legion has properly disposed of more than 500 flags deposited in the box.

The post first held final rites for a fallen soldier killed in action on Aug. 28, 1918. It took three years to get his remains back to Royal Oak, and American Legion members marched from the funeral home to St. Mary Catholic Church.

Since then, the honor guard has continued to deliver final rites for veterans.

“We’ve done small ones to big ones,” Wert said. “We’ve done final rites when nobody was there except for us, but we believe that no veteran should ever be buried alone, so we’re there.”

The post also offers a final salute for veterans placed in hospice care as a way to let them know that their military service, while at an end, is acknowledged and appreciated.

According to John Wendland, Royal Oak military fatalities include one in the Mexican War, 16 in the Civil War, four in World War I, 118 in World War II, 10 in the Korean War and 39 in the Vietnam War, for a total of 188.

“What I like about this post most of all is they are a giving post and do so much for the community. Most people in Royal Oak don’t realize how much this post does for the community and its veterans,” Wendland said. “That’s why I’m very proud to be a member of this post — not because of my uncle, but because of what they do.”

 

Centennial celebrations
The centennial committee has been planning celebrations for the past seven months.

Madison Heights resident Steve Parrow, who serves as chairman of the centennial committee and captain of the American Legion Honor Guard, said there will be three events to mark the occasion.

The first will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Feb. 22 at the American Polish Cultural Center, located at 2975 E. Maple Road, near Dequindre Road, in Troy. Tickets cost $50 and include dinner, cocktails, dancing and entertainment. Tickets can be purchased at the post.

There will also be a golf outing in June, and a parking lot party at the post in July.

The Frank Wendland Post 253 is located at 1505 N. Main St., south of 12 Mile Road.

For more information, visit www.centennial.legion.org/michigan/post253 or call (248) 546-0490.

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