For 100 years, Charles P. McMenamy American Legion Post 178 has served as a gathering place for veterans and the organizer for many patriotic events across Northeast Philadelphia. At the beginning of 2020, members expected its hundredth year to be full of celebration, but a pandemic put a halt to those plans.
Nov. 28 marked the organization’s centenarian birthday, but the bar room converted from an old bank at 8041 Frankford Ave. was as desolate as it had been all year. In a typical year, the legion would have hosted events such as placing flags on veteran gravestones on Memorial Day, or flag retirement ceremonies in June.
This year, like many other organizations, it’s just hoping to survive.
“It’s been a tough year on businesses and it’s been extremely tough on this post and other posts,” said John Wersler, who has been post commander for Post 178 for two years.
The organization operates as a nonprofit, raising most of its funds by renting out the hall on the second floor. Shutdown means members haven’t been able to stop in for dinner and drinks over a game of pool like they normally would.
Post 178 has 350 active members. There are more than 12,700 posts in the country, which combined raised a total of about $4.27 million last year for scholarships, VA hospitals, emergency funds and other charities.
“The problem the American Legion faces these days is the younger crowd thinks it’s a dark smoky bar where all the old guys sit around and tell war stories,” Wersler said.
It’s much more than that. Members can join the legion’s pool team, help upkeep cemeteries or donate to causes such as Toys for Tots and Race Across America, causes the legion regularly helps out. They also select a local veteran to celebrate each year on Veterans Day.
Veterans who served during the Vietnam War weren’t officially allowed to join the legion until 1985, but Frank Sannville had been spending time around the legion since the 1960s.
“It’s just a lot of good people and a lot of good events,” he said.
Whenever things return to normal, Wersler hopes to fix up the exterior of the building and return to hosting events when restrictions allow it.
The legion is named after Charles P. McMenamy, who was killed in France during World War I in 1918. He was one of the first people from Holmesburg to enlist in the war and is buried at St. Dominic Cemetery. ••