Quick Questions with Larry Montello
American Legion leader enjoys honoring veterans, connecting with community
ALBION – Larry Montello has been an active community member and leader for the American Legion since he moved to Orleans County about 13 years ago after marrying an Albion woman. Montello, a Ridgeway resident, drives bus for Community Action Transportation System.
He grew up in the Adirondacks and joined the Army in 1979 after graduating from Fort Edward High School. He served 14 years in the military.
Montello, 52, is a past county commander for the American Legion, and a past post commander in Albion and Medina.
He organizes the annual memorial service for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Montello has visited all of the memorial sites for victims of the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.
He raised the funding to have Sept. 11 memorials in Orleans County by the County Courthouse, Legion Post in Albion and Rotary Park in Medina.
He is organizing an upcoming Feb. 1 service for the “Four Chaplains.” That 9:30 a.m. service will be at the First Baptist Church in Holley on Geddes Street. The Four Chaplains all were Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilians and military personnel as a troop ship sank on Feb. 3, 1943.
Montello assists with other Legion and community events, including the annual oratorical contest, flags on veterans’ graves and other events.
He was interviewed last Monday at Tim Hortons in Albion.
Q: Why did you join the American Legion?
A: I started out as a Son (of the American Legion) underneath my dad. My dad got me going along with my brother. I joined the service with my sister. We joined the Army together. She went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and I went to Fort Dix in New Jersey where my dad went.
Q: For a newcomer in Orleans County, you quickly made a mark and emerged as a leader.
A: I was the commander in Albion for four years, the commander in Medina and also the county commander. I went up the chain.
Q: What is your role right now?
A: Right now I am sergeant of arms for the county because I want to go in rank in the district. I gave up some of the county duties, but I don’t want to totally give something up.
Q: How long have you been organizing the 9-11 services?
A: I started in 2005, not long after I first got here.
I’ve put a lot of time working on the memorials. I got a nice surprise from the county when they put in a new flag pole and big cement base for the stone.
I do it partly because my sister was working down there (in Manhattan) in Building 7 near the Twin Towers. By the grace of God her boss sent her out on an errand so she wasn’t there when it happened.
When I was in the Sons (of the American Legion) I went down there when it was pretty much cleaned up and when they dedicated the new 9-11 building (The Freedom Tower). The year before last we went down to New York and I actually got to go in Building 7 where my sister worked. It was emotional.
Q: Why do you keep the local memorial service going and try to include many of the first responders?
A: I get them all involved (local and state police departments, COVA, fire departments, Mercy Flight) because they were all involved.
Q: I remember you also did a Pearl Harbor service.
A: Hopefully this year we will do it again.
Q: Why do the Four Chaplains service?
A: I did it back home. It’s part of history and it shouldn’t be forgotten just like 9-11. I started it with Jean Johnston, who has since passed away. I’ve been doing it in her honor since.
At the service we bring in all of the colors. It’s in Holley this year so we’ll bring in Holley’s colors, the county colors, the auxiliary county colors, the VFW county colors, the POW flag and then the Canadian flag and American flag.
We have a Color Guard to bring it in. And then we have members get up and do a part of each of the chaplains, sharing their biographies. When they are done, they go down from the podium where I have a wooden box with each of the chaplain’s names. They lay a rose down on it and a light a candle.
We carry an American flag in for everybody that went down on the ship and a wreath. After that we play Taps.
We go to different churches (every year) in the community, a Catholic church, a Protestant church, a Baptist church.
Q: How is the Legion membership doing, locally and nationally?
A: It has ups and downs. Right now we’re down a lot. On average we lose 10 to 15 World War II veterans a day nationally.
Q: I think people might think, with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be a new group of veterans who could join the Legion. Do many of them join the Legion?
A: No. When they get home they go back into society and that can take a long time.
Q: How much worry is there about the future of the Legion and VFW?
A: I don’t think there is worry, we just have to promote what we do. We’re not just a bar. Everybody thinks we’re just a bar. We do a lot of things for the community. Since our county is so small, I put all of the posts together to work as one. We get more out of it that way.
Q: I know you do the oratorical contest, and the Honor Guard at funerals.
A: Each Legion has its own Honor Guard, but the Posts and the VFW will join together. You get more people that way. They’re all people from the older generation. For a lot of the younger generation when they get out of the service the first thing on their mind is to get a job. That’s what was on my mind.
A lot of the ones on the Color Guard are all retired.
Q: Why have you stayed active with the Legion?
A: I like working with kids, I like working with the community, and I like working with the veterans. I’ve always said if I knew back home in high school what I know now I would have aced history. I have friends of mine in the Albion Post that were in the Death March. I have a friend from back home who was a POW.
Listening to their war stories is unreal. A lot of people don’t realize this is part of history.
I enjoy doing the 9-11 service because it’s part of history. The community can’t forget that day. When it first happened everybody in town had a flag up. Now, it’s hardly ever.
Q: What else do you want to say?
A: I wish more of the public would get involved with our events, and don’t just think the American Legion is a bar. There are a lot of other things the Legion does. We make sure all of our veterans have flags on their graves for Veterans’ Day.
I just wish more of the public would get on the ball with us and know that when we’re going out for donations we’re not using that for the bar but for flags, the 9-11 service and for veterans.