State commander of American Legion makes local visit, touts friendships and services through the organization
MEDINA – Orleans County’s American Legion family – the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion – welcomed members and officers of the Eighth District to the Department Officers’ Testimonial dinner Wednesday night at Junior Wilson Sportsmen’s Club.
Guests included David R. Riley Sr. of Rome, New York American Legion Department commander; Nancy Babis of Lockport, Auxiliary Department president; Timothy Van Patten II of East Amherst, Sons of the Legion New York State Detachment commander; Henry Link of Portland, Eighth District commander; Charles Eberhardt of Holley, Orleans County commander; James Bojanowski of Orchard Park, Seventh- and Eighth-District vice commander; Cathy Fox, Orleans County Auxiliary president; Sue Williams of Salamanca, Eighth District Auxiliary president; and Diman Smith, Eighth District SAL Detachment commander.
Also in attendance were Skip Draper of Medina, representing the Orleans County Legislature and State Senator Rob Ortt; and Barry Flansburg of Barre, respresenting Assemblyman Steve Hawley.
Honored guests each spoke about their dedication to the Legion organization and shared their reason for believing in its mission.
Nancy Babis, a 62-year member of the American Legion Auxiliary, is passionate about Honor Flight and devotes her time to raising money for the project.
“It’s my mission to put as many soldiers as I can on a plane to visit Washington, D.C. and see their memorial,” she said. “I’ve been on one and I’m going again in June on a special Honor Flight for Purple Heart recipients. I’m looking for any Purple Heart veteran from any war. They can contact me at Nyalapresident@gmail.com or call me at (716) 628-3797.”
Purple Heart veterans can also fill out an application by logging on to www.buffaloniagarahonorflight.org.
She said in 202 there were 21,800 veterans sent to Washington on Honor flights. Another 40,000 or more are on a waiting list to go. World War II veterans get priority, but a veteran who served in any war can apply to go on a flight.
Anyone who wishes to make a donation to Honor Flight can send a check to American Legion Auxiliary Department of NY, 1580 Columbia Turnpike, Building 1, Suite 3, Castleton on Hudson, NY 12033.
Babis also said the membership goal in Orleans County is at 76 percent, with 11 more members needed to fill the quota. She explained two important programs – Girls’ State and the Legion’s Family College.
In his speech, Timothy Van Patten II said seven new SAL groups were started in the state last year. He is dedicated to the SAL’s mission of giving out American flags to as many people as possible. He loves history, and as the SAL’s historian, he recently submitted his history report at the national convention and came home with first place.
He also shared that $2,762,945 has been donated from the New York State Detachment to fight for legislation to assure veterans’ benefits. An active member of the Civil Air Patrol, Van Patten said the majority of search and rescue missions in the United States involve the Civil Air Patrol. A dedicated effort of the CAP is to encourage young cadets to learn to fly, hoping to help ease the pilot shortage in America.
Cathy Fox commended the Orleans County Auxiliary members who give a lot of their time and support to veterans in Orleans County.
As New York State Department commander, David R. Riley Sr. has a long list of credentials. He retired from the military as a staff sergeant E5, and has a long list of medals, including the Air Force’s Good Conduct Medal and New York State Medal of Merit. He has held positions of leadership at his post, the district and nationally. He currently instructs at the Family College. He is retired after 39 1/2 years as a corrections officer.
His reasons for belonging to the American Legion include the wonderful programs they offer and “because I have a right to.”
“What I get out of it are great friendships and the satisfaction knowing we have accomplished something; the satisfaction we are helping a veteran by getting legislation passed; the satisfaction of seeing a veteran being helped by a service officer; seeing improvement in healthcare for women veterans; putting flags in a cemetery; and the excitement of a crowd when we march by in a parade,” Riley said.
He added he gets satisfaction when he mentors someone or when he signs up a new member.
“When the community sees the good we do, we will grow,” he said.
Riley also touched on the problem of suicide among veterans, which is 50 percent higher than the national average. The American Legion is working to find resources to assist veterans and offer them support, he said. There are programs to help veterans, but often they lack adequate funding, he added. He reminded the audience that anyone contemplating suicide or knowing of anyone can call 988 and press “1” to receive help.
The evening also included a ceremony by Butts-Clark American Legion’s newly elected commander James Wells, paying tribute to POWs/MIAs.
Prior to the evening dinner and program, the guests spent the day touring Orleans County, including Lake Ontario, Mount Albion Cemetery and Oak Orchard Lighthouse.