DANVILLE — The Frank W. Sidler Post 40 of the Danville American Legion celebrates the 100th birthday of its founding with a parade this month and a special event for kids and music lovers in August.
The post invites veterans from the region to participate in the parade, which forms at 3 p.m. and moves at 5 p.m. July 20 from Paper Magic, off East Market Street and continues along Mill and Lower Mulberry streets to Ferry Street at Cole's Hardware where it disbands for a block party in conjunction with the Danville Heritage Festival.
While the Legion helps veterans, it has also donated thousands of dollars through the years to community organizations for projects that wouldn't have become a reality without the Legion, said Legion historian and former commander Dean VonBlohn. One example of this is the fountain replica at Front Street Park, he said.
The Danville Community Band, which is observing its 50th anniversary this year, started at the Legion.
From the Legion's small games of chance, it donates proceeds to community organizations. This has included money for the military room at the Boyd Museum in Danville.
The Legion offers to sponsor a boy to attend the Pennsylvania Keystone Boys State to learn leadership. The Legion auxiliary makes a similar offer to a girl. Appleman said Legion oratory and essay contests are held with prizes of major scholarships. "We haven't had much interest from the local high school," VonBlohn said.
Dave Callahan, commander of the Legion honor guard, hopes to change that.
He said the Legion will pay the entrance fee for a student to participate in the state police Camp Cadet.
Appleman said the post sponsors two Legion baseball teams and a softball team. It partners with the Montour County Sportsmen's Association for the annual fishing derby for kids.
Last year, the Legion received the Robert Pursel Award for Community Service from the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation.
How members got involved
Carl Appleman, a former Legion commander, joined in the 1970s after a Legion officer helped him obtain his honorable discharge certificate from serving in Vietnam. "He went to bat for me, did a lot of paperwork and made calls to Philly and Washington, D.C. He suggested I become a member. It's a good organization I have been involved with a lot of years. I enjoy the comradeship with other veterans," he said.
At 95, Gene Snyder, a World War II veteran, joined the Legion after the war because "everybody I knew joined after getting back from the service." The Legion recently honored him for being a member for 75 years. He will also serve as parade marshal.
Henry Swank is a 65-year member who served in Korea and has held various Legion offices. "It's a good organization for the veterans," he said.
The post will pay the dues for the first year of membership for active duty military personnel. "We have done that for quite a few," VonBlohn said.
"We're always looking for new members," Callahan said. The post has about 1,200 members, including 400 who are active.
Membership could increase through a proposed bill. Legislation would allow anyone who served with the military since Dec. 7, 1941, to join the Legion. They can now join if serving during times of hostilities.
Callahan hopes to increase participation in recognizing the service of deceased veterans from Montour County. He said they average participating at 40 to 45 percent of veterans' funerals. Legion honor guard services are free to hold a military funeral, he said. "We will be there if anyone requests it," he said.
The honor guard participated in the Members Choice Financial Credit Union's golf tournament and the Legion entered a team. The credit union presented $10,000 recently to the Legion, which will be used by the Montour County veterans' affairs office crisis fund to help area veterans.
"At one of my first meetings here, the members voted to help a veteran who couldn't afford to pay the bill to fix his car and was walking to work," Callahan said.
"It's a matter of helping veterans and having the desire to do that and to serve the community through service to this organization," VonBlohn said.
He said Legion members, the Sons of the American Legion and auxiliary visit veterans in area nursing homes every year. "We give them gifts and engage in conversation. With some, we come out of their rooms with tears in our eyes," he said.
Callahan said the Legion holds a moment of silence every night at 6 p.m. for veterans killed, missing in action or on active duty.
More than one year ago, VonBlohn discovered a plaque in a shed at an area cemetery bearing the name of Danville native Francis Shoemaker. He was able to locate family members of the man missing in action. The plaque was placed at a cemetery. The family attended and were brought together again.
The Legion, headed by former honor guard commander Andy Hovi, built a veterans memorial wall, unveiled in July 2018, in front of the post. Each engraved stone lists the name of a deceased veteran. Anyone can purchase a stone for $200 in memory of a veteran from anywhere. Each stone weighs 90 pounds and is 4 inches high, 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep.
The parade marking the organization's centennial will feature veterans from the region, military vehicles, local officials and much more. There will also be six or seven animatronic dinosaurs from Mackenzie Wertman, owner of Pennsylvania Dinosaurs of the Danville area.
The Legion honor guard will lead the parade. Also participating will be the Sons of the American Legion and the Legion Auxiliary.
Parade committee chairwoman Jane VonBlohn said military entries will come from honor guards of the Danville Veterans of Foreign Wars, Benton VFW, Nescopeck VFW, Catawissa VFW and the Susquehanna Valley Marines. Area police departments will participate along with floats including the honor guard's replica of the wall in memory of veterans outside the Legion.
There will be antique tractors, Service 1st Federal Credit Union and its mascot, Crissy, the Danville Elks with a drug awareness trailer, a Legion motorcycle group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Ronald McDonald House, a Catawissa Legion float, the Columbia County Posse of horses, Hunts for Healing, Hunt of a Lifetime, the Salamanders DJ Show and Karaoke with a float, Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, class cars and a Knoebels Amusement Resort float.
Bands will include the Pennsylvania Army National Guard 28th Division Infantry Band and a drum and bugle corps. Kingdom Kidz Puppets, a Bloomsburg Fair float, the fair queen from Danville and a Jeep are also expected, VonBlohn said, along with Miss Pennsylvania.
The Legion will celebrate again Aug. 10 with a 40Fest at the soccer complex, along East Market Street.
There will be six bands along with Rock God Brewery, Marley's Brewery and two local wineries. The Legion will provide domestic beer. Family activities will be held from noon to 5 p.m. including a bounce house and an obstacle course. Kids 12 and younger will be admitted free. The admission price is $30. Legion members with paid dues get a $10 discount.
Bands will be Runaway Stroller from 1 to 1:45 p.m., Dustin Douglas and the Electric Gentlemen from 2 to 3 p.m., Kinsey from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., Big Country from 5 to 6 p.m, Sucker Punch from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Liliac, from California, 8 to 9:30 p.m.
The Legion plans to bury a time capsule this fall with memorabilia such as pictures, shirts and hats.