American Legion post sells building as membership declines

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Since the 1960s, American Legion Post 13 has called the 2000 block of U.S. 301 home. However, the Friday sale of the meeting building means the post’s iconic sign will soon be replaced.

“When that building originated, we had 800 or 900 members,” said Post 13 Commander Marty Bartlett. “We just can’t support it anymore with the 200 members we have — and that number is shrinking still.”

The tough decision to put the building on the market started during fall discussions and was made in January when the members voted. The Chesson Agency was enlisted to help move the 11,657-square-foot building and 2 acres.

“We’ve got two-generation members, so that made the decision even harder,” Bartlett said. “Back in the ‘60s, Santa Claus would come to the Legion and the place was packed with kids. The Legion has always tried to do good in the community, but over time, participation dwindled.”

It is unclear what the new owner plans to do with the property, but sale will not affect the rest of the Wilson County Fairgrounds. Bartlett said the post plans to hold meetings and activities at Carolina Cheese Co. in Brentwood until a new location can be purchased. Meanwhile, Bartlett said officials are working on recruitment efforts to get new members who have served in the armed forces during conflict or war.

With 23 years in the military himself, Bartlett said he sees the American Legion as a way to help other veterans.

“The more members, the stronger voice we have,” he said. “The more of a voice we have, the more we can work to keep the benefits veterans have sacrificed for.”

At 57 years old, Bartlett is among a dwindling number of members under the age of 67. He noted the American Legion was more popular decades ago.

“My membership was given to me by a World War II vet named Willis Brewer when I was on active duty,” he recalled. “He gave me a membership and said if I didn’t renew it, he would haunt me.”

That was about 30 years ago, but Bartlett didn’t get active in the organization until recent years. It is a work in progress to appeal to younger veterans, though.

“The American Legion Riders, the motorcycle group, is our key recruitment tool right now in the whole organization nationwide,” he said. “They are getting stronger and stronger and stronger.”

With more than 2 million members nationwide, the American Legion is a leading lobbying group for veterans in Washington. But Bartlett noted that the advocacy work extends to the local level through a variety of community outreach programs such as an oratorical contest, a Legion baseball team and Christmas activities.

“If young people don’t get involved, they don’t even understand what they could lose,” Bartlett said.

While the building has been sold, American Legion Post 13 can still be reached by calling 252-243-2641. For more information on the American Legion, visit www.legion.org/.