BANGOR, Maine — Scores of veterans from all branches of the armed forces gathered at the Bangor Civic Center on Friday for the start of the 92nd annual American Legion state convention.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins attended the convention as the keynote speaker, delivering a patriotic speech that lauded the achievements of the American Legion and the service of its members, whom she described as possessing a “special character” that is difficult to describe.
“To them, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ is not just a line from a song,” Collins said. “It is a legacy they have inherited from the past and a promise they will keep for the future.”
Collins, who is a member of both the American Legion Auxiliary in Caribou and the Senate Armed Services Committee, was especially vocal in her support of veterans benefits. Recently, she has supported both the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill and the Keeping Our Promises to America’s Military Veterans Act, two measures designed to end constant uncertainty about funding for veterans’ health care.
“Just as our troops do not leave wounded comrades on the battlefield, America does not leave its veterans and their families behind on the battlefield of disease and disability that results from service to our nation,” Collins said.
Aside from general business, including the election of officers for the coming year, the schedule for the three-day convention includes speeches Saturday by Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, as well as the presentation of various awards.
The number of high-profile guests scheduled to attend this year’s convention underscores the support Maine veterans receive from their neighbors.
Daniel Ludwig, a past national commander of the American Legion who came from Minnesota to speak at the event, said that in his home state “we might get the governor, but that’s it.”
For those attempting to navigate the sea of legionnaires and auxiliary ladies in attendance, a past commander for the state of Maine, Donald Cole Jr. said to “look at the hats.” Just as uniforms of those in service are festooned with various pins and patches announcing a limitless number of accomplishments, legionnaires’ hats are weighed down with testaments to their service.
Both Cole and Ludwig’s caps sport a patch declaring them as honorary lifetime members of their home posts, a reward for their service as leaders within the organization. Despite having moved to Florida, Cole said he would never transfer his membership because of his history with the Maine division and its members.
He said the event for him is a “reunion time,” a chance to catch up with old friends like Ludwig, whom he had not seen in 15 years.
Speaking about the camaraderie of the event, Ludwig summed it up by saying, “When you’re with the American Legion, you’re privileged to associate with heroes and friends.”