BANGOR, Maine — An honor that has been in the works for 92 years and which took five months to prepare lasted a little over 20 minutes as the Bangor City Council honored 92 years of service by James W. Williams American Legion Post 12.
“This was a big thing. I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women who contributed services and efforts and time to this post for 92 years,” said Charlie Birkel, a 30-year veteran who retired as a U.S. Air Force master sergeant.
Birkel, who will turn 80 on Oct. 1, has been an American Legion member for 44 years and a Williams Post member since 1977.
“It’s recognition and gratitude, and mostly paying respects to all the men and women who served in the American Legion and Ladies Auxiliary,” said Birkel, who spent a year in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard before transferring to active-duty Air Force in 1949. In 1971, he was transferred to Air Force retired reserve status. “I thought it was time we recognized a veterans organization as a whole. We’re always recognizing individuals, but not the groups, for their service.”
Birkel and another 20 or so Williams Post members were present for a council ceremony at City Hall on Monday night. They were given a Congressional Record honorary plaque by a representative of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a citation from the council, and commendations from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and the Maine American Legion. They will also receive an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe on Nov. 7.
Since its creation in 1920, Williams Post No. 12 has funded and awarded numerous academic scholarships to Bangor-area students, but that’s just one of the contributions it has made over nearly a century. Others include cash donations to child welfare programs and charities such as the Jimmy Fund, Boy Scouts of America and Easter Seals.
“From 1919 through 1930, the post handled fundraising and recruiting for national defense, before there was a Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Birkel. “We formed an American Legion boys band in 1939 and a youth drum and bugle corps in 1940. In 1949, we donated $2,000 to buy an iron lung at Eastern Maine General Hospital.”
The Post also established Bangor’s American Legion Baseball Comrades team in the 1940s, helped form the Bangor High School ROTC scholarship award, sponsored Boys State delegates and last May donated $6,350 for a stairlift at the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department building, which the Post has called home since 1998.
Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. Charlie Birkel spent a year in the Army National Guard in Pennsylvania, not Maine, before transferring to active-duty Air Force in 1949, not 1950.