By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal
Inside the Commerce Emergency Corps building downtown is a room where members of the oldest American Legion Post in Texas gather to spend time and share stories once a month.
The Commerce American Legion Post 1, the oldest post in Texas and possibly the oldest in the country, is a memorial post named after Yeoman 3rd Class Bruce B. Williams, the first Commerce casualty from World War I. The Legion was formed on May 8, 1919.
According to Gary Walter, Post 1 commander, he joined the Legion because he wanted to be able to be around his fellow servicemembers.
“It’s the experience, the comradeship,” he said. “A lot of times you get together and start sharing war stories.”
Walter was active duty in the Navy during the Vietnam War and served another 18 years in the Army National Guard.
“I went from floating around the sea to pounding the ground,” he said.
Buddy Gregg, who served in the Navy from 1964 to 1968, said he joined the Legion after recovering from a wreck.
“This is a funny story. I had a truck wreck 11 or 12 years ago and I was in the hospital for a long time,” he said, adding he met Jack Rinn, a former member of the Legion during his rehab while rooting for the Navy in a game show where the branches of the military were competing. “He said they had a very good chapter. So the next day I gave my money to him and said ‘here you go’ and they got me signed up.”
Gregg served two years in the Atlantic Fleet of the Navy and two years in the Pacific Fleet.
He also was a part of the 1966 Palomares operation where they recovered an atomic bomb that was lost in the Mediterranean Sea when a B-52 Bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker during mid-air refuelling.
The movie “Men of Honor” is based on that operation.
Gregg said his time spent in the Legion has brought him closer to his brothers in arms.
“I’ve had a blast. It’s really great comradeship,” he said. “Everything’s got a core and this core is great. Once a military man, you’ve always got those ties.”
During every meeting, the Legion has a picture of Williams on their table, and an empty chair honoring the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. They post the colors and have an introductory prayer for fellow servicemembers.
“We do things the right way at our meetings,” Jack Roberts, a Legion member, said.
Roberts said he found out about the American Legion after he couldn’t join the Veterans of Foreign Wars because he never deployed overseas during his time in the Air Force.
Roberts said although he did not serve overseas, he served during the height of the Cold War.
Roberts worked in a silo during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13-day confrontation between the United States and Russia over nuclear weapons in Oct. 1962.
According to Roberts, the group had everything prepped to launch a nuclear missile at Russia if negotiations failed between President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
“The next mesage that came in was either going to be launch it or stand down,” he said. “People don’t know how close we came to launching that day.”
After lying dormant for years, the post was revitalized in 2002 by William G. “Sarge” Beddow.
Since then the post has 47 members, and Walter said he wants to see that continue to grow.
“We’re trying to get more involved in Commerce so they can see who we are and what we stand for,” he said. “We survive to help support other veterans and families.”