Inspiring a Legion: Soldier’s impact felt, even after death
Published 3:16 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2015
‘We are going to do this differently’
It was a particularly warm evening in the large, non-air-conditioned staging area of the Army National Guard Armory off Yeager Parkway in Pelham in early August 2015, a little more than three years after Blount was laid to rest.
About 50 individuals from all walks of life – most of whom were wearing navy hats with “Matthew Blount, 555, Pelham, AL” stitched in yellow – conversed as they discussed everything from the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing to recent wedding engagements.
Eyes quickly turned to the front of the room when Barry called for the crowd’s attention. After a prayer and a salute to the Stars and Stripes, the group formed a line at a line of tables stacked with boxes of pizza.
“Buddy, I’m burning up in here,” Barry said, taking a break from greeting visitors in line for food, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “I appreciate them letting us meet here, though.”
The armory venue wasn’t the normal meeting place for this group. American Legion Post 555 typically meets at the Pelham Senior Center, but a large renovation project meant the post had to make other arrangements for August.
Despite the high temperatures – which dropped rapidly after the sun fully set – every person who was at the beginning of the gathering remained there when the meeting ended about two hours later.
The meeting featured updates on the club’s rapidly growing membership, fundraisers, youth baseball leagues and a video chronicling local Vietnam War veterans’ Honor Flight trip from Tuscaloosa to Washington, D.C.
The American Legion is a nationwide organization founded in 1919 aimed at supporting the nation’s veterans and providing mentorship programs for youth.
When two friends, Ron Haygood and Charles Duncan, approached Barry about creating Post 555 in Pelham in summer 2014, he was admittedly a bit reluctant.
“I said ‘I’m going to have to pray about it. If we are going to do this, we are going to do it differently,’” Barry said. “If we were going to try to do this, we were going to do it without relying on alcohol.”
Many American Legion posts operate out of dedicated chapter lounges – some of which serve alcohol to members and visitors. Barry’s decision to create a dry chapter was a risk, but it paid off immediately.
Legion bylaws require a new chapter to have at least 15 members to obtain a charter. During an interest meeting at the Pelham Senior Center in August 2014, Post 55 recruited enough members to meet the requirement.
“We had 15 members just like that,” said Pelham Mayor Gary Waters, a member of Post 555 and an Army National Guard veteran. “Obviously, there was a need. It’s non-smoking, and there’s no alcohol. I don’t think people are looking for that kind of thing anymore.”
In less than a year, the post had grown from the original 15 members to 84, and had been featured in the national American Legion magazine for its rapid growth.