​​​Burlington Post 273

   'For God and country...'
 Everyone  is  familiar with the American Legion,  some  of  whose  members march every Memorial Day,  every Fourth of  July and  every Armistice Day,  dressed in their blue  uniforms and carrying their flags,  every bit as proudly as they once did on   dress parade although, maybe, a little less energetically. But  as  a super patriotic organization it does  far  more than march on holidays and sell poppies at election day.

 The Millican McKenzie Post #273 American Legion was organized  on Nov.  26,  1943 and thus is the oldest of the  several veterans organizations now active in Burlington. Its members met at first in Loren Blenkhorn's Trading Post which  once  stood  at  the junction of  Center  and  Cambridge Streets. When that old building, once Nettie Foster's barn, was no longer available,  they were allowed to hold their  meetings in the lower hall of the old Town Hall.

  It  wasn't  until 1952,  the year Daniel Hurley  was  post commander,  that  the  local Legion acquired the land  on  Winn Street  which  bordered and was part of the Town Dump  at  that time. That parcel comprised about seven acres and bordered Winn Street  from  Locust  Street to the old county  road  by  Denny Cleighs. There they started to build in 1956.
 The  first building chairman was William Barnes and to him belongs  much  of the credit for the success of  that  building program.  The foundation was started that year but until a loan of $15,000 was negotiated in 1957,  that was all the Legion had for a headquarters.

 The  30-by-60 foot cement block structure was  started  on Labor Day and completed and dedicated Nov.  11, 1957, an appropriate  date from any veteran's point of view.  Ten years later an  addition and renovation was undertaken by floating a  mortgage of $157,000. That mortgage was paid off in five years.

Since World War II was still in progress when the Post was organized,  of the 22 charter members only young Lawrence Carey was a veteran of that war.  He had been at Pearl Harbor when it had  been  bombed by the Japanese two years  before,  had  been severely wounded and had been invalided home. Most  of the others had moved into town since World War  I   and  were veterans of that war.  Six of those  charter  members were  to  become  commanders of the new Post  - Benjamin  Bird, Charles Reed,  Thomas Mohan, and William Harvey, the first four in that order, and later Charles McGinnis and William Sheerin.

The  American  Legion  was first organized  in  France  by members  of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in March  of  1919. That September it was granted a charter by act of Congress. Had  that  charter remained  unchanged,  the  organization would  gradually have died out as did the old GAR,  but in 1942  it  was amended to include World War II veterans,  in  1950  to include veterans of the Korean War and again in 1966 to include veterans of the Vietnam conflict.

 Ever since its organization the Legion has stressed essentially  a four-point program under the headings Rehabilitation, Child Welfare, National Security and Americanism.

 On  the  national  level that  American  Legion  has  been instrumental  and largely responsible for much veteran legislation, for instance the first Veterans' Bureau, now the Veterans Administration,  which handles hospital care,  insurance,  pensions,  etc. In 1944 it sponsored and lobbied for the G.I. Bill of  Rights,  under  which veterans were able to go  to  school, learn a trade or buy a house. It is active in helping the needy children of veterans and sponsors boys clubs, junior baseball teams and Boy Scout troops as a way to keep youngsters happy, healthy and active.

 On  the local level the Millican McKenzie Post,  named  in honor of the two Burlington boys who lost their lives in France during World War I, has done its best to carry out the Legion's       programs  from the visiting of hospitals,  to the sponsoring of young  people  for Boys State and Girls State.  Each  year  the Legion and its Auxiliary, the distaff(?) relatives of veterans,  collect  and  wrap countless presents at Christmas time  to  be taken  over  to  the Veterans Hospital  in  Bedford  where  the patients  there  are not only given presents and as  much  good cheer  as possible but are also given the opportunity to select presents to send home to members of their families.

 Since 1953 each summer the local Post has sent one or more high  school boys to Boys State held for a week or 10  days  at  Amherst.  The Auxiliary follows suit by sending a girl to Girls State at Framingham.

 At  each  college the young men and women so selected  are given  classes in history and government each morning  so  that they  may  understand and appreciate the country in which  they live  just a little better,  and allowed to participate in  the sport of their choice in the afternoon.

 The Post has sponsored a baseball team for the last  seven years  and  this year the team made the  semi-finals.  It  once sponsored  a Boy Scout troop but the interest in that area  has subsided.  It  urged the high school to enter its good students in the national oratorical contest which now offers a top prize of  $16,000 plus numerous lesser prizes but has had no entries in the past 10 years.  And the local Post has participated  for the  last  six  years in a Walkathon  to  help  underprivileged youngsters called Horizons for Youth.

 All  this beside giving recognition to worthy high  school graduates  each year,  beginning years ago with only a $25  War Bond but culminating recently with five scholarships each worth $500.

 Even  so,  the American Legion is criticized in some quarters  because of its intense lobbying efforts on behalf of  all veterans. And the Legion hasn't been too popular during several periods  of  unsettled and emotional times such  as  the  early '60s.

 Two  Burlington  men  have been elected  to  positions  of authority beyond the local Post.  William Sloan, commander here in 1951, went on to become Middlesex County commander in 1957. Joseph  O'Hearne,  commander here in 1959,  was  senior vice  commander of  Middlesex County and  was next  year's commander;  serving the 68 posts in the county. O'Hearne's son, Brian,  by the way, was the State Commander of the Massachusetts Detachment Sons of the American Legion,  the first  State Commander of that organization from Middlesex County.

In  1938 the National Commander of the American Legion was a  native of Woburn and thus was well known to many  Burlington people. He was a member of the George A. Campbell Post #101 and his name was Daniel J. Doherty. That  Woburn felt extremely proud of him was  proven  when  that  Post  made him the first life member ever and gave him  a solid  gold membership card suitably engraved with  the  Legion insignia.  (It  may  be of interest to note that the George  A. Campbell  Post  early elected both Cardinal  Mercier  and  King Albert  of  Belgium  honorary members.  Both  acknowledged  the honor.)

 The  Millican  McKenzie  Post today has  a  membership  of approximately 530, its women's Auxiliary, which has been awarded certificates every year since 1958 "in recognition of volunteer  service to veterans" in hospitals and  elsewhere,  has  a roster of 83,  and the Sons of the Legion have 87 enrolled. The commander that year was Larry Wilson,  a Vietnam veteran and his senior vice was Norman Comeau.

  When  Ben Bird was honored at a ceremonial in 1963 shortly before  his death,  the first commander of the Burlington  Post  said:

"If  I  could leave any thought with you  here  tonight,  I would impress upon you the great value of being helpful to your fellowman,  without thought of reward, without though of inconvenience  to  yourself and without thought  of  race,  color  or religion."


Keeping those thoughts in mind the Legion will endure for a long time.

            Daily Times Chronicle, Tuesday, October 4, 1983
                Burlington Past & Present, by John 'Ed' Fogelberg
                                 (Article # 222)