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The American Legion, a Vital Part of Alexandria’s Heritage

George Washington Birthday Parade Float – 1967 (Photo courtesy of American Legion Post 24)

By Donna Reuss

Alexandria, VA – To many people, The American Legion evokes childhood memories of a place they went with their father or grandfather where a bunch of old veterans sat around smoking, drinking, and telling war stories.

But the American Legion is much more than that. The Legion serves veterans and the local community. Alexandria American Legion Post 24 is no exception. The Post has been a dynamic part of the City of Alexandria for over 100 years.

The American Legion was started by World War I veterans in Paris, France, in 1919. Post 24 was one of the earliest Legion Posts, receiving a temporary charter that same year and its permanent charter in 1920. The Post also has the distinction of having the Legion’s oldest continuous Post home. Since its establishment, Post 24 has met in the Gadsby’s Tavern complex in Old Town.

In the 1920s, Gadsby’s Tavern, dating back to circa 1785, was in severe disrepair, and there were plans for demolition. The very patriotic veterans of Post 24 knew the history of their Post home and their connection with our country’s Founding Fathers and early Commanders-in-Chief, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

To save this vital part of Alexandrian and American history, the Legionnaires voted in 1927 to purchase and preserve the historic tavern. The formal purchase took place on January 11, 1929. Some members even mortgaged their homes to raise the money for this acquisition. But by the late 1960s, maintaining Gadsby’s Tavern had become extremely costly. Significant repairs and modern HVAC systems were needed to preserve the historic buildings.

Birthnight Ball at Gadsby’s Tavern (Photo courtesy of American Legion Post 24)

No longer able to carry the financial burden, Post 24 chose to deed the complex to the City of Alexandria if the City would restore the buildings to the “Williamsburg-level” of historic quality in time for the country’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. The City agreed. The buildings and antiques were formally deeded to the City on August 11, 1972. Post 24 retains use of the 1878 wing as part of the deed of conveyance as its Post Home in perpetuity.

While saving Gadsby’s Tavern was one of its most high-profile contributions to Alexandria, the Post has hosted or been an integral part of many community events and activities over the years, including

  • The annual George Washington Birthday Parades and Birthnight Balls;
  • July 4th “Bells of America Ringing for Freedom” observances;
  • Memorial Day ceremonies at the Alexandria National Cemetery;
  • Supporting and recognizing local law enforcement and firefighting organizations;
  • Sponsoring blood, food, and toy drives;
  • Bell-ringing for the Salvation Army;
  • Visiting veterans at senior care facilities; and
  • Participating in the City’s Adopt-a-Block program.

But more important are the Post’s contributions to the lives of Alexandria’s veterans, their families, and the children and youth of the community. Post 24 offers comradery for veterans of all ages, provides resources and has assisted countless veterans and their families in navigating the benefits claim process.

Post 24 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year 2024 (Photo courtesy Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

Our Legion baseball team allows young athletes to practice their skills while learning teamwork and good sportsmanship. Post 24 sponsors the West Potomac High School Rifle Team with funding, coaches, and scholarships. Team members compete in local, state, and national air rifle matches. The Post even had a bowling team at one time.

The Post helps to educate or sponsors local youth from elementary to high school in academic programs as well. Members of Post 24 visit classrooms and provide age-appropriate books to teach elementary students about liberty, how government works, the US flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, veterans, and bullying prevention.

Middle-school students can participate in the essay-writing contest on the topic “I like living in America because . . .” The winning essay competes at the district or state level.

For high school students, the annual Oratorical Contest promotes a greater understanding of the US Constitution. Boys State and Girls State program participants gain an understanding of the structure and operation of the federal government. The Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Program introduces students to law enforcement principles, discipline, ethics, physical fitness, and teamwork through intensive hands-on training conducted by the Virginia State Police. The Post offers several needs-based scholarships for undergraduate and post-graduate studies to qualifying students who reside in the City.

Post 24 Legionnaires ring bells for the Salvation Army (Photo courtesy of Jim Glassman, Post 24)

As the City celebrates its 275th birthday, Post 24 is proud to have been a part of the fabric of this City’s past and looks forward to a bright future!

Special thanks to Henry Dorton, Past Post 24 Commander, and the Office of Historic Alexandria for contributing to this month’s article.

If you are a veteran, veteran’s family member, or know a veteran who needs help, go to Virginia Board Veterans Services at www.dvs.virginia.gov/dvs; dss.virginia.gov/community/211.cgi; contact American Legion Post 24 Veteran Service Officer at [email protected]; or check out the Resources List on the Post 24 website: valegionpost24.com. For crisis intervention and suicide prevention services, dial 988 and Press 1, or text 838255, for the Veterans Crisis Line.

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