When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many activities at area veterans’ and social halls had to be scaled back or paused all together for health and safety reasons.
Now, some of those groups are resuming some activities.
On Saturday night, a large crowd gathered at American Legion Post 5 in Jefferson City for their annual Valentine’s Day dinner and dance.
Among those at the Legion on Saturday were Charlie and Claudia Goodin. Their life together began during the height of the Vietnam War.
The couple were married in May 1968. Claudia remembers driving from Central Missouri to the state of California, where Charlie was stationed as he was preparing for his combat training.
“He left on my birthday, six weeks later, for Vietnam, which was absolutely heartbreaking for me,” she said. “Then his mom and his little brother drove back with me to Missouri.”
Charlie served two tours of duty in the U.S. Navy’s Seabees Construction Battalion. Then, he was stationed in California, where he served on a drill team that performed at various events, especially military funerals. Claudia came out to be with him, and it was in California where the couple’s daughter was born.
“When we came back here we were as poor as church mice, but I’m glad we had that experience,” she said. “We still have friendships with two couples we met while we were out there.”
When the couple returned to Jefferson City, Charlie joined American Legion Post 5.
A Jefferson City native, Charlie said his first experience with the American Legion was as a child doing paper drives in the summer.
“They would collect newspapers and magazines for recycling because that was a big deal since they made money on the paper as a fundraiser,” he said.
Charlie said they’ve had a family member as a member of Post 5 since it started in 1919, after World War I, including an uncle, Rube Armstrong, who was a charter member.
“There were over 1,000 members in Post 5 because of all the people coming back from WWI,” Charlie said. “At the end of WWII was the big influx. We got to 1,100 men.”
After the World War II influx, small towns such as Hartsburg and California started their own posts, taking away members from Post 5.
Post 5’s membership continued to decline until 1971, which happened to be the year Charlie joined the American Legion.
“We reached our highest point in 1992, when we had 2,200 men and women,” he said.
Claudia joined the post in 1979.
“After Charlie joined, I just finally got curious to see what was going on down there,” she said. “There wasn’t many in that first meeting I was at, and I got voted in as second vice-president of the auxiliary right off the bat — so I thought, ‘Oh boy, what am I doing?'”
It was in 1979 that the post moved to its current location on Tanner Bridge Road after being located on Christy Drive.
“The two of us were commander and president of Post 5 in 1982-83, which was a first for the post,” Charlie said. “We had the most members of any post in the state with 1,534 members, and we still are the largest post.”
Charlie served as state commander in 2009-10, and Claudia served as state president of the auxiliary in 2011-12.
The camaraderie among fellow veterans and continuing to be of service to the community are the two biggest benefits Charlie and Claudia feel they get from serving with the American Legion.
“It started as being as a social function for me,” Charlie said. “I joined to be with a guy I was in the service with. Coming from fighting in Vietnam, the post was a place you could come to where you could actually talk to another veteran. We had a lot of Vietnam vets come to this post, and the WWII guys welcomed us. Quite frankly, the WWII guys didn’t get welcomed. The WWI guys thought they fought ‘The War to End All Wars,’ and there was friction between those two groups for a while. So the Vietnam vets were the benefactors of what had happened to the WWII guys.”
Claudia said when she and Charlie were in leadership, American Legion baseball in Jefferson City had gone defunct.
“They had a team, but they were mainly playing out in the country,” he said.
Claudia said it was Charlie who got American Legion baseball going again. She worked in the concession stands, where they raised funds. Today, the Legion Sports Complex on County Park Road plays host to numerous games.
Charlie and Claudia continue to mentor others at the American Legion so they know what is expected of them as members.
“We were in our 20s when we came in, and the ones coming in now are mostly retired military,” Charlie said. “We’re getting some but not enough of the veterans who have served in the War on Terror.”
Claudia said she worries about who would teach young people about patriotism if the American Legion and auxiliary weren’t around.
“You’d be surprised at how much ignorance there is about the history of the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays,” Charlie said. “It’s not taught as much now as it was to us when we were growing up.”
He said their time with the American Legion has not only been fun but has been a lifesaver.
“Emotionally, for the memories of the war, I was so glad the Legion was there,” Charlie said.