American Legion Post 164 moved into a permanent home Oct. 20 in a grand opening ceremony attended by a variety of supporters including Katy Mayor Bill Hastings, Congressman Pete Olson. State …
American Legion Post 164 moved into a permanent home Oct. 20 in a grand opening ceremony attended by a variety of supporters including Katy Mayor Bill Hastings, Congressman Pete Olson. State Representative Mike Schofield – Schofield was elected Nov. 3 and was a candidate at the time of the event – and representatives from throughout the American Legion’s chain of command.
“In the name of (Jonathan D. Rozier American Legion Post 164) I dedicate this structure as the embodiment of the ideals of justice, freedom and democracy,” said American Legion Post 164 Commander Jim McGuire at the event.
The post was founded in 2001 when a group of veterans began meeting at Mary Jo Pekham Park in downtown Katy, McGuire said. Since then, the group has been hosted by the Katy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9182 and the Katy Elks Lodge No. 2628 while it built up its membership and established a budget to find its own home – the new post located at 22125 Kingsland Blvd. in unincorporated Katy.
The new location finally came about after the post’s last commander, Harry Woodstrom – a Vietnam era veteran – discovered that the West Memorial Homeowners Association was looking to lease the building that eventually became the posts new home.
McGuire praised the HOA’s flexibility in setting up the lease in such a way that the legionnaires would be able to host the events necessary to achieve the post’s goals and mission as a nonprofit.
“(Woodstrom) and I went over and spoke to them and it took probably four or five months, getting the lease and contract all written up to have it done properly so we could do fundraisers and those kinds of things inside (the post),” McGuire said. “We live off having fundraisers and if we can’t do a fundraiser in our own house (this wouldn’t have worked).”
But it did work out and the Jonathan D. Rozier American Legion Post 164 now has its own home after nearly 20 years.
McGuire said the post is dedicated to the late 2nd Lieutenant Jonathan D. Rozier who was awarded the Bronze Star for valor for his actions in combat which saved many American service members’ lives. The post has a memorial wall honoring Rozier as the post’s namesake.
Aside from the basic ideals of patriotism in his statement, McGuire later said in an interview with the Katy Times that the main goal of the post is to provide a source of support for veterans of all eras and their families through programs the nonprofit offers. While the American Legion is a global organization, it focuses on grass roots efforts to support veterans through community engagement programs.
One of the newest veteran outreach events is the post’s hosting of a PTSD group that had been meeting at the local Katy Veterans Affairs clinic up until the COVID-19 pandemic began. Because the clinic had shut its doors to nonessential visitors, the PTSD group had been meeting in a gazebo near the VA clinic. Once the post’s services officer, Jody Castro, found out, he helped coordinate allowing the group to meet at the clinic and utilize its facilities for meetings that could even include presentations using the facility’s audio-video equipment.
The American Legion offers other community and veterans’ programs as well. The primary program is outreach to veterans which is coordinated by Castro, McGuire said. Castro is trained by the American Legion and registered with the VA to assist local veterans in connecting with the resources they need when they’re in crisis or just need pointed in the right direction to get VA benefits.
The Boys State scholarship and education program takes high school boys and allows them to go to Austin to learn the operations of government, including mock elections and the passing of bills. Attendees are eligible for scholarships and may be able to go to Boys Nation in Washington D.C. to participate at the national level.
Another scholarship program is the post’s Oratorical competition, McGuire said. For this program, there are several different levels of competition, but it starts at the post level where participants can earn $500 scholarships before moving on to the state and national levels. Overall, according to the post’s website, more than $138,000 is awarded nationwide each year. To earn a scholarship, each student must deliver two speeches showing their understanding of civics.
“It’s an eight-to-ten minute speech on any topic of the Constitution that the person doing the speech wants to talk about,” McGuire said. “They also have to know a good working knowledge of all of the amendments to the Constitution because every year the American Legion (national level leaders) pick four amendments and they send them out to be used in the competition.”
Recruitment for veterans organizations like the American Legion has been tough even though the country has been in conflicts for nearly 20 years now, McGuire said. Such organizations suffer from a reputation of being a place for older veterans, which McGuire said is frustrating because the organization wants to be able to connect with younger veterans who have fought in the War on Terror.
Fortunately, a few changes have made it easier for the American Legion – a federally chartered organization – to adjust its recruiting methods and welcome younger veterans into the fold, McGuire said.
The first change is the passage of the LEGION Act and subsequent signing by President Donald Trump last year. The act allows the legion to expand its recruitment activities to veterans that served during periods that, while no war was formally declared, combat operations were happening. This includes Vietnam veterans, which McGuire said had felt left out for some time because the Vietnam War – technically a conflict from a legal perspective – did not count as wartime service.
“If you go on social media, there’s a lot of negativity about that,” McGuire said. “They were bitter because, ‘Well, I went to join and they wouldn’t let me join because I didn’t meet the eligibility requirements.’”
Membership requirements were simplified by the LEGION Act. Now, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard veterans who served between April 6, 1917 and Nov. 11, 1918 as well as those that served from Dec. 7, 1941 to the present can join. Merchant Marine veterans who served during World War II are also eligible.
The next step, McGuire said, has been for the post to focus on making the post family friendly. Younger veterans of the War on Terror often have wives and children and creating a family environment has been a focus in recent years. Recruiting for the Women’s Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion have been increased and family-friendly activities are increasing.
For Halloween, the post hosted a haunted house of sorts with treats for children and a walk through the post’s decorated garage. Additionally, the post is setting up a junior shooting sports program to allow children an opportunity to learn firearm safety in a safe environment with certified military instructors, McGuire said.
The main point though, McGuire said, is that the members of American Legion Post 164 want to be there to support veterans, to provide support to veterans in the way only another veteran can. It’s about supporting one another and maintaining traditions, he said.
“Last year, I had the privilege of giving one of our members his continuous service certificate for 65 years in the American Legion,” McGuire said. “(Ralph West is) one of our World War II vets and he lives in Eagle Trace in the assisted living facility. I went up there and personally gave him his certificate and that’s amazing that he spent so many years in one organization.”
McGuire hopes the tradition of service that West represents continues for the legion and he and the veterans and family members at Post 164 intend to work toward that end.