Elwood’s Louis Monroe American Legion Post 53 at 220 W. Main Street is among the state’s oldest Legion posts, forming in the fall of 1919, shortly after Congress chartered the national organization as a resource for World War I veterans.
Since then, the American Legion has evolved into one of the country’s most influential nonprofit groups, serving a membership that exceeds 2 million veterans.
Here in Elwood, the Legion serves about 200, a number that includes veterans, the Ladies Auxiliary, American Legion Riders (sponsor of benefit motorcycle rides), American Legion Juniors (for girls from a young age through 18), and Sons of the American Legion (for veterans’ sons and grandsons).
At the helm since 2015 is Post Commander Margaret Smith. Margie, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Singapore, assigned to satellite communications ground equipment repair, is Elwood’s first woman commander – a distinction she shrugs off as irrelevant, saying, “I’ve been a Legionnaire for 26 years. The guys have trust in me. They elected me twice, and I’ll run again next year and see how it goes.”
Under Margie’s watch, the post has undertaken two major improvements. First, it designated a no-smoking area in the meeting room, although Margie is still waiting for a nod from the state before the policy can be implemented.
“I want people who don’t smoke to feel welcome in the Post,” she explained, “and also to feel like they can bring their children to a meal if they want.”
Most recently, the Post purchased the property to its west, tore down the house and paved the lot, significantly expanding its parking.
The American Legion is open to all honorably discharged, war-time veterans, regardless of where they served. While the national organization lobbies for veterans’ causes, locally the Post provides members a social network as well as a net. If a member suffers hard times, the Legion steps up to provide assistance. In addition, Margie said, members who run into snags with their G.I. benefits can ask their Post to help.
From its start, the Elwood American Legion Post has carried the name of Louis Monroe, who was born Feb. 23, 1895, in Illinois but grew up in Elwood. According to a May 29, 1960, article in the Anderson Herald, Monroe lived at the end of South J Street with his mother and brothers, Edward Eugene, George and Mack. Nicknamed “Boots,” Monroe was tall and lean and excelled at running track. He joined the Army in January 1918, nine months after the U.S. entered World War I. He shipped out overseas in April, assigned to Company C of the 9th Field Signal Battalion in France. The Call-Leader’s April 28, 1918, edition contained a letter from Monroe in which he compared death to Christmas. “We all wait anxiously for it,” he wrote. Sadly, his wait ended Nov. 10 that year, when he was killed in action, just one day before the war officially ended on Nov. 11, now celebrated as Veteran’s Day. Monroe was buried in the Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Margie invites everyone to stop by the Legion any Saturday evening, when the Post welcomes members and non-members alike to enjoy bingo and free entertainment.
“People are welcome to come in and enjoy themselves,” she said. “And if they are veterans, they would be welcome to become a Legionnaire.”
(Left: Elwood Chamber Executive Director Marcy Fry poses with Elwood American Legion Post 53's commander and board. They are, front row from left: Marcy, Phil Heaton, Commander Margie Smith, and Jim Sites; back row, from left: Greg Poe, Sonny Amos, Joe Smith, Mike Withlow, and Gene Herkless. The photo on the right shows the American Legion post's building at 220 West Main Street, Elwood. (Click on photos to enlarge.)