WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – In 1937, American Legion Post 4 hosted a Wichita flag contest, and there were 100 entries.
The prize money went to Cecil McAlister for his creative design.
That’s just one of many things, Post 4 has to be proud of, when it comes to community contributions, as members have been giving back for more than 100 years.
The American Legion is located in downtown Wichita, and when you step inside, you get glimpses into the past.
“We are the oldest and right now the largest,” Post 4 Historian Jim Smith said.
The American Legion got its start far away from Wichita in France.
“Got our charter in June of 1919, just shortly after the American Legion was formed, and we’ve been open ever since,” Smith said.
A bass drum and mallets that are on display at the Post date back to the 1930s but the history of Post 4 takes you decades before that.
“There’s something for other veterans and members, something to be proud of, really,” Smith said.
The original charter members’ names hang on the wall, and so does this portrait of the patriot they proudly represent.
“He went, to then it was just Wichita High School, now it’s just East High,” Smith said.
By the time he graduated high school, Thomas Hopkins had already served in and resigned from the Kansas National Guard.
When the United States declared war on Germany, he re-enlisted.
“He was a real hero,” Smith said.
On a battefield in France, Smith says Hopkins could hear a comardes cries for help.
“The gentleman was tangled up in some barbed wire, constantine wire, he went out to get him, to pull him out of there, was wounded getting him, and bringing him back and he died from his wounds,” Smith said.
When he was hit with enemy fire, Hopkins was carrying his wounded buddy over his shoulders.
“He saved his buddy’s life and gave his own in doing it,” Smith said.
Hopkins is buried at Old Mission Cemetery in Wichita where members still gather graveside to honor him every year.
The women from the Ladies Auxilliary place a wreath on his grave, to honor the Lieutenant, who was the first Kansas officer killed in WWI.
Post 4 was formed shortly after the Great War, and it has made it through so much.
It was the only Post to stay open during WWII.
“The American Legion, supported veterans coming home, families, the community, it was a place for spouses to come for help,” Smith said.
The Legion members are still on a mission of service beyond self from the Young Marines, to the Kansas Honor Flight, they also help veterans who are struggling, with move-in kits, to help them get back on their feet.
“We do a lot of charity things for different organizations and fundraisers,” Smith said.
You see them in many places across the community, riding strong, presenting Old Glory, and offering many a hand of support.
“We have the SAL, Sons of American Legion, American Legion Riders, and we have The Ladies Auxillary, each one of them has kind of their own missions,” Smith said.
The Legion often takes a stand to honor the fallen and leads the ride for final salutes.
They also host true heroes like the Candy Bomber and help with events to honor him and other veterans.
“In remembrance of what was,” Smith said.
History is something Smith is often looking into.
“We have figured out all of the commanders from day one until today,” Smith said.
They even found caricatures of the former commanders in what is somewhat of a family album.
The same book also has the paperwork for a bugle from days gone by when you could snag brass for $5.50!
Dates in the scrapbook go back a century.
“Something to make you proud of it that it has lasted that long,” Smith said.
At the Post, you will find some very special stories of service on the wall of members.
Those same members continue to ensure their many charity missions reach for miles.
Smith says it’s important for the past to be shared with the future.
One interesting historical story Smith shared was from WWII when there was a coal strike in Kansas.
He said it was the dead of winter, and people had no way of heating their homes.
American Legion members, from Post 4, recruited the manpower they needed, and they went to the coal mines in Southeast Kansas and dug coal.
Families were able to heat their homes, that winter, thanks to the kindness of American Legion members, perfect strangers to many across the state.