Post, auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion groups serve veterans and the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend community

While many people will pause to thank veterans for their military service on Veterans Day, members of American Legion Canal Post 25 in Middletown volunteer to help veterans and the community throughout the year.

And Post 25 has recently achieved two firsts – a commander who served in Afghanistan, David Strawbridge, and a woman first vice commander, Cathy Adams.

“We’re a very community-centric post,” said Strawbridge, a member of the Air Force Reserves who deployed twice to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Adams, who was in the Air Force for four years, said Canal Post 25 is about friendships and service.

“I truly enjoy the fellowship with the members of our post and working with them as a team to support our veterans, youth and our community wherever and whenever we are needed,” she said.

The post sponsors a Boy Scout troop and an American Legion baseball team. The members participate in town parades and community events like Vet Fest at Whitehall just north of Middletown. Post members ran in the ruck event at Vet Fest, to bring awareness to the problem of suicide among veterans.

In October, members joined in a service project with other veterans and community groups to clean about 7,000 grave markers at the Veterans Cemetery in Bear. They support Home of the Brave in Milford, which provides veterans transitional housing.

For the fourth year, post members will be teaming up with Middletown High School culinary students, the Junior ROTC and Bob Evans restaurant to bake cookies to send to troops overseas during the holidays.

Transportation first

However, the service project the post devotes the most time to is taking veterans to medical appointments, usually at the Veterans Administration Hospital near Wilmington. The trips have been as far away as Brooklyn when treatment wasn’t available at the Delaware hospital.

Ray Abbott, who served as Post 25 commander for six years, devotes nearly every Monday to taking veterans to appointments. The post has two other volunteer drivers, and they’re always looking for more.

They use two shuttle vans, one that belongs to the post and a larger van provided by the Veterans Administration Hospital.

“Some weeks, it’s two or three veterans, but it might be as many as six or seven,” said Abbott, who was in the Army for 27 years, including in Vietnam and the Gulf War. “One time I took a veteran to Johns Hopkins [in Baltimore] and sat there through his appointment and brought him back. It was about an 11-hour day.”

Post members also take veterans to vote and to community events like parades and festivals. They used the vans to take equipment for Delaware’s team to the Wheelchair Games in cities across the country including Orlando, Cincinnati, Louisville and Salt Lake City.

For Abbott, the inscription on a plaque he received “for outstanding, committed and dedicated service to the American Legion” says it all.

“That’s the essence to me of what we’re all about,” he said. “I just dedicate myself to veterans. When somebody needs help, if I’m still breathing, I’m going to give it to them.”

He said when he thinks about Veterans Day, he remembers his grandfather, who was in World War II, his father who was in Korea, and all those he served with in Vietnam.

“A lot of people came back in good shape and a lot of people came back in bad shape and some people didn’t come back at all,” he said. “So on Veterans Day, it’s time to remember that – remember that.”

Firsts for Canal Post

As the first Post 25 commander who did tours in Afghanistan, Strawbridge said members of all ages strengthen the post, but it was time for the younger members to step up.

“I thought it was important to have someone from my war era take their turn leading this post,” he said. “It’s important to have not only current war era members but to have women in leadership positions as well. We want to have a diverse post and represent our community.”

He said what he likes about Canal Post 25 is “being a part of something bigger than myself. I enjoy being able to affect the lives of our fellow veterans and this community.”

The post’s first woman as first vice commander is Air Force veteran Cathy Adams, who served two years at Martlesham Heath, a remote communications site in Suffolk, England, and two years at Los Angeles Air Station in California.

“I wanted to become the first vice commander because I had already served as the finance officer for Canal Post 25 for several years and decided that I wanted to have a more active role within our community and supporting our veterans,” Adams said.

She said it’s an honor and a privilege to be the first female selected as first vice commander.

“I hope that I will serve as a positive role model for other female veterans within our post and the American Legion organization,” Adams said.

The mission ahead

The post's main challenge is what many other veterans organizations face, Strawbridge said.

“We’re struggling to get younger members involved,” he said. “Our predecessors have given us incredible rights and benefits through their political advocacy. Those rights and benefits could possibly go away without our continued involvement.”

Strawbridge said he hopes younger veterans will join and help them reach the goal of 300 members.

“It’s about being a part of your community,” he said. “It’s important for young veterans to be involved and to show the pride of Americanism.”

Strawbridge said younger members can usually provide help with technology.

“Younger members tend to be more computer savvy and can help us with our website and Facebook page,” he said.

History of Canal Post 25

The post was chartered in 2000 with 99 members and has more than doubled in size. Strawbridge is the fourth post commander.

“Our diverse membership is made up of over 250 veterans of all services and eras, from World War II veterans to those who deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,” Strawbridge said. “We are currently engaged in a membership drive to reach over 300 members.”

“Ray and the previous commanders have been instrumental in building the foundation of service to veterans and keeping that goal alive,” he said. “They’re mentors and tutors to me and Cathy. Because I work full time, Ray steps in and is able to attend events I’m normally not able to attend.”

Meetings are the second Wednesday of every month from 7-9 p.m., usually at the county paramedic building on North Broad Street near the Appoquinimink Community Library; however, on Nov. 14, the post will be holding a membership information meeting at a different location, Bogey’s Grille on Bayview Road.

In the past, the post met at the former county paramedic station on U.S. Route 13 in Odessa. That building is now used by the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative to train veterans in watchmaking and watch repair skills.

Donations needed for post home

Post 25 members are raising funds to build a post home on 6.5 acres it owns on Route 13. Their goal is $500,000.

“This new home will allow us to service a growing veteran population in the MOT area and beyond,” said Strawbridge.

Donations can be made through PayPal on the post’s website, canalpost25.us.

Strawbridge said the new building would serve members and the community.

“Our vision is to provide space for groups like the Boy Scouts, the auxiliary and other veterans groups to meet there,” said Strawbridge. “We’re planning a 200-person banquet facility that can be rented out for wedding receptions, baby showers and anniversary parties to help bring in a steady source of revenue for the post.”

Adams said she hopes the community will join with the veterans to help fund the post home.

“Canal Post 25 could offer so much more to our fellow veterans, youth and community if we had a permanent building where we could operate our services from,” she said.