Petersburg’s chapter of the American Legion, America’s oldest veterans organization, was chartered over a century ago — but membership has fallen off. Now, a few core Legion members are trying to boost registration to keep the chapter alive and build community among Petersburg veterans. 

Garrett Kravitz called the meeting to order with a recitation of the American Legion Constitution Preamble. He’s the assistant adjutant of Petersburg’s Post 14. The Legion’s pledge echoes the Oath of Enlistment, which is taken by all members of the United States armed forces. It’s something that’s familiar to Kravitz. He served in the U. S. Coast Guard for 22 years, and he’s still active duty. 

Kravitz said Legion membership in Petersburg is flagging. But that wasn’t always the case. Petersburg’s post has been around since 1920, just a year after the national chapter was formed. 

“So over the past 100 years, we’ve had a charter here in Petersburg,” said Kravitz. “And I really think now’s the time to breathe some life into it and get some membership up. I know there’s a lot of veterans here who can benefit.”

Kravitz’s vision is to build membership to the point that the chapter can help out in the community. He said this could look like fundraising for scholarships or restoring the American Legion Pavilion at the Petersburg Memorial Cemetery — or even hosting yoga classes. But, to start, he said the most important thing is to build a space where Petersburg veterans can connect with each other. 

Tony Vinson served in the Navy for four years. He relocated his family to Petersburg in search of that connection.

“I’m a native of California, but I feel like I don’t really belong there anymore,” said Tony. “So I was trying to find some small town, where maybe I’d have something in common with the people. Petersburg popped up on my search as I was looking through Alaska. It’s nicknamed Little Norway and my wife’s Norwegian. So, as I dig deeper, I found out that around 400-ish here are veterans — and that’s a significant portion of the population. So, I thought, let’s go see these guys.” 

The latest population estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau counted 298 veterans in the Petersburg Borough. Tracy Vinson is Tony’s wife. She’s also a veteran, having served in the Navy for nine years. She said the Legion helps keep veterans, like her and her husband, in connection with each other. 

“I just think it’s important to have a space where people with these commonalities can come together as a group,” said Tracy. “So, hopefully, we can pique interest and get it going again.”

Petersburg’s post has just over eight members, the minimum number to maintain its charter. Kravitz said that’s why they’re calling this a rejuvenation meeting. 

“That’s really what rejuvenation is — it’s just breathing life into something that’s already there,” said Kravitz. “And it is there. We saw a good turnout tonight. And I think the more people talk about it, the more meetings we have, the more we can give back to the community — the numbers are only going to grow. But I can’t do this alone. I really can’t.”

Kravitz said he got started in the American Legion while he was stationed in Ketchikan. When we moved to Petersburg, he was introduced to Post 14 by Stanley Hjort.

“He’s the glue of the American Legion Post 14 here in Petersburg,” said Kravitz. “He’s the one who made tonight possible.”

Hjort said he joined the Legion at the behest of his old friends, who were veterans of the Second World War. He’s been active in the organization for over 50 years — putting up flags on Memorial Day and escorting other veterans on honor flights, which take elderly servicemen to Washington D.C. to see the monuments that were built in their honor. 

Hjort said he’s witnessed Legion membership ebb since the 70s. And now, the stakeholders who stuck with the Legion are aging. 

“As we got older and died, there’s just fewer and fewer. I’m not sure who’s going to be doing it this year. All the old guys that we did things with, they’re gone. I’m getting pretty old. One of these days, I’ll be gone.”

The late Paul Anderson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was a core member of Post 14. He died on January 16th of this year, at the age of 77. Anderson’s friends, like Hjort, remember him for his acts of service to Petersburg veterans.

“Paul did a lot of things for this town,” said Stanley. “And come Memorial Day, people are going to be wondering — well, what happened? Paul mostly took care of the flags at the cemetery. I don’t know where they come from, but he made sure the flags were up and they weren’t ragged or anything. He did a lot for people. They haven’t missed him yet, but they will.”

The next Legion meeting is set for March 28th. Kravitz welcomes all local veterans to register — those who received an honorable discharge, and those who served even one day on active duty.

Editor’s note: Tony Vinson did not retire from the Navy, but served on active duty for four years.