Sunday Stories: Sutherland American Legion History

Just a few weeks ago, on February 2, 2016, the Sutherland American Legion "Otto V. Johnson" Post 208 celebrated 96 years of serving the community of Sutherland and our veterans.

The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, brought World War I to a close. The country had among its populace more veterans, some with permanently disabling injuries. A nonpartisan organization of veterans, known as the American Legion, was incorporated by an act of Congress on September 16, 1919.

Its purposes are “To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a 100 percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and good will on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”

Otto V. Johnson Post 208 was formed February 2, 1920 in Sutherland. Prioer to the forming of the post, legionnaires belonged to the North Platte Post. On the organization committee were E. R. Spaulding, V. A. Kessler, Louis McNeel, John Miller, Faye Coates and Harvey Pulley. The first meeting was called to order by acting chairman Spaulding, and the first order of business was voting on a name for the Post. Three names were submitted: Johnson-Haase Post, Victory Post, and Otto V. Johnson Post. Otto V. Johnson Post received 20 of the 27 votes cast, so naming of the post came into being February 2, 1920. On February 19, 1920, the official number of the post was received and the name was then “Otto V. Johnson Post No. 208.”

The bylaws were accepted by the members, and the first elected officers were: Post Commander, Earl R. Spaulding; Vice-Commander, John Miller; Adjutant, James P. Guffey; Treasurer, Frank R. Garman; Executive Committee, Harry H. Walsworth, Faye Coates, William E. Welsh, and Vernice A. Kessler.

Charter members of Otto V. Johnson Post: Orla B. Life, Frank Bubak, Sylvester Johnston, John M. Thompson, Byron Myers, Elvin B. McCain, Lloyd T. McCain, John A. Miller, Edwin E. Miller, Matthew Broderick, Roy Eckhoff, Harvey C.Pulley, Herbert A. Leach, Vernice A. Kessler, Earl R. Spaulding, Frank R. Garman, James P. Guffey, James R. Rowan, Louis C. McNeel, H. H. Walsworth, Harry C. Farnam, Albert C. Black, David Wods, Vernon B. Cox, Ivan B. Gordon, Faye W. Kelso, Earl H. White, Lee J. Kelso, Charles R. Cockle Jr., Harold Anderson, and Faye Coates.

The first meeting place was upstairs in Burklund Hall, now at 818 1st Street. The Post leased this meeting room in October of 1920 for $35 a month on a three year lease. Hershey and Paxton members were included in the Otto V. Johnson Post with membership coming from both towns. In 1920, Commander Spaulding was sent to the national convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Faye Coates and H. H. Walsworth were the first to represent the Post at the state convention. E. R. Spaulding was again commander in 1921. On March 14, 1921, the women’s auxiliary was formed. Russell Cox was appointed manager of the baseball club in 1921 and a committee was appointed to locate a ball field and pitcher, regardless of the cost.
The body of Otto V. Johnson was returned to Sutherland from France, in August 1921. The body was accompanied by two guards from New York. Funeral services were conducted on the school yard in Sutherland, and the body was taken to the cemetery in a caisson pulled by four horses. Legionnaires marched behind the coach to the cemetery. Otto V. Johnson was born in Sutherland, September 10, 1891, one of ten children of John and Caroline Johnson. He entered the Army in April 1918 and after three weeks of training was sent to France with the 355th Infantry and was killed in the Argonne Forst, just south of Beaufort, France, on November 6, just 6 days before the war ended. Death came instantly, inflicted by machine gun fire.

Post Commanders for the balance of the 1920’s were: V.A. Kessler, G. B. Cochran, H. H. Walsworth, M. L. Skallberg; Louis McNeel, and H. M. Guffey. Events of the same period: R. A. Cox appointed 1st Sgt. At Arms, 1922; the 4th of July dance, admission $.10; and the beginning of fund raising events that have continued throughout the history of the post.

Memorial Day services began in 1921, with the Post conducting the services. The second home of the Post was in the LaRue building, but this did not work out, and the records show the meetings were held at the Jim Parry Ranch, later known as the Ed Ohrlund Ranch. Without a meeting place and with Hershey and Paxton leaving to form their own posts, the Post was not as active in 1925 and 1926. Many meetings were held with the auxiliary, but no minutes were recorded. In 1927, the Post had 30 members and met in various homes. This year the Post sponsored the Boy Scouts with the legionnaire Dr. R.S. Russell as Scout Master. The scouts’ meeting room was in the basement of the library. In 1928, a rental agreement was reached with the IOOF Lodge for a meeting room at a cost of $18 a year. Post Commanders of the 1930’s: Earl White, Dr. R. S. Russell, Charles McNeel, Ivan Gordon, F. E. Palmer, L. H. Stoll, with some serving more than one year. Events of the decade include: organization of a Pistol Cub (in ushering in the Roaring 30’s they must have felt they needed organized protection). 

In 1931, the legion assisted the Boy Scouts in building a swimming pool on top of the hill by the water tank. Water was supplied by the overflow, and while the pool was very nice, the water was very cold. The banks closed, and the Post was left with a few outstanding checks. The Post suffered and paying bills was difficult. However, the Post was instrumental in organizing aid to the drought stricken area. Over 31,000 lbs. of hay and 85 bushels of corn were raised in this drive.

Employment was a problem and congressional flour was distributed by the Post and the Red Cross. Raising money for the rental fees for the IOOF was accomplished through a loan and assistance from the auxiliary. Activities were limited in 1935 and 1936, and only three meetings were recorded with 1937 much the same. The main topic of the first meeting of 1938 was the debate on whether we should whip Japan now or tomorrow. The debate was hot and the discussion long. The post turned the legion grounds (where the present fire hall is located) over to the Commercial Club, reserving the right to play ball there. 1939 was the first year that Boys State was started and Eldon Gordon represented Otto V.Johnson Post at a cost of $12.63. This was an improved year for the Post with regular meetings and good attendance. Commanders in the 1940’s were L. H. Stoll, Herman Kallhoff, W. C. Adams, G. B. Cochran, A. O. Jones, Claire Sherman, and Bernard Gummere. Post activities were limited with WW II starting. Legion activities took a big step forward. Gold stars were presented to the families who had lost sons in the service.

The families of George LaRue, who was killed at Pearl Harbor, and Bill Dikeman, a member of the Canadian Air Force, were the first to be honored. Other Gold Stars were awarded during World War II to the families of Theodore Johnston, J. K. Shoup, A. B. Anderson, James Copeland, Harold Hall, Harold Largent, and Cleo Truitt. Silver Star certificates presented by the military at the Post meetings were for Gail Harvey, George Green, Lyle Hoatson, Vernon Combs, and Adelbert Crosby.

With the end of WW II, membership in the post increased rapidly, and plans for a new Legion home became the goal. The first step was purchasing a lot in downtown Sutherland. Soliciting of funds started in 1946. This was the largest project the Post ever attempted. Plans were changed before construction started in 1948, with the location to be the fire department grounds south of the tracks rather than the lot in downtown Sutherland. In 1949, the post had 107 members. During the year after World War Ii many veterans’ bodies were returned for burial and the Post conducted the military services at Fort McPherson or at the Sutherland Cemetery. Post activities were plentiful with fund raising for the new Legion home topping the list.
The 1950 commanders were: Dale Godwin, Ted Hanich, John Crockett, John Beveridge, W. J. Wooden, John East, Charles Bierma, James Beeson, and Lloyd Farmer. The first half of the 50’s was consumed with the building project. The actual construction and funds for some construction had begun in 1948 and in 1956, final completion was held with the installation of a maple floor. It must be noted that the building project was made possible with many area residents donating both money and work. The death of WWI veterans increased rapidly during this decade. E. R. Spaulding, one of the very inspirational veterans and the first post commander in 1920-1921 died in Portland, Oregon.
The 1960’s commanders were: Mervan Shuler, Bryce Cody, Frank Hoatson, Walt Jochum, Jim Godeker, Asa Kinnaman, Gene Anderson and Gene Taylor. The Post continued to be active and lifetime memberships were awarded to many WWI veterans who had been charter and active members since the Post was organized. 
A building committee was established in this era to help in the running of the dances and with the activities of the Post. Many hard working members served in this capacity. Community roller skating was an added activity. The posts’ 43rd birthday was celebrated March 21, 1962. The annual mountain oyster feed began in 1964 and was approved as an annual affair in 1965 and continued until 1988. 

With the Korean War in the 1950’s and the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, the Post added a new group of veterans to its roll. Receiving 50 year memberships at this time were Russell Cox, Jim Guffey, Louis Stoll and Vernice Kessler.
The 1970’s commanders were Floyd Paulman, Doug Richards, Bob Peterson, Roger Faling, Walt Jochum, Dorman Duncan, and Tom Laubner. The annual chicken-noodle feed started in 1970, and it is still an annual community event. Eligibility for Legion members chanted in 1974 to read: WWII 12/7/41 to 12/31/46; Korean War 6/25/50 to 1/31/55; Vietnam 8/5/64 to 8/15/73. Post meeting attendance was down during this period, but the functions of the Post remained good.

Commanders in the 1980’s were Gene Anderson, Gene Taylor, Tom Laubner, Bob Bryant and Roger Faling. The Post activities and meeting attendance remained the same. The 1980’s did show the start of the passing of several WWII veterans and Post members. The first of these was John Beveridge who died suddenly in June of 1982. John was very active in Legion affairs for many years. He was Post Commander in 1953 and in 1959 he was elected as Post Service Officer holding that position for 24 consecutive years. His work in this position was outstanding. Other WWII Post veterans who died during this time were Dorman Duncan, Glen Kendall, Harry Reitz, Bryce Cody and Bob Bryant. Ten new rifles were purchased for use in military and Memorial Day services.
One of the larger projects since the building of the Legion Hall started in 1987 with the passing of Bob Bryant. The Avenue of Flags at the Cemetery began with a donation of $100 and Bob’s flag presented to the post by his widow Mary Bryant. This was a project Bob had been sponsoring at the time of his death. Memorial Day service in 1988 showed the completion of much of this project. The remaining poles which encircled the east, south and west sides of the Sutherland Cemetery were completed in 1989. Each pole has a name plate and flies a flag of the deceased veteran. It is a beautiful project which entailed a great deal of time and effort. Many members worked on this project, but the two members who spent many extra hours to insure completion were Gene Anderson and Doug Richards. Their loyal efforts must be noted in the history of the Post.

To conclude a 70-year existence of Otto V. Johnson Post #208 it is only right to mention some of the many project and community events and donations of the Post throughout its history. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Baseball, Legion Baseball, County Government, Oratorical Contests, Memorial Day Services, Military Services, Educational Scholarships, NRA Rifle Club, 4th of July, and many other projects and donations for community service.

The veterans of all wars of our country should always be honored, but especially, those who died in battle. These were young men who sacrificed their lives for their country.

The history of Otto V. Johnson Post was compiled and researched by Marvin Beatty, Post Historian since 1962. Dates, events and facts were taken from the minutes of the meetings of the Post. Many names not mentioned in the history were also a part of the efforts of Otto V. Johnson Post #208.


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