American Legion Post 513 celebrates its 60th year of service

Ernest Rodrigue
April 16, 2007
Antoinette Rodrigue
April 18, 2007
Ernest Rodrigue
April 16, 2007
Antoinette Rodrigue
April 18, 2007

Defying racial barriers in the late 1940s, one local American Legion post has withstood the test of time. On Saturday, the post turned 60.

Created in 1947, the Raymond Stafford American Legion Post 513 was chartered by the American Legion National Headquarters to represent black men and women in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Post 513 celebrated the milestone a week early since many of its members were headed to Baton Rouge for the weekend’s state American Legion convention.

When black soldiers returned form World Wars I and II, segregation prevented them from joining other American Legions in the Thibodaux area, explained Gerald Theriot, post historian and Legionnaire.

The founders n 26 men n determined to serve fellow soldiers and their families, created Post 513. According to Theriot, members gathered at the C.M. Washington School, located on Narrow and Ninth streets in Thibodaux.

In early 1950, the post brought land on Narrow Street; it had previously been a landfill.

Theriot explained the land had also as a gravesite for many blacks allegedly killed by their owners in the so-called slave uprisings in the 1800s.

The current post home was built in 1970. It was named in honor of Raymond Stafford, the parish’s first black soldier to die in battle, Theriot said.

At the post’s inception, the American Legion issues a “500” number to signify the veterans’ race, the historian explained. “The ‘500’ number isn’t used to signify a Legionnaire’s race anymore,” he said. But the group opted to keep Post 513 as a reminder of how things once were.

Throughout the years, Post 513 has had 22 different commanders. Henderson Kennedy Jr., a Thibodaux resident and Air Force retiree (1987) serves as commander of the group today after taking a brief hiatus from the post.

Twenty years after joining Post 513, he was selected to take command of the group. During that time, the post has continued to see its membership numbers grow.

“I wanted to see more veterans in the community become a part of the American Legion, so I went out and recruited them. In 1987, we had nearly 20 members. I got the membership up to more than 100 members,” Kennedy said.

Likewise, the post’s Auxiliary is strong. Chartered in May 1952, the organization took a lead role during and after Desert Storm in providing support to the post’s membership, he said.

Kennedy said the Legionnaires serve as pillars of the community. The post continues to honor the region’s fallen veterans, placing flags on the graves for Memorial and Veterans days. And the group has its own Honor Guard.

“I wanted camaraderie among the veterans. I wanted them to be as one together. I wanted us to be more like a close-knit family,” Kennedy said.

In 1994, members’ dedication to the post was waning. As a result, Kennedy relinquished his command.

“It wasn’t a brotherhood anymore,” he said of that difficult period. “Many members were more focused on themselves instead of supporting veterans.”

Consequently, the post’s membership dwindled as many longtime members followed their commander’s lead.

Kennedy returned to the post’s helm in 1997 and has seen the membership numbers climb back to over 100.

The continued growth is a testament to the post’s leadership, said Forrest Travirca III, the Louisiana commander of the American Legion.

“In each military conflict, you have a certain level of patriotism,” he said, addressing those at the anniversary celebration. “The reception was overwhelming in World War I, and excelled way beyond our imagination in World War II. Everybody was waving the American flag and doing something for God and their country.”

But during the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War, patriotism waned.

“The public’s view of a veteran wasn’t necessarily negative,” Travirca said. “People were looking at the war from a different perspective… They saw the wars as a political venture.

“It wasn’t until what happened on 9-11 that the people came back to the old patriotic way of flag-waving and banner-carrying Old Glory. But now, it’s progressively going back to looking at [the war in Iraq] as a political venture,” he said.