The event celebrated several members of the legion who achieved 10 to 70 years of a continuous status as an American Legion representative.
Commander Amy Hussar and Adjutant Michael Anderson handed out honorary pins and certificates to each of the post members before a cheerful audience.
The highlight of the event began when post member Marcel Chapuis, 93, received a standing ovation as he made his way to the front of the assembly. Chapuis, an honorary war veteran of World War II and former pilot, has recently served his 70th year as a continuous member of the American Legion. He is the longest serving member in Patterson’s post to date. He was granted a 70-year patch, pin and a pair of American flags to place on his cap.
“He’s been apart of the legion longer than I’ve been alive,” said Anderson, 65, jokingly.
Anderson recounted several antics Chapuis was known for, including building planes and flying with Wendol Torrison, a recently fallen comrade and member of Post 168.
Torrison was also honored at the ceremony and given a special recognition earlier that night. A red, white and blue wreath and membership hat lay to Chapuis’ left during the ceremony.
“We knew that Wendol and Chapuis went flying together. They were a crazy bunch. They used to practice losing their engine on take-off at the Patterson Airport,” Anderson said. “There must be something in the water.”
Chapuis smiled brightly throughout the ceremony and added that he was pleased to be apart of a rewarding experience.
“They’ve made me real happy today,” said Chapuis of his comrades. “I didn’t expect anything like this.”
The ceremony brought tears of joy and sorrow to many members of the legion. It was an event instilled with pride and companionship.
“For years you would come to meetings and have to say goodbye to people you knew,” said Anderson to Chapuis, solemnly. “We are happy that we have the chance to honor you for your 70 years of service.”
Jodi Griffin, outgoing American Legion District 12 Commander, said Chapuis was the first person she’s met with 70 years of service to the American Legion and granted him a rare challenge pin from World War I as a personal gift from one veteran to another.
David Smith, Sons of the American Legion commander in Atwater, said only a 1,000 challenge pins were ever made and were given to the American soldiers by the French to identify their American citizenship.
Prisoners of war were often stripped of their identity by procuring dog tags in World War I. If escape were possible, the former prisoner would be left without allies after losing the only piece of citizenship he owned, his dog tag. Dog tags were the only indication of an identity and allegiance until the French made their own coins for the American soldiers, known as challenge pins. The coin was used to prove soldiers’ American roots.
Due to their rare nature, if a challenge coin is shown at a bar-like setting, other servicemen are expected to buy the coin-handler a drink. If the coin-handler shows his coin, but another servicemen presents his own to match it, the first instigator must buy the second coin-owner a drink, he said.
“These are incredibly rare, but I hope I can pick up another challenge pin. If not, I’m glad I gave it to (Chapuis),” said Griffin. “If it wasn’t for these guys, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Smith was also quick to give over his own challenge pin.
“It’s an honor for men who served as long as he had. This is a token of my appreciation,” said Smith.
Other members who received recognition for their continuous membership include:
Roger “Eric” Lohmann, 10 years; Forest W. “Wade” Norris, 10 years; Mike Alberti, 15 years; Emil Burch, 25 years and Tony Trinta, 30 years.
Other members who received patches and certificates but not in attendance were:
Gary Abundis, 10 years; Lowell Howe, 10 years; Thomas Whitfield, 10 years; Mitchell Bahta, 15 years; Frank Coito, 15 years; Robert Reed, 15 years; Donald Starcher, 15 years and Steven Smith, 30 years.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org