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By Paul Lonardo
The American Legion is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization and consists of any members of our armed services who served during a time of war. The American Legion was originally established as a patriotic, mutual-help war-time veteran’s organization for World War I veterans returning from Europe in 1919. Headquartered in Indianapolis, the organization is made up of State, U.S. territory, and overseas departments and these are in turn made up of local posts. It is in so many small towns across the country where these posts exist and do the most good.
One of those posts is the Balfour-Cole Post 64 in Smithfield, which this past July 18 held a rededication ceremony for Pvt. Alexander M. Balfour, one of two men for whom the post was named. Balfour, Private, US Army, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, was declared missing-in-action and deceased on July 18th, 1918. He is acknowledged on the “tablets of the missing” at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Belleau, France. While his remains never made it home, Alexander M. Balfour Square, on the corner of Waterman (Route 104) and Esmond Street, is dedicated in his memory for the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country.
Jeanne Verity, as the media liaison for the post and someone who was part of a small group of people responsible for making this dedication possible, has a vested interest in veteran affairs, particularly local men and women who have served in the armed services. She is originally from Pascoag, now living in Smithfield, and is a veteran herself. Jeanne joined the army as a nurse in a combat support hospital at the age of thirty-nine.
“I was looking for excitement and some travel opportunities that I didn’t think I would be able to accomplish on my own,” Jeanne says, who got all she bargained for and more because not long after she enlisted the Gulf War began, and she became part of Desert Storm. She remained in the reserves for ten years, during which time she was activated frequently, retiring at the rank of captain. When Jeanne settled in town after being discharged, she didn’t initially join the nearby American Legion Post.
“I had young male grandchildren at the time,” Jeanne says, “and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to glamorize the military to them. But they became Boy Scouts and when they started to participate the in the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at Deerfield Park, I wanted to make sure they got the right picture of what the military is all about, so that’s when I joined the Balfour-Cole Post 64.”
That was in 2014, and with this year marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Post honored Alexander Balfour with a rededication ceremony on July 18, the day he was officially declared missing in action and dead one hundred years ago. Private Fred C. Cole will be similarly honored on November 1, the day the Georgiaville native died exactly a century ago, which was just ten days before the end of the war. This ceremony will take place at his memorial site on Farnum Pike and Homestead Ave. Private Fred Cole served with the 310 Infantry, in the 78th Division. He is also buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France.
The ceremonies are something that Jeanne Verity and all the members of the post have been actively involved in, particularly John “Skip” Sweeney, who originally conceived of having the dedication ceremony, at which he spoke.
“We’re a very active post,” Jeanne says. “We currently have 111 members.”
With 14,000 American Legion posts worldwide, representing 2.4 million veterans, the organization does as much for their local communities as they do for the many members of our armed serves and their families. They sponsor a variety of programs and activities that benefit society. According to its mission statement, the organization is committed to mentoring youth and sponsoring wholesome community programs, advocating patriotism and honor, as well as promoting strong national security, and continued devotion to our country’s service members and veterans.
“We have four basic pillars that we try to live by,” Jeanne says of the American Legion. “One obviously is children and youth, which at Balfour-Cole Post 64 includes the sponsorship of an American Legion baseball team and a boy scout troop, Troop 1 Georgiaville. We have a veterans’ fund in our budget, in which we allocate money for various veterans’ needs, including being sure we have funds available for our local veterans who might fall into some kind of financial need.”
There is an important social aspect of the post for members to interact personally. There are monthly meetings held to discuss business matters, but they all get together for lunch four times a year and also celebrate the holidays as a group at an annual Christmas party.
“Something fun that we do every year is sponsor an oratorical contest with cash prizes at Vincent J. Gallagher Middle School,” Jeanne says. “And there’s another program that is relatively new, which we’ve been doing for a couple years now, and was also started by “Skip” Sweeney. We sponsor a class in flag etiquette, and we’ve been able to go to all of the area elementary schools. It’s something I am very proud of, and the results have been fantastic.”
This class consists of a film and a comic book that teaches students how to treat and handle an American flag. The children are also instructed the proper way to fold a flag.
“The kids seem to really love this,” Jeanne says. “It’s amazing. It’s really a worthwhile activity.”
Jeanne wanted to be sure she mentioned that the post’s commanding officer, Michael Silvia, who is from Smithfield. In addition, the newly elected state commander of the American Legion, David Malone, who although belonging to post 85 in Woonsocket, is from Greenville.
“It is a great honor for us,” Jeanne says, “to have these two people representing the post, the community and the state. And both of them being local individuals who care about everyone who lives here is something to be very proud of.”
She also wants to mention ahead of time the big ceremony at Deerfield Park on Memorial Day, which they do every year. And keep the date of November 1 in mind for the centennial ceremony honoring Private Fred C. Cole at his memorial site on Farnum Pike and Homestead Avenue.
To find out about joining Post 64 American Legion in Smithfield, or for any other questions, call Jeanne at 401-524-0735.