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American Legion about helping fellow veterans

March 11, 2012

On a Friday evening these days, just a handful of members belonging to the Alphonse Yelle Post No. 9 of the American Legion get together at the Post Home at 20 Railroad St.
The reasons they gather together haven't really changed since the post was founded by Manville soldiers returning home from World War I, but it does seem fewer of today's returning warriors have the time or willingness to maintain lasting friendships at a post.
Robert Leclerc, a 45-year member and past commander of Post 9, sees it as a generational change where today's veterans find themselves too busy with family life and social life outside their military backgrounds to tap the resources a veterans group can provide them.
It is a missed opportunity in Leclerc's mind and those of his fellow active members.
“A post is about comradeship, you help your fellow veterans,” he said. “That's the main purpose for the post and we carry the torch and we remember those who have died, those who died in action,” he said.
In Leclerc's days of growing up, young people belonged to organizations like the Boy Scouts, Little League or a youth religious group, and they were familiar with working with people on a common goal.
When they went off to serve their country, as he went off to fight in Vietnam after high school in 1967, those organizations were a part of their makeup and helped them face the challenges they encountered.
And when they returned home, the veterans of previous wars were ready to welcome them into their groups even though their wars might have been a lifetime apart.
Leclerc still values the relationships he built with the veterans of the past upon his return home to Manville and the memory of those days helps keep him focused on preserving the military history of the towns lost war heroes and post members.
Post 9 was founded in 1920, a year after the American Legion was established by World War I veterans in France, and was supported by an active group of the more than 200 Manville residents who went off to serve in the Great War, a crowd that had included two local women who served as nurses.
The first group of members organized themselves while out on the sidewalk on Summer Street and then met in a small house off Railroad Street before moving into its current location in the building housing the Manville Post office in 1938.
That year, Post 9 had over 400 members and needed much more space in the building than it uses today, according to Leclerc.
The American Legion only admits members who have served in the Armed Forces during a time of war and the membership of World War I veterans was given a boost by the many Manville residents going off to fight in World War II.
Additional members came with the Koren Conflict, five years later, and more from Leclerc's own class of veterans from Vietnam.
In his early days as a post member, Leclerc said there was still enough World War I veterans in the post to fill the wooden chairs set around a cribbage table in the Post.
“The World War I guys took me under their wing and they used to tell me I would be one to keep this organization going,” he recalls.
The 10 to 12 Great War veterans would come to the post in the afternoon and sit around their table and remember the old days when most of them served together in the Yankee Division and the fighting they saw in the Meuse-Argonne Forest. Their stories were not of the trench warfare most people think of when they remember World War 1, but actually of marching through forested lands and of hiding in barns at night and listening to the big shells coming in.
Three Manville soldiers would not return home. They would be killed in the latter days of the war, Russell K. Bourne, who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, on Oct. 24, 1918, Lucien Lariviere, a bugler on Oct. 30, 1918, and Alphonse Yelle, an infantryman for whom the post is named, on Nov. 10, 1918. Yelle was killed while taking a message to another unit on the day before the war ended, Leclerc noted.
Leclerc has researched all the Manville servicemen killed in action during World War I, World II and the conflicts that followed and their stories are told on the walls of the post in detail today.
Post's World War I members slowly dwindled away until just Esaie Landreville remained, according to Leclerc. He died at the age of 96 and the last time the Post members saw him, they brought him a Christmas tree while he was at the Holiday on Sayles Hill Road. “He broke down, he was something else,” Leclerc said of the old warrior.
The World II members, once 400 strong, include soldiers such as Ray Noury -- a B-24 waist gunner who was the only member of his plane's ten-member crew to survive bombing mission over Germany.
The World War II members' numbers have been thinned by age in recent years, but many like Noury remain in touch even if they can't make the trip into Manville for a meeting.
The post also hosts a collection of photographs of Manville servicemen in war zones around the world and news clippings and other information on their service aboard and their community work when they came home.
It is the role of Post Historian that makes up most of Leclerc's work for the post today, and he and fellow members, Paul Comire, post adjutant, and Raymond Plante, a Vietnam veteran who joined the post when Leclerc became a member, are just completing a project on Manville's role in the Civil War.
Plante, a Civil War buff, couldn't resist getting involved in the project that has traced the service of 18 Manville men in Civil War.
One of the village's soldiers, Warren L. Vose, died during the first Battle of Bull Run and Leclerc plans to unveil the group's findings during a special program at the post this summer.
“We just want to make people aware that 150 years ago there were people living in this village that went off to serve in that war,” he said.
Robert Seaton, a member of the Army for two years during Vietnam, and an active Air Force reservist for the next 39 years, said he would like to see more of the current class of war veterans showing up at the post than the Post 9 is seeing at the moment. “We try to bring them in, we have had open houses, but I think many of them are still busy raising their families,” he said.
Comire, like Leclerc, believes it is important for the members who already belong to the Post to keep it going so those who served will be remembered.
“I think I would say the same thing as Bob, it's about the community service,” he said. “When veteran wants to come here and join us, he will be welcomed. If you are a veteran, you have a lot in common with us,” he said. “Things don't change. We all went through the same things,” Comire said.

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