American Legion honors commander for 50 years of service

Bill O’Neal of Norwood, commander of Walter B. Hill American Legion Post 76, was recently honored by the organization’s national leadership for 50 years of dedicated service.

Having just completed his first year as Post 76 commander, O’Neal has been an active and involved member at all three posts he has served.

“I started out in Charlotte as a member of Post 380,” he said, “and a few years later moved to Paw Creek Post 353.”

The Paw Creek post had dwindled in membership and was in need of what O’Neal described as “a rebuilding process,” which he and a few remaining members took on immediately.

“The post had fallen behind on some payments and on its taxes, and was in danger of being shut down,” he said. “So we started doing some fundraising events, most notably a Saturday night square dance. Through those events, we were able to catch up financially and build membership.”

O’Neal’s penchant for rebuilding continued after he and his wife Betty moved to Stanly County, where he joined Post 76.

“At that time, the post had been involved in a legal dispute over land, and had depleted its funds in the process of winning the legal battle,” he said. “There were only a few members at the time, and we set out to attract new members and raise funds.”

O’Neal credited long-time Post 76 member and commander Cal Massengale as a key partner in reviving the post.

“Cal helped us start and continue a rebuilding process over a period of eight years, and he’s still my ‘right-hand man,’ ” he said.

The process included improvements and increased programming at the Stanly County Fairgrounds and Event Facility on old U.S. Highway 52 just south of Albemarle, which Post 76 operates.

The improvements are ongoing, said O’Neal.

“We are re-doing our arena there, and we have plans to add a demolition derby track,” he said. “Plus, we are keeping the events center booked as well.”

Along with the programs and exhibits currently offered, the American Legion’s purposes, primarily community service and veterans affairs, are a constant focus of the Post 76 members.

“We are dedicated to serving veterans in Stanly and surrounding counties,” O’Neal said, citing several examples.

“At Christmas we delivered bags of candy to the VA hospital, and we delivered fruit baskets to the families of veterans who had passed away in the last year,” he said. “We also were able to procure a donation of a motorized scooter for one of our disabled veterans in the area.”

Future plans include continued development of facilities and programs which will increase awareness of what Post 76 does for the community.

“We encourage all veterans, especially our younger veterans, to join us,” O’Neal said.