American Legion post in Ohio seeks new start after Memorial Day controversy
HUDSON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) After the fallout from an incident at a Memorial Day ceremony temporarily halted the organization's operation, the members of American Legion's Hudson post are working to get the veterans group back on track.
American Legion Department of Ohio Cmdr. Roger Friend temporarily suspended the charter of Hudson Lee-Bishop American Legion Post 464 on June 4, four days after a veteran's mic got cut while he spoke at a Memorial Day ceremony in Hudson about Black Americans' role in the history of the holiday.
The charter for Post 464 was suspended after the state Legion said its investigation found that Jim Garrison, then-adjutant and treasurer of Post 464, and Cindy Suchan, then-president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, "intentionally censored Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, US Army (Ret.) during his Memorial Day speech hosted by American Legion Post 464."
Garrison and Suchan resigned from their leadership roles at Friend's request.
Post members, along with Friend and several officers from the state Legion office, met June 24 at the American Legion Streetsboro Post 685 to discuss the future of Post 464. A message left for Friend was not returned by press time.
Suzette Heller, adjutant for the American Legion Department of Ohio, said "quite a few people" signed up for membership and some of the leadership roles were filled.
Before he resigned, Garrison was serving as adjutant and treasurer of Post 464. Heller said new people were installed in those roles, but said she did not have the names of the new leaders.
"They're on the right track with getting the post back on track," Heller said. "... They had expressed that they were upset about what had happened and now members are paying attention to what's going on with the leadership of the post and how they interact with the community."
Clark Wonderland will continue to serve as commander of the post, Heller said. Wonderland hung up the phone when he was contacted by a Beacon Journal reporter for comment.
'Not fair to punish the entire post'
Heller said her office is reviewing information about the new leaders and added that the suspension of the post's charter could be lifted as soon as July 8 when the state Legion's executive committee meets.
"We really don't want to see a post close," Heller said.
The state Legion's investigation determined only Garrison and Suchan were involved in cutting Kemter's microphone as he spoke at the Memorial Day program in Markillie Cemetery, she said.
Heller said it was "not fair to punish the entire post when this is not the mindset of the entire post," and noted there are many people in Hudson who did not want the post to close.
"They've witnessed a lot of benefits from the post," Heller said. "The post is a staple in their community that does a lot of good and has a lot of history."
More officers are expected to be appointed at the post's next meeting July 21, which will again happen at the Streetsboro post.
Not all pleased with response
Peter Loal, a life Post 464 member who attended the meeting on June 24, said in a letter to the editor he was disappointed that some members at the gathering appeared to be "brushing over" the mic-cutting incident.
Loal said while he hopes the post survives, he believed the organization "[has] not addressed removing the cancer that caused the problem, or have taken the incident seriously."
Due to what he heard at the meeting, Loal said he has decided to leave the Hudson post.
Hudson Mayor Craig Shubert said he's pleased that the state Legion leadership is giving Post 464 "a second chance, under new leadership, to continue representing and serving our military veterans."
The mayor said he hoped that Post 464 would continue to operate and be a key component in the community.
"What happened on Memorial Day can never happen again," Shubert said. "Our military has fought and died for our right to free expression. It is a cherished freedom and while we may not agree with someone's viewpoint, they have a right to share it. My hope is this will be a new beginning for the Hudson legion post, whereby veterans who may not have been actively involved will now step forward to help restore its status and rightful place in our community."
Silenced veteran offers to speak in Hudson again
Kemter himself said he would like to see both Hudson American Legion Post 464 and the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary continue to operate. He said he would be "honored" to speak if those groups decided they wanted to have him deliver another speech at a ceremony.
The state Legion office also has asked Garrison and Suchan to give up their membership with their respective organizations, but Heller noted, "we can't remove them as members."
She explained that Post 464 would have to file a complaint against Garrison and the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary would have to do the same against Suchan to start the removal process.
Hudson American Legion Auxiliary still operating
Meanwhile, the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary is still operating under a separate charter with new leadership, according to Kelly Gibson, department secretary-executive director of the American Legion Auxiliary of Ohio.
As of Wednesday, Gibson said she could not provide the name of the new president because the state office had not yet received a certification of officers from the Hudson auxiliary.
Kristen McLaughlin, president of the American Legion Auxiliary of Ohio, said her office kept the Hudson auxiliary's charter in place to give the organization a chance to regroup. She said her office did not ask Suchan to relinquish her membership in the Hudson auxiliary.
Gibson said further steps would be discussed when her office's executive committee meets during the Legion's state convention July 8-10.
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