For more than 75 years, Ocean Beaches American Legion Post 129 in South Jacksonville Beach has been a pillar of the Beaches community. Whether it’s hosting blood drives, collecting school supplies or supporting veterans and their families, its members have contributed countless hours of their time and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Legion and its program and services.
Founded in 1919, The American Legion was chartered by Congress as a patriotic veterans organization focusing on serving military veterans, service members and their communities. Since then, the organization, which includes The American Legion Auxiliary and The American Legion Riders, has grown to 2 million members with more than 13,000 posts worldwide. With its efforts resulting in the establishment of the Veterans Administration and passage of the GI Bill of Rights, as well playing a vital role in the growth of the National Heart Association and founding of the National Association for Mental Health, The American Legion is considered one of the most influential nonprofits in the nation. It’s also the country’s largest wartime and veterans service organization.
As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a police officer for more than 20 years, Joe Maichle knows all too well the value of The American Legion to servicemen and women and their families. He recalls one particular experience while volunteering at an event for a local veterans support group when he was introduced to a vet in a hallway.
“I stood there and talked to him, and he started crying … He was so happy that I just listened … that he knew somebody who had been there could equate to what he was saying,” said Maichle, who is in his fifth year as commander of Post 129 and also serves as vice commander of Florida’s 5th District. “I was glad to to be there, but it was tough. It’s hard to listen sometimes. It’s even harder to talk about it.”
That sense of camaraderie, Maichle said, is one of the greatest losses veterans experience after leaving the military. Fostering those connections is one of the post’s main objectives.
“American Legion is, as we call it, just a family, and we try to take care of our own,” he continued. “Our post has got a reputation of being the friendliest post on the First Coast. I’ve had people from other posts from outside the state come in and say they could not believe how they were welcomed and how it was easy to talk the people there.”
As part of their commitment to fostering fellowship, Post 129 makes special efforts to engage younger servicemen and women. All too aware of the stereotypes about members who socialize at a Legion post—“a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking and smoking” talking about World War II, Korea and Vietnam—Maichle invites younger members to visit the post to meet others their age, even those with children. (His three granddaughters, all under the age of 12, are already members of the American Legion Auxiliary, which is open to male and female spouses, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and direct and adopted female descendants of members of The American Legion). He also encourages members of all ages and backgrounds to interact—for the common good.
“Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide because of the perils of what they see and what they’re involved in when they go to war or when they’re involved in the military outside the country,” he said. “ is some place somebody can go to talk.”