At the American Legion Continental Post 1424, located at 107-15 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills, Mike Casella is the man in charge, and assembling a young active group is his number one goal.
“Right now, we have a good membership and we're looking to grow,” said Casella, a borough operation superintendent with the Department of Sanitation. “We’re all working men, we’re all family men, we’re all community leaders and everything we do revolves around the family.”
Members of the SAL family, who range in age from 15 to 75, take care of the hundreds of veterans who frequent the Post in Forest Hills with fundraisers and dinners.
“The sons are about keeping the Post alive, because the guys that proceeded us are starting to go,” Casella said.
Just as the veterans are starting to go, the members of SAL have also faded over the years. Where there were once around 50 members, the family has been whittled down to just 12.
“It’s not that we’re losing them, but many of them have moved away to go to some place different and they’re still involved,” he said.
Casella, whose grandfather fought in WWII, thinks the main reason the group’s numbers are so low is the community doesn’t know how to get involved.
“If you’re someone’s son that was in the military, grandson or in some connection, some way shape or form, and got honorably discharged, you’re eligible to join the American Legion,” he said. “A lot of people are under the misconception they can’t join the Sons of the American Legion because they weren’t part of the military,”
Vincent Casella, 15, is the youngest member of SAL and joined to spend time with his father and also give back to the community.
“It’s good to remember all the people who fought for you, going as far back as my grandfather,” he said. “I get to spend time with my father and I get to remember everyone who did their civic duty and it’s a great way to show my commemoration for it.”
Vietnam War veteran Gene Burch, 69, is the Forest Hills Legion Post chairman.
“What they do is they help us, because we’re all getting old,” Burch said of the other veterans. “Now we have the kids shipped in to help them out.”
Burch is optimistic though, and says Casella has a grasp on what it takes to command the group and generate a younger more vibrant family.
“After a while they didn’t exist and then Mike got involved,” Burch said. “He’s a real doer.”
John Burns, 75, is past commander of the Sons from 1995 to 1998 and the son of a WWI veteran and the oldest member of SAL.
“My father was in the 74th Aero Squadron and he was stationed in France and he didn’t come home, “ Burns remembered.
Although he is the oldest of the group, Burns, who served between the Vietnam and Korean wars, takes care of those who fought to give back and stay active in the military community.
“The importance of the Legion to me is the community and most of all, the veterans,” he said. “It is for the members of the armed forces to be helped and rehabilitated in anyway they can.”
The group will host a Pasta Night on June 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Post, with all-you-can-eat meatballs, sausage and unlimited beer, wine and soda for $10.
“My mom makes the sauce, I help her make the meatballs and I make the sausage,” Casella said. “It’s basically a family function.”
To become a member, Casella invites all the sons and grandsons of American veterans to join the group at any of their meetings at the Post on the second Monday of the month at 8 p.m.
“You don’t have to call,” he said. “Just show up and we’d be glad to include you in the meeting. We don’t exclude anybody.”