McDaniel makes local history as legion post commanderWith her right hand raised, Barb McDaniel made local history Friday night as she was sworn in as commander of the Lockman-Jensen American Legion Post 499 in Gordon.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
With her right hand raised, Barb McDaniel made local history Friday night as she was sworn in as commander of the Lockman-Jensen American Legion Post 499 in Gordon. The U.S. Navy veteran is the first female commander of the post since it was chartered in 1948, and the first female commander ever in Douglas County.
“It’s not a unique thing,” said Kelly Barnes, a member of Post 499 and recently elected 12-district commander for the region. “It is for our post, but not statewide.”
He pointed out the state’s first female commander took charge of the Wisconsin Rapids post in 1972.
McDaniel has been with the Gordon post 10 years, serving as an officer at both the local and district level. She is active in the legion’s honor guard and youth programs. The Hawthorne woman even stops by Superior every Friday to take part in remembering fallen veterans through the Flag of Honor Program.
“Barb is very active and she’s well qualified for the job,” Barnes said.
McDaniel joined the WAVES in 1959 when her lack of rhythm prevented her from becoming a physical education teacher. Joining the service also appealed to her sense of adventure.
“I wanted to see the world,” McDaniel said. “I got to see a good share of it.”
She served on active duty as a photographer from 1959-64 and as a member of the Navy Reserves from 1978-99.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. And she applauded steps that have created more equality for women in the military.
Today, Barnes said, women make up nearly 27 percent of active military personnel. McDaniel’s sister, Air Force veteran and fellow post member Nancy Chamberland, was not surprised to get a female commander.
“Women are in the post as well as the men,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, if she’s able to handle it – just fine.”
Charter member Mert Warner agreed.
“I think it’s great,” he said.
McDaniel is a proven leader. While serving as an assistant section leader, she had 30 men working for her.
“There was no discrimination,” she said. “When you were the senior petty officer, you took the responsibility.
She is hoping that carries over to her local leadership, but she promised to be open to suggestions.
“If somebody dislikes what I’m doing or thinking, OK, try to convince me to change and please be polite,” McDaniel said.
One of the things the new commander would like to start is a Sons of American Legion group. While wives, daughters, mothers and aunts of veterans can join the post auxiliary, men are not allowed. As more women enter the military, that leaves their sons, husbands and fathers with no group to call their own.
“If we had an SAL squadron, we would have membership eligibility for the entire family,” McDaniel said.
According to outgoing commander Dean Nesley, there needs to be enough interested members to form such a group.
“We need to have more young people first,” he said. “That’s all that’s holding us back.”
For the next two years, McDaniel will be in charge of the post and its myriad activities. The legion leads both the Gordon Good Neighbor Days and Solon Spring Voyageur Days parades. Their Memorial Day activities include visiting six cemeteries and leading programs in Gordon and Solon Springs. The group sends youth to the Badger Boys program, taking place this week, and visits veterans at Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center. They judge oration contests, provide scholarships, mark graves, provide an honor guard for funerals and find time to sell raffle tickets to raise money. Their honor guard served as the rifle squad for the state Memorial Day ceremony at the Spooner Veterans Cemetery this year. Friday, they invited Solon Springs Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts to join them in a flag retirement ceremony before their monthly meeting. The youth partnered with legion members to respectfully burn the flags.
“Everybody works together in Gordon,” said Mert Warner, a charter member of the post.
The small town, population 500, is home to the 227-member post. It was once the largest in the district, but has since been surpassed.
As the World War II veterans continue to pass away, a younger generation has stepped in to keep the post vibrant.
“Now we are bringing in more Vietnam (veterans), Korean and Vietnam,” McDaniel said. When they returned to the U.S., they were not treated like honorable citizens, she said. Now they are reaching out to veterans organizations to help.
“This year, the majority of the national officers, district officers and post commanders are Vietnam era,” Barnes said. “It’s a good thing. It took a long time.”
Even younger members are starting to trickle in. Friday, Joe Jondreau of Solon Springs joined Post 499. The leader of Cub Scout Pack 256 served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War. Although his work schedule with the Canadian National railroad doesn’t leave him much time, joining the post has been on his “to do” list for some time.
“It’s part of my responsibility to help out,” he said, although he didn’t realize how many options he’d have.
“They do more than I thought,” Jondreau said.
And they are moving forward with a woman at the helm.