A Century Of Duty

A staple of the community is about to celebrate a century of operation.

Yankton’s American Legion Roy Anderson Post No. 12 turns 100 years old this July, but members will be celebrating its history Tuesday evening during the annual membership dinner. In addition to recognizing some of its members Tuesday, there will also be an appearance by South Dakota’s state Legion commander.  

This century of operational history is one that its members have put a lot of work into documenting and preserving in recent years.  

Post #12 historian Wayne Brandt said that his interest in the post’s history stemmed from a simple search for the group’s founding documents.

“I’ve been involved with the Legion for 10 years,” Brandt said. “About 2009 or 2010 I was elected commander and I was wondering, ‘Where’s our Post charter at? Where’s our temporary charter? Where’s everything at?’ Nobody knew. How it goes is, basically, whoever’s the adjutant gets everything and he’s the caretaker of it.”

But many of the Post’s historic items wouldn’t remain lost for long.

“One night, I got a call from a buddy of mine who’s a dual-member with the VFW,” he said. “He says, ‘Hey, they’ve got a box down here that belongs to (the Legion).’ I said, ‘What’s in it?’ He said, ‘You’ve just got to come down and look.’ First off, the box was labeled ‘VFW — Do Not Destroy.’ In that box happened to be our temporary charter, our Sons of the American Legion charter, most of the minutes from 1930-present, a couple of little fliers and membership cards. That was pretty interesting going through trying to find out different things, how they did business and what they did.”

He said the style of the minutes alone shows just how much had changed in the century that Post No. 12 has operated in Yankton.

“It was handwritten, then typed, then dot matrix and then now (done on) computers,” he said. “You can see how things evolved over the years.”

Brandt said that after the discovery of their past memorabilia, work began on preserving it.

“With our charters, we had them re-framed,” he said. “The frames were in bad shape. … That worked out pretty well.”

He said some of the early activities of the Legion post are, for the time being, lost to history.

“When we found the records, we’re missing the first 30 years of minutes, so we don’t know what happened,” he said.

The post is named after Roy Anderson, a member of the 4th South Dakota infantry and Yankton resident who lost his life in a non-combat-related accident on Aug. 2, 1917. When first chartered in 1919, Post No. 12 had 16 temporary charter members.

Post No. 12, which was first chartered July 7, 1919, and received its permanent charter May 6, 1931, has had a membership that’s included some of the most famous names in Yankton, including Yankton College coach Carl Youngworth, Sen. John Chandler “Chan” Gurney, former Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and current South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

The post has also produced four governors and five lieutenant governors at Boys State. One of those governors was Tom Brokaw in 1957.

Brandt said the Roy Anderson Post has continued a number of programs aimed at helping the community and the region.

“We’ve been very active in the community,” he said. “In 1992, Morris Wachendorf started the free grocery delivery to Yankton’s shut-ins, elderly and disabled. That’s still going strong. … Our current commander, Fran Johnson, started the sports equipment and bicycle collection that he has taken to St. Francis Indian School, Crow Creek, Santee, Marty, Lake Andes. Over the years since that’s been done, he’s collected hundreds of bicycles and all kinds of sports equipment from horseshoes, golf clubs, baseballs, baseball uniforms, bats, gloves, basketball hoops — anything sports related, he’s picked it up at one time or another.”

The Roy Anderson Post has also supports Boys State, scholarships and baseball.

Brandt said the post is somewhat of a mystery to some in the community.

“What’s confusing to a lot of people is they don’t know that there is an American Legion in town because don’t have our own Post Home,” he said. “We have our meetings at the VFW. Usually we have a Boys Stater come and a Girls Stater come and speak at our membership dinner on their experience at Boys or Girls State. It’s always funny because sometimes they’ll go, ‘I’d like to thank the VFW.’”

He said that has led to some drop in support for the cause.

“I think the support is there, but it’s not,” he said. “I feel as though we’re not as patriotic as we were. That’s just my feeling about it.”

Brandt said it was a great experience taking a look back at Post No. 12’s century in Yankton.

“It’s been an interesting adventure, so to speak,” he said. “I just wish I had more time to go through all of the minutes and really pick through and pick out the major highlights of what they did.”

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