Oviedo’s iconic American Legion Post enriches veterans, youth, and the community
American Legion Post 243 in Oviedo... you’ve probably driven by it hundreds of times, but you may have no idea about the group that meets there regularly or what they do.
Right next to Oviedo High School on State Road 426, the Post has been there since 1957, says Bill Mitchem, Post 243’s current commander. It’s where hundreds of U.S military veterans have quietly and consistently built a tradition of community service and local connectedness. And despite its rich history, Post 243 is still growing, planning a major renovation, and building on its success.
The Post’s members serve other veterans and active military personnel, they mentor youth, advocate patriotism, and get actively involved in the community. Simply put, the American Legion Post is a hub of civic-minded engagement.
“The group was founded on those four pillars of service, and we have about 20 different programs,” says Bill.
Post officers and program chairs coordinate efforts such as Americanism, public relations, Scouting, and veterans’ affairs, routinely partnering with the City of Oviedo and Seminole County on a variety of initiatives.
History at Home
Chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion evolved from a group of World War I veterans and today includes 13,000 Posts worldwide.
“We’re a patriotic, historical organization,” says Bill.
The Oviedo Post is one of Florida’s fastest-growing, with membership up 58 percent since 2015, reports Del Burfitt, vice commander.
Del and Bill are both Army veterans. Bill says there is always good-natured ribbing among members regarding the military branches in which they served.
Allen Meldrum is Post 243’s only former Coast Guardsman and would love to see others from his branch join up.
“I wear my Coast Guard hat and talk to people about joining,” Allen says, “but they always seem to be from the Army or Navy. There are a good group of people here. Though we do kid each other about being in the different branches.”
“I’m an old Army guy – I have to pick on the Navy and Coast Guard guys,” Bill jokingly explains.
When together at Post 243, however, the members’ united mission is to be a positive community force.
Wreaths Across America
Every year, Post 243 takes part in the national Wreaths Across America initiative, honoring fallen soldiers on December 19. Post volunteers place decorated wreaths at soldiers’ gravesites at the Oviedo Cemetery to let the community and their families know that they are remembered not only on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, but always.
The Post also holds American flag retirement ceremonies. Community members can donate flags that are at the end of their usable life, and the flags will be burned in a respectful ceremony. Each flag’s brass grommets are recovered, washed, and kept, says Bill, and are given as a token of honor to other American Legion members or visiting Cub Scouts, for example.
“I tell them to put it on their key chain so they can always have it with them,” says Allen.
Post 243 offers a number of college scholarships and partners with youth groups to sponsor a variety of activities.
Another American Legion Post in the area organizes the local Girls State program, and Post 243 runs the Boys State program for students interested in law, government, law enforcement, or politics. High-school juniors can apply to Boys or Girls State to enjoy a weeklong trip to Tallahassee to learn at Florida’s Capitol Complex and stay at Florida State University.
“If you apply for acceptance to a military academy, they ask if you were a member of Boys or Girls State,” Bill says. “We see these kids in January, when we select them, and don’t see them again until September at our Boys State Appreciation Dinner. We see such a change in them, with more confidence. We’re proud of them.”
The American Legion also runs the National Oratorical Contest, in which high-school students present a speech related to the U.S. Constitution. The winner nets a $25,000 scholarship.
In addition to these programs, free on-site counseling by the Orlando Mobile Vet Center, bloodmobile drives, and much more make the American Legion Post a valued hub. Other community groups use the Post building for their meetings and activities, as well.
Building a Better Post
Situated on 1.5 acres, American Legion Post 243 is planning a $200,000 building expansion in 2021. The Post, which can now accommodate 55 people at a time, plans to add about 1,000 square feet while renovating the kitchen and adding handicapped-accessible restrooms.
With major fundraisers coming up, the Post looks forward to having a larger venue to continue serving its valued community.
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