The American Legion national organization and the American Legion Leo C. Peterson Post 54 in Red Wing are both celebrating 100 years of service to communities and veterans this year.

The local centennial event, which is open to Legion members and their invited guests, will be held Saturday, Sept. 14, at Post 54, according to Post Commander Darwin Christofferson.

The timing for the event is good, because President Trump signed the Legion Act on July 30 which changed the eligibility for membership in the American Legion. The American Legion was created by an act of Congress which required that military personnel served during certain years and in specific theaters of war to be eligible for membership. That meant that many veterans who served during undeclared periods of war did not quality.

“With this new law, anyone who served from Dec. 7, 1941, until now is eligible,” Christofferson said. “We want to welcome all those fellow veterans who were unable to join the Legion before to come and enjoy a day at the Post.”

The Red Wing celebration will begin with a short program at 4 p.m. featuring Daniel Ludwig of Red Wing, past national commander of the American Legion. During 1995-96 when Ludwig was national commander, the American Legion had 2.8 million members. That year, he visited 45 states and 15 countries.

“The list of activities was amazing,” Ludwig said. “I met Pope John Paul and was in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton.”

Ludwig served from 1964-1972 in the U.S. Navy on nuclear submarines, often working as a scuba diver to make repairs to ships. Even though he served during the Vietnam era, he had scarce access to news reports, because “I never sailed in the Pacific. When we were at sea, we would spend eight to 10 weeks underwater.”

After the speaker and program, “We will have a DJ from 4 to 6:30 and a band from 7 to 9,” Christofferson said. “There will be music, food, and plenty of beverages.”

Christofferson will also take time to acknowledge members who have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts.

“We want to have them stand up, so we can congratulate them,” he said. “We want to recognize their time, their service, and their support of the Post.”

The local American Legion Post was named after Leo C. Peterson, a Red Wing soldier who died in combat during World War I. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
The local American Legion Post was named after Leo C. Peterson, a Red Wing soldier who died in combat during World War I. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

The Leo C. Peterson American Legion Post 54 was named in 1922 after a Red Wing soldier killed in World War I. The Post has been in its current building since 1973. There are 450 members, according to Christofferson, and one of their deceased members, William C. Christianson, served as a judge at the Nurnberg Military Tribunals following World War II, a story told in depth in the Progress Edition of the Republican Eagle last March.

“To have a member like that in your Post history is very special, very unique,” Ludwig said.

Christofferson said he is excited to celebrate 100 years of the American Legion, and he added that “it’s very important to us that other people are now eligible. We are hoping we can get new members to join our post.”