American Legion Marys River Post 100 adjutant Clay Thompson offers a "thank you" and a handshake whenever he spots a veteran.
Not long ago, Thompson and his wife were sitting in a vehicle in the Philomath Dairy Queen parking lot when a man wearing an Air Force cap walked past the car. He quickly rolled down a window and thanked the man for serving.
The veteran realized Thompson was with the American Legion.
"He says, 'I wish we had one close to where I live' and I said, 'where do you live?' He says, 'right here in Philomath,'" Thompson recalled from the conversation.
Thompson handed the man his card, told him when and where the meetings take place and asked him to join.
"I called him a couple of times to remind him," Thompson said. "He's been coming ever since."
That's not the only story that Thompson can share about people not realizing that there is an American Legion post in Philomath.
"We aren't going to fold," Thompson said, a declaration he wanted to make clear because several other small posts around the country have struggled and disbanded. "Our post has been alive and well since we got our charter in 1977."
Membership in Marys River Post 100 now stands at 36 members, down from last year's 42 because six died — five of those veterans of World War II and another who served during the Vietnam War.
"That's the attrition rate that's happening right now," Thompson said. "We're losing all of our World War II guys."
The Philomath post has six World War II veterans remaining, including locals Charlie Hall, Clement Arnold, Wayne Giesy and Ray Wiser. The other two live out of state (veterans can choose any home post no matter where they live) — David Moline in Idaho and James Lancaster in California.
World War II veterans are at least in their late 80s with most in their 90s and older.
Thompson said Hall has the longest active membership at 27 years with Arnold also up to 26 or 27. Most members are Vietnam veterans but others who served during the Korean War, in the Lebanon/Grenada conflicts and in the Persian Gulf.
Elwin Callahan, Marys River Post 100 commander, described the 71-year-old Thompson as "the driving force of the post." It took Thompson two years to recruit Callahan.
"I wasn't sure what the feel was for the organization to start with, exactly the purpose," Callahan said while thinking back to his introduction to the Legion. "The more I looked around, that's what really came out — the Legion exists to help other veterans."
The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans organization with 2.2 million members in approximately 13,000 posts. The Legion dates back to 1919, has its headquarters in Indianapolis and was the organization that was most instrumental in getting the original GI Bill through Congress as well as creating the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Among the local Legion post's fundraisers is a raffle each summer during the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo. The organization also brings in money through business card advertising in its newsletter and Thompson said a certain portion of the dues comes back to the post.
"Every Christmas, we donate money to the PYAC (Philomath Youth Activities Club), the food bank, June's Kids Kloset, Gleaners and Oddfellows," Thompson said.
The Legion post holds its meetings on the first Wednesday of each month, except in June and July, at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows' building on the corner of North 13th and College streets.
"We have two electric wheelchairs and we're looking for someone who needs them," Thompson said. "I have sources for getting crutches, canes and stuff like that for anybody that needs anything. I'm a member of the ALR, the American Legion Riders in Albany, and we have a room full of that stuff."
Thompson and Callahan urged any veterans who have a need to get in touch. Even if the local organization can't help, he said "We'll get them going in the right direction."