The swirling banner outside a swanky, maroon building in Butte on Saturday said it all: “Happy Birthday American Legion and Butte-Silver Bow Post #1. 1919 — 2019.”
Actually, it was a three-for-one event.
Members of the Butte American Legion not only celebrated the national veteran organization’s centennial birthday and the 100th birthday of Silver Bow Post 1, they also formally ushered in their new building at 3201 Wynne Ave.
The Legion moved from its old building on Motor View Road near the airport to their new digs in February, but on Saturday, they held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house that more than 100 folks attended.
“It has been a dream come true,” said Post Commander Pat Sweeney. “In the old building, all of our socials and things were upstairs and it seemed like the steps were 6 inches wide.
“There are a lot of seniors now who had a tough time getting up there, but we were also noticing a lot of our younger veterans who were coming back in worse shape than we could have thought. This fits everyone on the same level.”
After the Honor Guard fired three volleys in the blustering wind outside and the ribbon was cut, everyone streamed into the large meeting hall area of the new, maroon building and joined Butte-Silver Bow Commissioner Cindi Shaw in singing the national anthem.
Legion member Mike Lawson then spoke about a single, empty table off to the left with a white table cloth and single red rose. It was for the missing soldier, he said, who is “unable to be home with his friends and family.”
The white cloth is symbolic of the purity of his intentions in going off to war, Lawson said, and the red rose signifies the blood he shed for the United States of America.
The ceilings in the main hall are 22 feet at their highest point and there are wooden, sliding doors at opposite ends that have a barn-like feel or the likeness of train box cars that took soldiers off to war.
The doors open into an annex area on one side and a canteen area on the other. The building also has numerous windows to let in natural light, a commercial-sized kitchen and a large, covered patio outside overlooking a baseball field.
As Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, reminded those packed into the meeting hall Saturday, the organization sponsors American Legion baseball and numerous other state and local causes.
The building was designed by Butte architect Steve Hinick.
“The idea I wanted to get across with the exterior and the interior was it’s new, it’s young and they need more members,” Hinick said.
The post has about 200 members now but is always looking for more.
Sweeney urged people to look into the Legion or other veteran’s organizations. The Legion has more than 2 million members worldwide, he noted.
“There are just so many things we do,” he said. “We encourage you to get involved so you can make a difference like us.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., was on hand Saturday and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana had aides read congratulatory statements from them.
Gianforte drew laughs when he noted that the new building “is definitely an upgrade” from the old one. He then had Legion members give themselves a hand for their 100 years.
“We have a debt we can never fully repay you,” he said.
There were several current or former local officials on hand, too, including Palmer and Shaw, former Chief Executive Paul Babb, City Judge Jerome McCarthy and Fire Chief Jeff Miller.
Former District Judge Jack Whelan, a longtime supporter of the Legion and American Legion Baseball in Butte, also was there and drew loud applause when introduced.
The acoustics inside the hall are fantastic and the walls are covered in old photographs, some dating back to the beginning in 1919. Many show Legion members in Butte, some are of soldiers headed out of town to that era’s war.
In one room, there’s a copy of the first caucus of the American Legion held in Paris in March 1919 — not yet a year removed from the “war to end all wars” — World War I.
Eileen Greb, a Navy veteran and chaplain of the local post, said you don’t have to be a Legion member to visit.
“We have a brand new building that we want to show off to everyone,” she said.