BARTOW – To mark the 100th anniversary of the American Legion – and the 100th anniversary of the American Legion Post 3 in Bartow – the local chapter honored World War II veteran Bill Hand with a Quilt of Valor.
The event on Saturday, June 1, was held at the post, located at 1575 U.S. 17. The gathering was attended by Polk County veterans from different posts to celebrate the century old non-profit organization.
The American Legion was formed in May 1919. On Sept. 16, 1919, Congress chartered the American Legion. Later that year, Post 3 in Bartow was formed, named for Dr. Knowles Oglesby, a Bartow native who was killed in World War I while ministering to the wounded.
Post 3 was the first chartered post in Florida. Today, there are more than 2 million members and 13,000 posts nationwide.
Hand is the oldest member of Post 3 at 92 years old and he said receiving the Quilt of Valor was fabulous.
“I've seen one before, but I never thought I'd have one,” Hand said.
The mission of the Quilt of Valor Foundation, formed in 2002, is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.
Hand, a U.S. Navy veteran, served from 1944-1947. In World War II, he served in the South Pacific Ocean region as a frogman, one of the first in what has become the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team. Frogmen are divers who are sent on tactical assault missions and are also called combat divers.
Fellow World War II Navy veteran and Post 3 colleague John Oakley said, “Imagine yourself looking for explosives and going in with just a knife.”
Oakley added that Hand was a “significant icon” of the war, and of Post 3, of which he has been a member for more than a decade.
When he got back to the United States in 1947, Hand — a South Carolina native — and his wife, Barbara, moved to Bartow after visiting friends who lived here. Hand then worked for the Polk County Sheriff's Office for 29 years and Barbara was a high school history teacher in Fort Meade for more than 30 years. They were married for 37 years when she passed away.
The Quilt of Valor is a replication of the American flag and has the years of military service Hand served. It was made by JaNeanne Miles with help from Angie Gordon.
When presented with the flag he was wrapped in it and while his service to the nation is marked by this, Hand's humbleness remained intact.
“We did what we needed to do and got it done,” he said.