GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks is rolling out the red, white and blue carpet this weekend with events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people may be participating in “Patriotism in the Park” activities taking place Saturday at Gambucci Arena, the Alerus Center and Kraft Field, said Dennis Almer, Legionnaire and one of the event planners.
The events are taking place in connection with the North Dakota American Legion convention being held Thursday through Sunday at the Alerus Center. About 400 people are expected to attend the convention, Almer said.
Opening ceremonies for “Patriotism in the Park” are set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Williamson Park, east of Gambucci Arena, 1122 Seventh Ave. S., followed by a parade which starts at Lincoln Park Drive and zigzags north and west through the city’s southside neighborhood on its way to Williamson Park.
The Grand Forks American Legion Post 6 and the Grand Forks Park District are coordinating the activities.
Dignitaries who are expected to participate in the event include Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and staff members from the offices of North Dakota U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, reading messages from the senators; Bill Oxford, leading candidate for the role of national commander of the American Legion; Lt. Colonel Matthew Carman, battalion commander of the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery; and Col. Cameron Pringle, who assumes command of Grand Forks Air Force Base on Friday.
The Grand Forks Air Force Base Color Guard will present the colors at opening ceremonies and will lead the parade, said Bob Greene, commander for Grand Forks American Legion Post 6.
The North Dakota American Legion Band and the Heartland String Quartet will be performing.
All venues and games are free and open to the public.
Prior to the 9 a.m. opening ceremonies, walkers, who will assemble at Ninth Street South and Seven Avenue and walk to Williamson Park, will include veterans, members of the American Legion, Sons of Legionnaires and the American Legion Auxiliary and baseball players who will be competing in the games from noon to 5 p.m. at Kraft Field in Grand Forks.
There likely will be a tribute to the seven American Legion motorcyclists, all Marine veterans, who were killed in a vehicular accident on Friday in New Hampshire, according to Almer.
The group, called “Jarheads,” included members from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont who were headed to a fundraising event in Gorham, N.H., Almer said.
Year of planning
Planning for this weekend’s events, including the American Legion’s centennial celebration, started nearly a year ago, according to Greene.
The American Legion was founded nationally, and in Grand Forks, in 1919, after being organized in spring 1919 by homesick American soldiers, members of the First Expeditionary Force in Paris, near the close of World War I in Europe.
Locally, membership in the Grand Forks American Legion Post 6 has grown in recent years to about 460, Greene said.
“We have a very active post in Grand Forks," he said.
The purpose of the American Legion is to provide an outlet for military personnel readjusting to civilian life and to socialize with other veterans, perform charity work and continue to serve their communities through volunteer activities, such as baseball tournaments and at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
Coordinated by the American Legion and the Grand Forks Park District, Saturday’s celebration is meant to be a community celebration, Greene said.
“We want to strengthen families and build communities,” he said. “We want to recognize the strong patriotism that the community of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota exhibits.”