Post 45 was named for Frank E. Huntzinger. He is pictured on a memorial wall that honors other veterans and fallen military.
Post 45 was named for Frank E. Huntzinger. He is pictured on a memorial wall that honors other veterans and fallen military.
Noblesville American Legion Frank E. Huntzinger Post 45 is the first American Legion post in Hamilton County, established on Sept. 2, 1919.
The post’s 100th anniversary will be observed this Saturday, with a public program at 2 p.m. and a meal and ice-cream social to follow, and a free concert Saturday night.
“Come help us celebrate,” said James Martin, 77, Noblesville, the post’s finance officer, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Martin, who along with Commander Rickie Woods, also a Vietnam veteran, invited me to sit down with them and learn more about the history of how their post came to be.
A history buff, Martin shuffled through copies of old Noblesville newspaper articles.
“I’m looking for Frank Huntzinger,” Martin said.
“So the story goes, he was the first young man from Hamilton County killed in World War I,” he said. “They named the Post in his honor.”
Huntzinger was born Nov. 18, 1886, in Wayne Township in Hamilton County, to Levi and Mary Huntzinger. His father owned a small farm. The 30-year-old Frank Huntzinger entered a first officers training camp at Fort Harrison in May 1917. His commission was a first lieutenant assigned a company of the 120th infantry. He went overseas in September 1917 and was killed a year later, in action on Sept. 29, 1918, near Bellicourt, France. He is buried in Dixie Cemetery in Bellicourt.
The first article that Martin found was from Saturday, Sept. 23, of 1916. It was a brief newspaper article about Huntzinger, then a guard at the Indiana State Prison, who was visiting Noblesville to see his parents. “He made the trip through on a motorcycle,” the article read.
Thankfully, that was considered news back then. These little details helped piece together the story of Huntzinger, for whom the Noblesville American Legion was named 100 years ago.
The American Legion was formed in France by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. in France on March 15, 1918, by delegates from combat and service units of the American Expeditionary Force. “The goal was originally, was to have an organization that promoted welfare amongst the veterans of World War I,” Martin said. “By the time it came back to the United States, they decided that everybody who had been involved in the war should be involved in the American Legion. And at that time, it wasn’t the American Legion yet; they didn’t have a name.” The American Legion got started in America in St. Louis, Mo., in May 1919, when the Legion was formally recognized by the troops who served in the United States. It was the St. Louis Caucus, often referred to as the “Raucous Caucus,” because “there was a lot of noise.” Lifetime charters were 50 cents or 25 cents annually, Martin said. The first convention was in 1920 in Minneapolis.
While the Legion was originally restricted to U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines who served honorably between April 6, 1917 and Nov. 11, 1918, today it’s open to anyone who has served at least one day of federal active duty and any active duty military. The Legion’s national headquarters is in Indianapolis.
Woods, the post’s 73rd commander, has been an officer for 20 of his 26 years in the Legion. It’s his seventh time to be the post commander. “We do a lot for the veterans,” Woods said.
But he didn’t join until 26 years ago. “I didn’t know I could be a member of the American Legion for a long time. I was a life member of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).” To join the VFW, you must be a veteran who honorable served overseas in an area of foreign conflict.
As of the first of August of 2019, to be a member of the American Legion, you must have served honorably in the U.S. military. There used to be periods that veterans weren’t eligible. That changed when President Donald Trump signed a bill on July 30 that declares the United States has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941, opening up a larger pool of veterans who can join the Legion.
Woods, 70, a Noblesville native and 1967 Noblesville High School graduate who has earned the Miller Fan of the Year twice, served in the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, from 1967-70, serving in Vietnam 1967-68, and reached the rank of E-4 Specialist.
Martin, who served in the U.S. Army 1965-67, including ‘66-67 in the 1st Calvary Division, grew up in southern Wisconsin and moved to Noblesville in 1998. While he’s been a member of the American Legion for 53 years, he joined the Noblesville post less than 20 years ago.
“I kept driving by the place, and the outside of this building was pretty shabby looking … I drove by it for almost four years. I finally walked in one day, and I actually met the commander at the door, as it turned out. I’ve been here ever since,” Martin said.
On the Noblesville Post Charter, there are 52 names, noted in a newspaper article entitled, “World War boys sign paper for local charter.”
Martin said, “They were trying to get a petition for a local charter.”
The first meeting was May 15, 1919, with the first representative Ralph Waltz, an attorney. First commander was John H. Ale, a first lieutenant in World War II and a recipient of a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest U.S. Army military award. Vice commander was William Cottingham.
The name of the post would be Hamilton County Post of World War Veterans. Then when a petition was signed Aug. 25, 1919, and a Noblesville charter was issued Sept. 2, 1919, with the official name Frank Huntzinger.
Huntzinger’s descendant Johann Georg Huntzinger came to this country in 1949. In 1916, Huntsinger is spelled with a “z.” The first charter has it spelled “Huntsinger” with an “s,” in 1919. But in the 1960s, Huntzinger’s great niece got word to the Noblesville post sharing that the original spelling was with a “z,” so that’s how it’s written today, despite being an “s” on the original charter.
“We are Post 45 (45th in the state), the oldest post in Hamilton County,” Martin said.
The first regular meeting of the post was at 8 p.m. Monday evening, Sept. 22, 1919.
“The charter issued by the national organization is now in the hands of the local officers. The officers will be chosen and a name selected,” Martin said the article read.
The first meeting was in the Hamilton County Courthouse in Noblesville.
“Back then, everybody met in the Courthouse,” Martin said.
“Several years later, they decided they wanted their own space.” So they moved to the Wild Opera House on South Ninth Street. Unable to afford the space, they returned to the Courthouse.
The Legion later met at an old log cabin at Forest Park until June 7, 1944, when the Legion bought a small house at 1094 Conner St., where the current building sits. “They each threw in a hundred bucks,” Martin said. “I imagine it was $1,300 or $1,400.”
But he couldn’t confirm, because no financial records exist from that time period.
Next door was an Eagles lodge, which the Legion bought and is now a grassy area with a flagpole, cannon, Prisoner of War-Missing in Action monument and Frank Huntzinger memorial wall.
“They started this building with just the basement,” Martin said of the lower level that opened in the mid 1950s. “There was a huge walk-in cooler, a full bar with about 15 bar stools and bathrooms.”
Back then, Noblesville’s Firestone Industrial Products had 1,700 employees, Martin said. On a Friday morning, after the night shift got all work, at 8 a.m., “it would be three deep at the bar,” Martin said. “This would have been a raucous place. At one time, they had three slot machines in here. It was probably a different environment than today.” It would have also been a “Friday night bar” because everybody got their paycheck on Friday.
The Noblesville American Legion is open to the public on Saturdays. Guests can eat, play bingo and gamble but can’t buy alcohol, which is restricted for purchase to a member who signs in his or her guest.
The Legion moved into the main level at Christmas 1958. The building hasn’t changed much over the years. Although there are recent attractive blue awnings installed.
Today, the Noblesville post has a little over 400 members in the (Noblesville) Legion, a little over a hundred members in the Sons of the American Legion and a hundred plus in the (Legion) Auxiliary. The women’s auxiliary started June 18, 1921, with the chairman of the committee as Mrs. John Ale.
The VFW and the Legion formed a joint color guard, and re-outfited about 20 members, who have done about 50 events so far this year.
The VFW and American Legion in Noblesville have a joint meeting every two months and join together to put 1,000 flags, the most ever, at the cemeteries this year. They take care of 40 needy families, who take them shopping, do a children’s giving tree at Christmas. They have built ramps for people.
Martin said, “We try to make the world a better place to live and try to make people’s lives a little bit better. If we can give a little bit of happiness.”
He gets satisfaction from helping others. Martin said, “It is an incredible sense that we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”
He and Woods hope that the community will come out and help them celebrate on Saturday.
Martin said, “To think something has lasted a hundred years is amazing to me … Any institution to last one hundred years in today’s world is amazing to me.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.