The Hayes-Velhage Post 96 Story
When our country entered the Great War in 1917, 314 young men from West Hartford answered their country's call to service and went off to war in France. Twenty-three of these young men did not come back. Of these, two have come to symbolize the rest - Waldo C. Hayes and Francis B. Velhage for whom our Post is named.
Of these two symbolic casualties, Hayes was born in Avon, but grew up on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. A basketball star at Hall High School, he worked in M. J. Burnham's Grocery Store and belonged to Troop B at the West Hartford Armory. He was one of the first to go overseas. He died on October 23, 1917 from wounds received in enemy action. A week after the Armistice, when his family was expecting a cable from him he saying he was safe, they received instead the terse telegram from the War Department: "We regret to inform you… " From the other end of town came Frank Velhage, who grew up on his grandfather's Oakwood Avenue farm. When war came, he volunteered for the Navy, serving on the battleship USS South Carolina (BB 26). In a shipboard accident, Frank Velhage was badly crushed and died in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital on September 11, 1917.
In 1922, thirty-four veterans of the World War formed Hayes-Velhage Post 96, The American Legion. The charter members set out to build a Post Home. They completed construction of the Post Home on Memorial Road in 1929.
As events turned out, the world had not been made altogether safe for democracy by the sacrifice of those who served. A generation later, West Hartford youth again was called to take up arms, and 103 were to give their lives for their country in World War II.
When the Japanese flew over Pearl Harbor, a West Hartford pilot, Gordon Sterling, rose with others from Wheeler Field to challenge the enemy. In this first blaze of the conflict, a West Hartford man made the final sacrifice, and the town's major sports field, Sterling Field, is named to honor his memory.
The return to West Hartford of thousand of veterans from World War II drove the membership rolls of Hayes-Velhage Post 96 to record numbers. The World War I veterans gradually passed the baton of leadership to this new generation of veterans.
The Post welcomed veterans from the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and the Gulf Wars; and the Global War on Terrorism that started when we were attacked on September 11,2001.
In 2007, Post 96 sold our Post Home on Memorial Road and relocated to 45 Raymond Road in Blue Back Square.