Calvin Johnson teased Paul Neuss as the American Legion Tukwila Post volunteers helped package Christmas gifts recently in Renton for patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle.
“You’re just a kid,” Johnson, 85, said to Neuss, who had just told a reporter his age was 66.
Johnson and Neuss were among several volunteers who prepared to box up gifts to be sent across the nation to family members of VA Medical Center patients. They were at the Renton to post to help the American Legion Auxiliary, the women’s branch of the legion, that runs the annual Christmas Gift Shop for the hospital.
“The idea is we’re providing a service to people in need and hospitalized and who can’t do it for themselves,” Neuss said. “This is a small price to pay and we get to work around friends.”
Patients at the hospital cannot get out to go Christmas shopping. But members of the American Legion Auxiliary visit with the patients who pick out gifts they want sent to family members.
“It’s all free to the veteran,” Neuss said of the program that’s existed for more than 50 years.
The project became a bit more difficult this year because the legion had to set up its gift shop at the Renton post rather than the hospital, which is being remodeled.
But the volunteers still made sure the gifts of clothing, jewelry, cologne, binoculars, shavers, calculators and many other items were sent out earlier this month.
“The fact is there’s veterans up there who don’t have anything,” said Johnson, a member of the 30th Infantry Division in World War II in Germany. “Legion is veterans helping veterans.”
Besides the Christmas Gift Shop, the Tukwila Post also is involved in several other programs. About 100 veterans belong to the Tukwila Post, including Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.
Johnson leads a group that collects, organizes and hands out donated books and magazines to patients at the VA Medical Center. They also spend time talking with the patients.
The Tukwila Post ran a Bingo Night at the hospital in early November. The volunteers called out the games and gave away prizes to the participants.
“The winners received script that they could use at the hospital gift shop,” said Neuss, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1962-64 during the Vietnam War but was never sent to Vietnam.
The legion sponsors a Evergreen Boys State and Girls State program that sends high school juniors for a week in June to Central Washington University in Ellensburg to learn about how governments operate.
“The post sponsors them and they get to learn about government,” Neuss said. “They learn how to set up a government.”
Congress chartered the American Legion in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. The legion focuses services to veterans, servicemembers and communities. The legion has about 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide, according to www.legion.org.
Neuss said he joined the legion because of its benefits and later became involved in the Tukwila Post when Johnson contacted him from a legion list of people who lived in the area.
“I was not part of a post but then I joined and he began working me,” Neuss said of Johnson.
For more information about the Tukwila American Legion Post, go to www.wadistrict11.com/post235.