LIU Post opens American Legion chapter

Members of the new Admiral Richard L. Conolly Members of the new Admiral Richard L. Conolly American Legion Post 2014 at LIU Post are installed by Department Commander Kenneth F. Governor, white cap, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Bathed in the applause of gray-haired men whose military service came decades ago, student veterans at LIU Post opened the newest chapter of the American Legion during a ceremony Wednesday at the school's Brookville campus.

Michael Knauer, commander of newly minted Post 2014, said veteran leaders at the university can now draw support from one of the country's premier national service organizations -- and help chart its future.

"With the number of veterans who are transitioning back to civilian life, it just makes sense to make it easier for us to feel we belong," said Knauer, 37, of Great Neck, a former Coast Guard petty officer who left the service in 2007.

The new post -- believed to be the first at a Long Island university -- has 20 members, including two former students. Although most members of veterans organizations in the region served during the Vietnam War or earlier, the LIU Post members are from the post-9/11 era.

Ashley Clay, 28, of Kings Park, a former Marine sergeant, said creating a post on campus will provide an outlet for veterans who want to continue the spirit of service that led many to join the military.

"We didn't want to sit around drinking and complaining, and telling war stories," she said. "We want to reach out and have a positive experience."

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Organizers said the new chapter will use recreational activities as a lure.

Last month, Knauer and others staged the Medal of Honor Challenge, a physical fitness contest, to raise the profile of veterans during LIU Post's Greek Week.

Matt Gabriel, 27, of Commack, a vice commander at the post and the Long Island organizer of Team Red White and Blue, said he would offer that group's running and outdoor activities as an enticement to prospective Legion members.

Members of other posts who attended the ceremony at the university's Winnick House said the younger members are a welcome addition to an aging organization.

Although the Legion claims 2.4 million members worldwide, local post commanders say the deaths of older members and difficulty appealing to the newest generation of veterans have resulted in declining membership across Long Island.

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