Gen. Pat Cleburne never set foot in the city he’s named after. Nor did C.E. DeLario, namesake of Cleburne’s American Legion Post 50.
“The post is named after the commanding officer of J.R. Keith, the first commander of our post,” said Marty Peters, past state president of the American Legion Auxiliary and a member of Cleburne’s Unit 50 Auxiliary. “DeLario was killed in France during World War I during the Muese-Argonne Offensive. Posts don’t necessarily have to be named after anyone. But if they are, they have to be named after a deceased veteran. There’s actually an Elvis Presley post in Tennessee.
“The funny thing is, we determined a few years back that some of DeLario’s descendants are still in the New York area and contacted them. They had no idea there was a post in Texas named after him.”
2019 marks a banner year for the American Legion in general and Cleburne’s Post 50 in particular. Both turn 100 this year.
“This is not the only Post 50,” Cleburne Post 50 Commander Ronnie Webb said. “In other words, each state has their own. So there’s a Post 50 in Michigan, for example. But we’re the oldest Post 50.”
The American Legion originated during the so-called Paris Caucus held from March 15-17, 1919, in Paris, France. A number of American servicemen who had fought to secure victory in World War I remained in Europe at the time awaiting passage home.
Cleburne’s Post 50 received their charter in September that same year.
“Here’s the names of the first 15 members,” Webb said, pointing to the original framed charter hanging in the post’s office. “World War I veterans all of them I’m guessing. They’d have to be.”
The numeric designation doesn’t mean Cleburne’s was the 50th post formed in Texas.
“A lot of posts formed that first year in Texas and other states,” Peters said. “And, of course, a number of posts formed in subsequent years. But, for that first bunch formed, they put the names of all the Texas cities in a hat and drew names. Cleburne’s was the 50th name drawn.”
The American Legion Auxiliary formed November 1919. Cleburne’s ALA Unit 50 formed December that same year, according to Post 50 records.
“Basically they said, ‘We want an auxiliary and let’s go find 10 women,” Peters said. “Which would’ve been easy since they were the wives and daughters of the veterans.”
Speaking of women, Post 50 holds another historic distinction.
The post’s third commander, Grace Stuart, who served as commander in 1921, was the first female commander of a Texas post.
“May have been the first female post commander in the world,” Peters said.
The original Post 50 members met in the basement of the Johnson County Courthouse. In the ‘30s they purchased the land where the current post building now stands.
“They built the building in 1935,” Webb said. “So, they probably bought the land either the same year or a year or two before and they bought it for about $800. This spot used to be a park called Brio Park. They paid about $9,500 for the original building, which has since been enlarged, and took 12 years to pay for it.”
Photos of Keith, Stuart and all the Post 50 commanders through the present ring the wall of the post.
“I’m the 55th sitting commander,” Webb said. “I’ve been a member of this and Rio Vista’s legion for 44 years.”
Webb served as a sergeant in the Army from 1971-77.
“They pulled my orders to go to Vietnam,” Webb said. “Right before I went they decided they didn’t want to do that anymore so I got to stay here. Because of that I always tell people I’m a Vietnam Era veteran.”
Commenting on the unpredictable nature of Texas weather this time of year, Webb quipped that at least it’s not 20 degrees, while 6th District Commander Ken Peters Jr. and Sons of the American Legion member John Henry battled wind gusts while securing a banner announcing the post’s first century.
“I was talking to a guy who’s about 90 the other day who told me he also joined the Legion in Paris,” Webb said. “Not in 1919, of course. But he said the reason those original guys held the caucus in Paris was that the food was better there than it was in the chow hall.”
The Legion represents many things, Webb said.
“The history of 100 years in Cleburne is something I think of,” Webb said. “The other benefit is that only a veteran can understand what other veterans went through. The Legion gives them a place to congregate, fellowship, get together share their stories and support each other. That’s very important.”
Henry, whose grandfather served in the Army during World War I said he’s spent all 63 years of his life in Cleburne and joined the SAL about six years ago.
“I love this place, Cleburne and the Post,” Henry said. “It means a lot and it’s important to me to honor and remember my grandfather and all our veterans.”
ALA Unit 50 President Robbyn Hill’s husband, Jeff Hill, served as Post 50 Commander immediately before Webb.
“It’s important, and pretty special, that our post has been here 100 years,” Robbyn Hill said. “My involvement in the auxiliary was inspired by the fact that my husband, grandfather and brother-in-law were all in the military. I also believe it’s important that everyone realize how important our veterans are and to know ALA is an organization that stands behind them.”
Webb advised residents to expect a “major blowout celebration” once Post 50’s September century mark rolls around.
“It’s exciting to have achieved a century of history in Cleburne and just as exciting to begin our new century of service in the community,” Peters said. “I often think how great it would be to be able to experience the students sent to Boy’s State and Girl’s State [ a mock government exercise], the veterans helped and the community efforts put forth. It’s impossible to gauge the impact the organizations of Post 50 have had on our community these past 100 years. This is so much more than just a watering hole. Many of those who led and formed our community have been members through the years.
“Then it would be great to be able to look forward to see the impact the post is going to have over the next 100 years in supporting and helping our veterans, our military, our community and our children. It’s a lot of history and something Cleburne can be very proud of.”