Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.
In the mid-1980s a group of concerned and proud veterans would meet in various places in the Bartlett area to discuss their military experiences and issues facing veterans. Veterans like Stanley Hushen Jr., William “Bill” Livingston, Wayne Ivy and others knew something was missing in this small town of approximately 21,000 citizens. Plenty of flags flew about the city but none over a spot reserved to honor all those who had served their country in the military uniforms of the armed services.
This group of veterans would soon embrace the patriotic principles of the American Legion. Started in 1919, the American Legion is founded on the Four Pillars: Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children & Youth. A temporary charter was issued to the new Bartlett Post 249 in 1987. The post became ably led by Commander Bill Livingston. Under his leadership, the growing post developed an idea for a memorial to be built in Bartlett to honor all veterans of the past, present and future.
The City of Bartlett donated a section of land in Freeman Park at the corner of Bartlett Boulevard and Bartlett Road for the veterans’ memorial. Fundraising began in earnest in 1988 and continued through 1990. Donations came in from citizens, companies, churches and other organizations. People sold breakfasts and suppers, and even a roadblock was held at the corner of Stage Road and Bartlett Road near Bill Livingston’s office to raise funds. The fundraising efforts fell a little short, but the city came to the organizers’ aid and helped finish the project. Dedicated in 1991, the granite memorial still stands today with the inscription “Lest We Forget.”
In the latter part of 1999, a revitalization of Post 249 began. Membership grew, and the post acquired a home in 2000. Auxiliary Unit 249 was chartered the same year. Working together, the post and auxiliary unit were able to increase service to the VA Hospital, the community and most of all to veterans and their families.
In 2003, a member of Post 249 brought to everyone’s attention the fact that Bartlett had two Medal of Honor recipients, which is very unusual for a city of our size. One recipient, Walter K. Singleton, a Bartlett citizen who graduated from Bartlett High School, made the ultimate sacrifice on March 24, 1967, in the Republic of South Vietnam. He was awarded his Medal of Honor posthumously. The other recipient was Vernon McGarity, who in later years moved to Bartlett and was awarded his Medal of Honor for his actions in Belgium on Dec. 16, 1944.
The mayor and city board approved a study to redesign the veterans memorial, and David Horne was chosen to head the ad hoc committee, which contained several Post 249 members. The final design by Bartlett resident and architect Ben Witt was approved for the area now formally named Veterans Park. Bricks with veterans’ names and names of other supporting organizations and individuals were sold and installed. Mayor Keith McDonald and the City of Bartlett again assisted with partial funding as well as professional help from city engineers Wade Towles and Rick McClanahan. Two granite monuments were installed with the Medal of Honor Citations in bronze for each recipient. All military branch service flags now have a flagpole. Moreover, the prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) flag now flies for the first time in Bartlett beside the American flag.
Veterans Park was dedicated on a very cold Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2006, attended by hundreds of people. Wayne Ivy and Bill Livingston have died, but they remain a prominent part of the Veterans Memorial; their names are engraved on a granite bench at Veterans Park with those of the redesign committee.
Today, American Legion Elvis Presley Post 249 is still growing and striving to become an important part of its community. The American Legion on the national, state and local levels continues to provide assistance to veterans and their families with many programs. Moreover, we participate in Boys and Girls State, Scouting, ROTC, baseball and many other educational activities for children and youth to include dozens of scholarships. We have not moved far from our original roots.
Post 249 and Auxiliary Unit 249 now meet at Bartlett Station Municipal Center at 5868 Stage on the second Thursday of each month, just around the corner from the Livingston Building, close to where it all began. We are in the process of planning our 30th-year anniversary activities in early 2017.
Written by Steve Sims, special to the Express. Simms served as post commander for more than six years and has served in most of the other officer positions. He is current adjutant/finance officer of the organization.