State Legion elects Smith vice-commander
The West Virginia Department of the American Legion elected Joe Smith, of Marlinton, as vice-commander during its 92nd Convention, held July 8-10 in Charleston, South Carolina. Smith will serve a one-year term until the next election.
The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. It is the nationﾒs largest veterans service organization, with 2.6 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.
The vice-commander joined Marlinton's Post 50 in 1973 and has held numerous leadership positions at the local and state level. He has held every office in the post and is the longest-serving commander in the history of the post. Twice named Legionnaire of the Year, he is a founding member of the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps.
Smith served as historian of the West Virginia Department for three years before his election as vice-commander.
At the national level, Smith currently serves as vice chairman of the National Homeland Security Committee and has previously served on numerous other committees.
Smith said Legion membership was a very important part of his life.
"I love it," he said, "The Legion is a very patriotic organization like most veterans organizations and the comradeship in the Legion is unbelievable. I recently was ill and when word got out that I had been ill, the phone calls just poured in from all over the state from friends I had made in the Legion."
"The importance of the Legion is the fact that they strive so hard to better the benefits for the veterans of the United States."
Smith said his duties as vice-commander include visiting each post in his district, encouraging community involvement, encouraging membership, representing the commander and speaking at a variety of functions.
"Each vice-commander has three districts under his jurisdiction," he said. "I have the second, the ninth and the tenth, which encompasses from Greenbrier County all the way up through the Eastern Panhandle.
"My goal is to visit each post within my three districts, which is about 40, to encourage new membership, retain old membership and promote the Legion's programs," he said.
Smith said informing younger vets about the importance of Legion membership was especially important due to the loss of vets from earlier eras.
"Another problem I see facing us is the deaths," he said. "We're losing veterans at a tremendous rate, right now and it's sad. It was the World War II vets and now we've moved into the Korean War era veterans and they're passing away at a tremendous basis."
The vice commander said vets in Pocahontas County face special problems.
"One of the biggest problems in Pocahontas County is transportation and the accessibility to veterans facilities," he said. "Most of the veterans in Pocahontas County go to the Beckley veterans hospital. That's 100 miles away, which is not good accessibility."
"We do not have a van in this county, like some counties do, so most veterans have to rely on friends or family and it's sort of a burden on the families to see that they make their appointments or what-not."
Smith said the county's low population made it difficult to maintain a van and praised the efforts of local Legion members, like Keith Moore, who drive fellow vets to the hospital.
"As individuals, most of the Legion members are willing to take the time and take a veteran to a facility."
The vice commander said the Legion's lobbying efforts were a big reason for the construction of Veterans Administration satellite clinics around the country. The VA will open a clinic in Lewisburg later this year, making it easier for Pocahontas County veterans to access primary care.
Support for veterans at the national level has improved, according to Smith.
"Jay Rockefeller, our senator, is chairman of the Veterans Appropriations Committee and he is a very strong veterans supporter," he said. "He never was in the service but he has really supported us over the years. This year, the administration, at the national level, has been very generous. They could be more - but they have been very generous."
Smith is a lifelong resident of Marlinton. He graduated from Marlinton High School in 1966 and enlisted in the Army in 1967. Assigned to the Army Security Agency, Smith served in the Army for four years, including overseas tours in Turkey and Ethiopia. He received an honorable discharge as a Specialist Fifth Class in 1971.
A long-time employee of Industrial Timber and Land, in Edray, Smith was named an Outstanding Young Man of America by the National Jaycees in 1981.
He has been very active in the Boy Scouts and served on the Buckskin Council for six years.
Smith has held numerous community leadership positions including service with: Marlinton VFD; American Cancer Society; EMS council; Marlinton Railroad Depot Corporation; Parks and Recreation board; Fourth of July Celebration board; Pioneer Days board and Autumn Harvest Festival board.
He served as Marlinton recorder for six years and councilmember for eight years, a position he currently holds.
Smith has been a lifelong member of the Marlinton United Methodist Church.