CROSS PLAINS (WKOW) -- Officers at the American Legion here couldn't help but smile Monday. While there were many moments of somber reflection following the first Memorial Day parade in two years, there was also joy in once again being able to host the community.
"It's exhilarating," said Dan Cady, Third Vice at the Cross Plains-Middleton American Legion Post. "You see families together again, families your kids grew up with and you can go over and say hi to them."
The return of the parade marks the next step for the post's emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, they were able to hold their first monthly in-person meeting without any capacity limits.
"We had our first meeting with a meal and everybody came," said the post's commander, Gary Itten. "We had a good turnout."
As Dane County's emergency order and mandates will expire Wednesday, the reopening reestablishes a key revenue stream for the post: the ability to rent out its building for events.
Cady said the money the post raises through facility rentals and its yard flag sales ahead of holidays helps pay for the annual scholarships it provides to teens in the community. Itten said this year the post was able to provide four $1,000 scholarships.
The reopening also comes as the post prepares for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. While President Joe Biden initially called for the withdrawal to be complete by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that launched the war, military officials now say personnel will be out in July.
"Means it'll be a lot more soldiers coming back and getting the treatment if they do need it," Itten said. "Or to join the American Legion here in Cross Plains."
Both Itten and Cady said the post would work to get in touch with troops from the area who'd be returning to Wisconsin. They said the primary goal would be to help connect with with veteran service groups but added it would also provide an opportunity to add some badly-needed youth to the ranks.
"We're trying to get the younger guys," Cady said. "Every one of our officers are in their 70s."
While the recruiting efforts will pick up steam in the coming weeks, Itten said it was just nice on Monday to look around and see faces he hadn't seen in at least two years.
"To have everyone out again, to have the parade, we did not have a parade last year; we just had a memorial service," he said. "It's just great to see all these people come out."