MANCHESTER — Members of the American Legion Department of New Hampshire celebrated the Granite State branch of the national veterans organization with a weekend of honors and remembrance during its 95th annual convention.
Legionnaires gathered Friday and Saturday at the downtown Radisson, then closed the convention Sunday morning with the annual ceremonial wreath laying in Veterans Park.
Mayor Ted Gatsas, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and John Neylon Sr., the Legion's national vice commander, were among those to welcome the hundreds of New Hampshire legionnaires to Manchester for the convention, which moved another year closer to celebrating its 100th.
"I'm so grateful for the Legionnaires' service to our country — not only their military service, but also their continuing commitment to advocating for our nation's veterans, service members and their families," Ayotte said.
Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said she has continued her advocacy for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard Base, named last month as the top choice to base the Air Force's new KC-46A tanker jets. The Portsmouth base is home to the Air National Guard's 157th Air Refueling Wing.
Shea-Porter, who serves on the House Armed Service Committee, spoke about her efforts since returning to Congress to provide veterans opportunities in education, including a tax credit for employers who hire a recently discharged veteran.
"In addition to helping returning troops access the health care and education they deserve, I am committed to helping them find a job," she said.
The opening day also included the New Hampshire department's annual awards. The Law Enforcement Officer of the Year honor went to Officer Charles Law of the Stratham Police Department for his efforts during the shoot-out on April 12, 2012, that left Greenland police Chief Michael Maloney dead and four officers with the Attorney General's Drug Task Force seriously wounded.
Law has received other awards for his actions that night, driving his cruiser into the line of fire to reach the wounded officers. Law politely thanked the Legionnaires and accepted the plaque with modesty.
New Ipswich Fire Chief David Leel received the honor as firefighter of the year; then the honors shifted to one of the Legion's own.
Roy Jeffrey of Plaistow, a World War II veteran well-known for his work with the Legion and throughout his community, was honored as Legionnaire of the Year.
Now 90, Jeffrey wore a red, white and blue tie with stars and stripes for the occasion. He fondly recalled a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the national World War II Memorial. He also spoke of his ongoing effort to receive the military's good conduct medal after his service in the Navy fell just short of the three-year cutoff.
"It wasn't because my conduct was bad," Jeffrey assured members of the audience, who gave him a standing ovation as he made his way to and from the podium.
Jeffrey said he served two years, 11 months and 28 days. He said he'd be willing to go back and serve the final two days if that's what it takes, drawing another round of laughter during his remarks.