About 90 years ago, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Hattie Caraway was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. And at the ripe-old-age of one year, Lorita Gilliland Holmes, became a junior member of the American Legion Auxiliary.
“It was 1932, my dad was a WWI vet and my parents were both long time members of the American Legion. Mom wanted to instill in me the importance of patriotism and honor—so right from the start she enrolled me as a member of an organization dedicated to those principles. I grew up in the Legion & Auxiliary along with my younger brother,” Ms. Holmes recalls.
She was honored in a ceremony celebrating her 90 years of dedication to the American Legion Auxiliary, May 18.
Thinking back to her early days as a member of Glendale (California) Unit 127, she reminiscences: “My parents were involved in the District Drum and Bugle Corps, and Ladies Drill Team. Both groups performed in parades and competitions at conventions, often bringing home citations and trophies. My brother and I sat and watched these groups practice, often marching along with them in the parking lot next to the area where they were rehearsing.”
But things were not always so light-hearted. On Feb. 2, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, crowded to capacity with service men, was torpedoed by a German submarine with devastating impact. Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains, from differing religions, brought hope in despair and light in darkness. As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains — arms linked and braced against the slanting deck.
Their voices could also be heard offering prayers. Of the 902 men aboard, 672 died, leaving only 230 survivors.
“Dad was department chaplain in 1954. Mother and I assisted dad by singing duets as part of the ‘Four Chaplains’ programs he did to raise awareness for an organization dedicated to imparting the principles of selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs,” Ms. Holmes recalls.
After graduation from high school in 1949, she got married to newly discharged Marine Walter “Wally” Holmes and got busy working and raising two children.
In the early 1950s, the American Legion sponsored The Back to God program as a “crusade” to bring the American people back to God, making America a great moral and spiritual force in the world.
“Dad had a big part in promoting the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Inspired by Senator Ferguson of Michigan, he actually drafted the resolution for it,” she said.
With the support of the American Legion, service clubs, civic organizations and lawmakers, the resolution was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 4, 1954.
“It’s really quite monumental to think that people across the nation now take a moment to add two such important words to the pledge —t hanks, in part, to my dad,” she added.
Ms. Holmes also notes “that it’s ‘One nation under God’ — no comma or pause after nation.”
“Somewhere along the line, my husband, Wally, joined the Legion Post and we both got involved. We worked our way up to commander and president at the same time, so in 1965 we had Glendale Post’s first Joint Installation of the Post & Auxiliary. It turned out to be a great evening, with dinner before and refreshments after. The highlight of the evening was that my dad, George “Bud” Gilliland, past commander and mother, Dolores Gilliland, past president, were our installing officers. We worked at getting the post and unit doing more things together and promoting harmony and new membership. We teamed up with another couple and put on lots of dinners for the post and unit.”
One of the fond memories Ms. Holmes has is the Glendale Unit Ritual Team: “The team went out and performed many initiations and installations for many other units in our district. I eventually became a member of the team and enjoyed traveling with them and doing the ceremonies.”
Eventually, Mr. and Ms. Holmes moved and transferred their membership to Verdugo Hills Post/Auxiliary Unit #288. In 2000, they moved to Peoria; Mr. Holmes passed away in December of the same year.
“My daughter, Susan Ewen and son-in-law, Walt Ewen (now retired from the Marine Corps) moved out here a few years ago, to be near me and her to find a new job. He joined the Legion recently, and now my daughter is joining the Auxiliary. So I am finally transferring my membership to Unit 62 in Peoria. I hope to be of some help here, renewing my commitment to the ideals of the organization.”
American Legion Auxiliary members have dedicated themselves for nearly a century to meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans, military and their families both here and abroad. They volunteer millions of hours yearly, with a value of nearly $2 billion. As part of the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, Auxiliary volunteers across the country also step up to honor veterans and military through annual scholarships and with ALA Girls State programs, teaching high school juniors to be leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism.
To learn more about the Auxiliary’s mission or to volunteer, donate or join, visit ALAforVeterans.org.
Editor’s note: Marge Christianson is a public relations volunteer for American Legion Auxiliary in Peoria.