By JILL DIAMOND | La Mesa Courier
Since 1923, the American Legion Post 282 in La Mesa has been the go-to place for members to mingle and relive a bit of history with their comrades. The facility, located at University Avenue and Nebo Street since 1947, also houses the VFW O.K. Ingram Ship 1774, their two auxiliaries, AMVETS Post 1775, and Air Force Association Chapter 1365 of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
The building may be ordinary — a simple low, two-level structure that hasn’t seen many renovations over the decades — but it does hold memories. Did you know the members revamped the lower level in the early 1950s and turned it into a dining area? While doing so they also discovered an old piece of history — a shuffleboard court under the carpeting.
And if plans go accordingly, the building may even get its sewer, drainage systems, and parking lots repaired by the developer of Jefferson La Mesa — a 230-unit apartment complex currently under construction next door.
“The proposed renovation to the next-door property is not new,” said Chief Master Sgt. John “Jack” Porath, USAF (Ret.) who is the commander of La Mesa American Legion Post 282 and the ship’s captain of the VFW O.K. Ingram Ship Post 1774. “There was the 2014 Park Station Project when we were virtually ignored by the developer, and in only one of their drawings was the American Legion facility pictured or named. Eventually, we withdrew our support [for Park Station] and the La Mesa City Council defeated the plan.
“With the current project, we have been contacted several times and the communication lines are wide open. The membership, realizing development will occur, has embraced this project,” Porath continued. “The developer has agreed to assist with our needed repair issues when the sewer pumping station is relocated and do major work on our parking lots that are steadily deteriorating. We will be allowed to market our organizations to the occupants and hopefully, those that are eligible (estimated to be about 90% of U.S. citizens) will join us and use what we have to offer.”
Lots of history
The VFW Osmond Kelly Ship #1774 was formed in San Diego and charted on Jan. 14, 1930, by service members serving in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The VFW O.K. Ingram Ship was named after Gunner’s Mate First Class Osmond K. Ingram who was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War I for “his bravery that saved the lives of all members of the ship, except himself,” according to the VFW La Mesa website. There are two other VFW Posts that share the name “Ship” and are in Port Jervis, New York and Ridgecrest, California.
In 1985, the post moved to 7298 University Ave. in La Mesa after selling its Downtown San Diego building. Then on Jan. 27, 2011, the ship’s charter moved to the American Legion Building at 8118 University Ave. in La Mesa. The reason cited was “because of major damage at the 7298 University Ave. building after a rockslide on Dec. 21, 2010.”
O.K. Ingram Ship 1774 was awarded the “All-American” status for 2012-13 and 2016-17. An “All-American” status given to a post is the highest honor awarded by the VFW national headquarters. It is given to the top 35 posts of each membership division, worldwide.
As a result of the designations, there is a “permanent streamer attached to the post’s flag and the wearing of insignia on the caps and uniforms.”
Other fun facts as cited by VFWlamesa.org:
Disability payments in 1930 were $40 per month for 100% disability and $12 per month for 25% disability. The VFW led efforts to raise the amounts.
On March 22, 1930, the ship’s auxiliary had its first annual inaugural dance and tickets were 50 cents each.
On Oct 25, 1930, the ship was awarded the Domain of Neptunus Rex Certificate at the Neptune Ball and Court.
By 1934, O.K. Ingram Ship #1774 Drum and Bugle Corps won “Honorable Mention” at the Coronado Flower Show.
By July 10, 1950, VFW Ship #1774 hosted a bathing beauty contest; the proceeds went to the Relief Fund. Bathing suits were part of the awards.
Over the years, membership at VFW La Mesa has declined and the group is always looking for new vets to join.
“Our membership seems to be declining with the loss of our older members, and the youth are not yet ready or able to participate in the activities of a veteran’s organization for various reasons,” Porath said.
Some are struggling with jobs, the cost of living in San Diego, and state legislative relief to equally and fully recognize state nonprofit status vs. federal did not occur (some posts are closing because they can no longer afford California property tax assessments) and other costs of doing business, he added.
Besides being a social place to hang out, have a meal, and get some of the needed support a veteran family requires, Porath said there’s much more to what the La Mesa Veterans Club does. For example, the organizations of the La Mesa Veterans Club sponsor Boys and Girls State, a program that sends boys and girls to Sacramento for one week where they learn government.
The VFW also sponsors one of 21 American Legion baseball teams; assists veterans with their filing of claims; assists with various personal issues of the veteran and/or family; sponsors Christmas for some children who have one or more parents deployed; provides low-cost meals and entertainment for eligible persons; provides scholarship programs for school grades eight to 12; provides awards to JROTC cadets; provides some school education programs; participates in parades and patriotic events; assists with Stand-Down in San Diego and the North County; maintains a Vietnam memorial; and overall maintains a veterans facility to operate within the city of La Mesa that serves the needs of veterans and their families.
In other words, it does a lot and is happy to do so. New members are always welcome, Porath stressed.
For more information, visit vfwlamesa.org.
— Jill Diamond is a freelance writer based in Southern California who focuses on stories about neighborhood history.