Henry Link, who is the current 8th District Commander for the American Legion and is a part of the John W. Dill American Legion Post 434 in Brocton, was first drafted into the United States Army in March 1971.
“I avoided the draft as long as possible but eventually I ran out of deferments so I was drafted in March 1971,” Link said. “I did my basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
The memorable part of my graduation from basic was my daughter turned one year old on the day I graduated.”
After basic Link moved on to Fort Sill, Okla., to start advanced individual training in fire direction center training. The FDC tells the artillery cannons where to aim to hit their target.
“We started with about 50 in the class but at graduation eight weeks later there were only 34 left to graduate,” Link said. “Because the FDC was a critical military occupational specialty there was always a need in Vietnam. We had heard that our class was scheduled to go to Vietnam. It seems every other class went to Vietnam alternating with Korea and Germany. Fortunately for me, my wife Carole and my daughter Wendy, my entire class was sent to Fort Carson in Colorado.”
While in Fort Carson, Link served as the chief computer for his firing battery, drove the M-577 command post, was on the enlisted man’s council and became the training NCO.
With Vietnam winding down the Army decided they needed to find a way to send people home early. They offered a 60 day early-out to join the Army Reserves or the Army National Guard for a one-year trial enlistment. The Reserves in Jamestown was a training outfit and the National Guard in Dunkirk was a tank outfit. For Link, training sounded better than playing with tanks so Link took the early-out and joined the Army Reserves in Jamestown.
Link served 19 years in the Reserve and moved from leadership academy to chief instructor, and from drill sergeant to first sergeant, retiring in 1992.
Forty-four years ago Link joined the American Legion but was never really too much a part of it until the early 2000s.
“In 2008 a friend said ‘we’re looking at having the moving wall come to Brocton and we want you to be commander because we think you’ll be good at it’,” Link said. “I said I didn’t know anything about the legion, and he said ‘you’ll learn’. So I ran for commander in 2009 and won.”
The moving wall is a one-half scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., representing those lost in the Vietnam war. Link said there were three goals in mind when they got the moving wall to come to Brocton.
“First was to help Vietnam veterans heal because they were not welcomed home as they should have been,” Link said. “The second was to educate the younger people. And the third was to involve the community and get them to come out and see the wall. We were very successful.”
Link said that up to 40,000 people came to visit the wall over the five days that it was in Brocton.
Nineteen different schools also sent buses out, which Link thought was good because the wall was in Brocton from September 9 to 14, right when school would have started back up.
“We also had a counselor there 24 hours a day the whole time,” Link said. “I talked to the lead counselor later and said ‘it didn’t look like you were too busy over here’. He replied ‘I can’t believe how many people came and talked to me’. It wasn’t just in the counseling tent, it was all over, out by the wall and all over the premises. So, we achieved all three goals.”
Link was a commander of post 434 from 2009 until 2013. He became the Chautauqua County American Legion Vice Commander in 2013 through 2014 and County Commander in 2014 through 2015. He returned to the post as commander from 2015 until 2021.
“I thought I was done after that and was going to hang up my boots, but I was convinced to run for the district commander and was elected 8th District American Legion Commander for the Legion year 2022-2023,” Link said.
The 8th District consists of the eight Western New York Counties and two Posts in Canada.
Overall, Link said as district commander and as a part of the American Legion he wants to help improve the lives of veterans.
“There are currently 22 veterans per day that commit suicide,” Link said. “Some say that number is up to 40 per day but others say only 10 or 15. Most of the time the people that are considering suicide have some kind of tell, they may just hint or mention it or they may come out and say they are going to do it. If you hear a hint or tell from one of these veterans, talk to them, become their friend, get them professional help. Many of them need a friend they can talk to, you can be that friend. Get them help.”
Additionally, Link said the American Legion is also helping veterans on a nationwide level.
“The American Legion is the largest veteran organization, not just in the US but the world,” Link said. “There are over 4 million members. The biggest thing that the American Legion does is go to Congress and try to let them know what we need as veterans.”
Link cited the PACT act, which failed originally because of an additional unneeded $400 million that was included. Following this, the American Legion “got their heads together” and sent over 37,000 notices to Congress to pass the act, which was then passed a week later.
Currently, there is another act working its way through Congress to be passed focusing on disabled combat veterans –the Major Richard Star Act.
Currently combat disabled medically discharged veterans cannot draw their retirement pay and their medical disability pay at the same time.
“For retired disabled veterans currently the money they get from the VA gets deducted from their retirement,” Link said. “There’s no cost but they get nothing for being disabled in the line of duty. You can be 10, 20, 30% disabled and it comes out of your own retirement account, which doesn’t seem right to me. Congress needs to act and correct this mistake.”
Link said that this law is ready to be voted on and if it passes it will make it so instead the money for being disabled in the line of duty will be in addition to the retirement accounts.