By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
GILBERTSVILLE – They might have attended rival high schools, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends.
Veterans Ralph Wright and Andrew Sebeck first met one another at the Gilbertsville American Legion Post 1339 in 1971, when Sebeck and wife Anne moved to the area.
They found camaraderie in Gilbertsville through volunteering with the local fire department and socializing at events such as the annual Fourth of July parade and soon realized that they had more in common than just a military background – they shared a high school rivalry.
Andrew had gone to school at South New Berlin and Ralph went to Laurens, just 20 minutes apart.
“I’m drawing attention to the fact that veterans are not alone,” says Butternuts Town Historian Leigh Eckmair, who works directly with veterans to create projects that aim to educate parents and their children on the importance of local history.
As they approach the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, both couples look back on that time and reflect on what it meant to serve their country.
The Gilbertsville American Legion Post 1339 will observe its 85th anniversary alongside the 100th anniversary of the American Legion this Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m. The ceremony, which includes presentations by the local Boy Scout troop, as well as the commander of the American Legion William Wright, will be followed by a lasagna dinner at 4 p.m.
The two vets had also married their high school sweethearts within a year of one another, the Sebecks in November 1962, and the Wrights just a year later, in November 1963.
It was fall of 1962, when Andrew called his soon-to-be wife from his base of operations in Virginia.
“Cancel the wedding,” he told her. The couple had planned to get married during his normal week-long leave that fall, but it was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the country was on high alert.
“There was so much uncertainty,” recalls Anne, “You didn’t know who the enemy was,” but she understood nonetheless.
At the time Andrew was serving with the Army as a military police officer, which meant that he might be needed at anytime. “You respect where they are and what they’re doing,” Anne said. “If he said no, there was a reason.”
He was given two days for the wedding and they ended up getting married on Nov. 10, just before Veterans Day.
Ralph and Carolee Wright were married one year later. It was Nov. 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The country was in shock and there was speculation as to what had happened.
“Most people were glued to their black & white TVs,” says Carolee.
When they drove up to the Adirondacks for their honeymoon, they discovered that all of the businesses were closed.
But none of these obstacles managed to deter the couples, who have been committed to their marriages and the local Legion since the beginning.
“We worked hand in hand,” says Anne, “whatever the legion was doing, we would support.”
From blood drives, to bake sale fundraisers, to helping fill Christmas stockings, the auxiliary has been helping the Gilbertsville American Legion for years.
“We try to serve our community, we try to serve our youth,” she said.
The Legion was originally dedicated to veterans of World War I, but over the years the American Legion has developed into a highly influential nonprofit group that serves veterans, servicemen, and communities around the world. With nearly 2 million members, the legion acts as a reminder of the importance of respect.
“It continues your pride in your country and the men who served,” says Anne, who hopes that people won’t forget about veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made.”