Local American Legion post honors namesake
By Curtis Hodge, Jr.
Robert Bethel American Legion Post 220 honored Robert Bethel, the man and World War I hero, for which it was named. For years we were unable to locate his grave site but thanks to Roberto Fernandez, a local high school teacher who found it, we were able to honor him. The headstone is nearly 100 years old but can still be read.
Robert Bethel was born in Cocoa, Fla., on Aug. 27, 1901. Sometime between 1901 and 1917, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared “the world must be made safe for democracy”, and ordered America into World War I against Germany. Robert Bethel at the age of 16 did what most African American men in those days did; he enlisted. They volunteered to go into the service in the hope of gaining equality for our people here at home. Their motivation, I think, can best be described as thus; “Let it be said that the Negro soldier did his duty under the flag, whether that flag protected him or not,” Edward A. Johnson.
On June 7, 1918, Bethel was killed in action in Europe at the age of 17. The Crisis, a NAACP magazine published by W.E.B. DuBois, reported the following: “Robert Bethel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is dead of gas poisoning on the Western Front. He was buried with military honors at his home. “
Twenty-nine years later, in 1947, a local group of African American veterans formed and chartered an American Legion post, in which they named the Robert Bethel American Legion Post 220, in Bethel’s honor. They were trying to memorialize as well as show he did not die in vain. Back in those days they were known as the “Colored Post”. The chartered members of the post were: John Lee Reasee, U. S. Williams, Luther Monroe, Ira Butler, Mark Strong, Council Johnson, Arthur Simmons, Alfred Harrington, Robert Smart, George E. Benton, Louis Benton, Joseph Havard, Nathaniel Armbrister, Manior Stevens and George Ray.
Each Memorial Day we, along with our Women’s Robert Bethel Auxiliary Unit, go to a cemetery to a preselected grave site and honor at least one veteran who has passed on. We also invite their family to be present during the ceremony. This Memorial Day we honored Mr. Langley W. Hair, a veteran of WWII, and of course Bethel. Unfortunately, however, we have been unable to locate his next of kin. If Bethel’s next of kin is out there we would love for them to contact us. Our phone number is (754) 200-4273, email: Robbethel220@comcast.net.
He was killed in action over 98 years ago yet he still lives through our Post 220 and the women’s Unit 220.