LOS LUNAS — The John P. Elliot American Legion Post 85 in Los Lunas revived its 75-year-old charter to again serve veterans and their families in Valencia County.

“A lot of the veterans, especially here in Valencia County, don’t know their benefits. They truly don’t,” said Post Commander Barbara Bowman. “For instance, a veteran gets a discount on their property tax. They don’t know that, so we need to let our veterans know that those things are there.”

Bowman helped to revive the post in 2020, when they were first meeting in restaurants before the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to in-person gatherings. The post members then purchased a building about eight months ago and began renovations as they continue to grow resources and membership.

The building is still a work in progress, but Bowman and the rest of the post has big plans for the space. There are a couple walls they want to knock down to expand the main meeting space, and add more tables and chairs. They also want to add an entertainment space so they can host karaoke, a DJ or a live band in the future.

“Then it’s little things,” Bowman said, adding all of the work done on the building was donated. “It would be lovely if someone who did concrete came and poured us a concrete slab out back and put a roof over the back … There is a lot of work to do; it doesn’t stop. It will eventually …”

First Vice Commander Lonnie Step said the post members would love to start attracting younger veterans involved in the post, adding they are focused on creating a family-friendly space.

“We’d love to get some younger people in here, and get some ideas to help us make this a better place for us veterans to serve veterans, and eventually serve the community also,” Step said. “We just got to get on our feet first.”

Makayla Grijalva | News-Bulletin photo
Pictured, from left, American Legion Post 85 Vice Commander Lonnie Step, Post Commander Barbara Bowman and Post Treasurer Juan Martinez are working to expand the newly rechartered post in Los Lunas, hoping to find younger veterans to join.

They added how younger members could also help them with some of the work that isn’t safe for the current, older members to do, such as climbing onto the roof to install a new air conditioner.

“The difficult part about it is that all of us are all seniors. It makes it difficult for us to do some of the work that 20, 25, 30 year olds do,” said Juan Martinez, the post treasurer.

Anyone who served in the military can participate as a member of the American Legion. There are even options for those without military service.

Those with a parent or grandparent who served in any branch of the military can join the Sons of the American Legion, and those with spouses or siblings who served can join the American Legion Auxiliary. Bowman said while Post 85 has an established Son’s chapter, they are still working on getting an auxiliary off the ground since they are barely short the needed 10 members to charter.

“In Valencia County, there are an awful lot of veterans here,” Bowman said. “I know I’m a female vet, but I still like to be around other vets, even though they’re men — most of them. Vets usually like to be around other vets because we can joke around and talk about different things.”

She gave the example of a conversation she had recently with a younger recruiter, who attended the same school she did.

“It was something that nobody else would really understand,” said Bowman, who served in the U.S. Army as a communications specialist from 1965 to 1968.

“We want to bring our veterans in, as many as we can,” Martinez said. “A lot of people think that American Legions are a place where you can go and sit and drink all day, and you don’t. You can come in here and you can talk and reminisce and get a lot of stuff off your chest.”

After the renovations, Bowman said the post has plans to offer more than camaraderie. In addition to informing veterans about the resources available to them, they hope to create a space to help unhoused veterans, and raise money for the American Legion baseball team.

The post is also working on expanding the outdoor space, which currently has a temporary cover and a few patio tables with chairs, to include a barbecue grill and be a gathering space for families.

“We want the wife and kids, or husband and kids, whatever it may be, to come here and feel like they’re at their second home,” Vice Commander Step said.

The John P. Elliot American Legion Post 85 is located at 3474A N.M. 47 in Los Lunas, just west of Alibertos Mexican Food.

“An American Legion member is an American Legion member, whether they are keeping their post back in New Jersey, or here, or Albuquerque,” Bowman said. “It doesn’t  matter what post they belong to — we are all family.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.