Henry Link, who is the current commander of the American Legion’s 8th District and is with 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 ran out of deferments, so I was drafted in March 1971,” Link says. “I did my basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
The memorable part of my foundational graduation was that my daughter turned one the day I graduated.
After base, Link departed to Fort Sill, Okla., to begin advanced individual training in Fire Direction Center Training. The FDC tells artillery guns where to aim to hit their target.
“We started with about 50 students in the class, but at graduation eight weeks later, there were only 34 left to graduate,” Link says. “Because FDC was an essential military occupational specialty, there was always a need in Vietnam. We had heard that our class was going to Vietnam. It seems that all the other classes went to Vietnam alternately with Korea and Germany. Luckily for me, my wife Carole and my daughter Wendy, my entire class was sent to Fort Carson, Colorado.
While at Fort Carson, Link served as the chief computer for its gun battery, led the M-577 command post, served on the enlisted men’s board, and became the training noncommissioned officer.
With Vietnam over, the military decided it had to find a way to send people home sooner. They offered a 60-day early departure to join the Army Reserves or Army National Guard for a year-long trial enlistment. The Jamestown Reserves were a training team and the Dunkirk National Guard was a tank team. For Link, training sounded better than playing with tanks, so Link took to the start and joined the army reserves in Jamestown.
Link served 19 years in the reserves and rose from leadership academy to chief instructor, and drill sergeant to first sergeant, retiring in 1992.
Forty-four years ago, Link joined the American Legion but was never really part of it until the early 2000s.
“In 2008 a friend said ‘we’re thinking of bringing the moving wall to Brocton and we want you to be a commander because we think you’ll be good at it'”, Link says. “I said I didn’t know anything about the legion, and he said ‘you will learn’. So I ran for commander in 2009 and won.
The Mobile Wall is a 1/2 scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, representing those lost during the Vietnam War. Link said there were three goals in mind when they brought the moving wall to Brocton.
“The first was to help Vietnam veterans heal because they weren’t welcomed back home like they should have been,” Link says. “The second was to educate the youngest. And the third was to involve the community and get them to come and see the wall. We have had great success.
Link said up to 40,000 people came to visit the wall in the five days he was in Brocton.
Nineteen different schools also sent buses, which Link saw fit as the wall was in Brocton from September 9-14, just when school would have resumed.
“We also had a counselor there 24 hours a day all the time,” Link says. “Later I spoke to the senior adviser and said ‘it didn’t seem like you were too busy here’. He replied “I can’t believe how many people have come to talk to me”. It wasn’t just in the council tent, it was everywhere, by the wall and all over the premises. We have therefore achieved all three objectives.
Link served as Commanding Officer of Station 434 from 2009 to 2013. He became Vice Commander of the American Legion of Chautauqua County from 2013 to 2014 and County Commander from 2014 to 2015. He returned to the position as Commanding Officer from 2015 to 2021.
“I thought I was done after that and was going to hang up my boots, but I was convinced to run for District Commander and was elected Commander of the American Legion 8th District for the year. 2022-2023 of the Legion”, Link says.
The 8th District includes the eight counties of western New York and two posts in Canada.
Overall, Link said that as a district commander and as a member of the American Legion, he wanted to help improve the lives of veterans.
“There are currently 22 veterans per day who commit suicide”, Link says. “Some say that number can be up to 40 a day, but others say only 10 or 15. Most of the time people who are contemplating suicide have some sort of revelation, they may just suggest it or mention where they can hang out and say they will If you hear a clue or testimony from one of these veterans, talk to them, befriend them, get them professional help Many of them need a friend to talk to, you can be that friend.
Additionally, Link said the American Legion also helps veterans nationwide.
“The American Legion is the largest veterans organization, not only in the United States but in the world”, Link says. “There are over 4 million members. The most important thing 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 originally failed due to an unnecessary additional $400 million being included. Following this, the American Legion “come together” and sent more than 37,000 notices to Congress to pass the law, which was then passed a week later.
Currently, another law is being passed by Congress that focuses on disabled veterans – the Major Richard Star Act.
Currently, medically disabled veterans cannot receive their retirement award and their medical disability award at the same time.
“For retired disabled veterans, the money they currently receive from the VA is deducted from their retirement,” Link says. “There is no cost, but they receive nothing for being disabled in the performance of their duties. You can be 10%, 20%, 30% disabled and it comes from your own retirement account, which doesn’t seem fair to me. Congress must act and correct this mistake.
Link said this law is ready to pass and if passed it will instead the money for being disabled in the line of duty will be added to the retirement accounts.