Forty-seven consecutive conventions and counting
BREWSTER -- In the past 47 years, Ferdie Haberman hasn't missed an opportunity to attend the National American Legion Convention. He's traveled from the West Coast to the East Coast and seemingly everywhere in between. He's even made three trips to Hawaii to represent Minnesota's Second District.
The one place he hasn't been is Alaska, and that's only because the convention has never been there.
"In 1959 I went to my first (convention) in Minneapolis," Haberman said. "Eisenhower was the president, and he spoke to us."
It wasn't until almost a decade later, in 1967, that Haberman made a pact with himself to attend the convention every year. He's heard from countless speakers and every U.S. president since then, including Barack Obama.
"This year we didn't have the president there in person -- he spoke via satellite. He spoke last year in Minneapolis and I was about 10 feet from him," Haberman said. "He's a very impressive speaker. Normally they have notes in front of them, but he didn't use anything."
For each year Haberman has attended the national convention, he's received a banner -- a metal plate detailing the date and place of that year's convention. He has them attached to the flag pole he carries through parades and ceremonies as a member of Brewster Legion Post 464.
"I enjoy it," he said of his quest to attend the National American Legion Convention. "I like going to all of the sessions -- you hear many good speakers."
"It's a lifestyle," added Haberman's wife, Lois. "You're all about God and country. You meet so many people that are interested in the same things you are. They do a lot of fighting for the vets."
Army green; proud of the red, white and blue
Haberman was already married when he received his draft papers in 1952. Uncle Sam needed him to aid in the fight against Korea, but by the time Haberman completed his training at Fort Leonardwood, Mo., he was no longer needed overseas.
"The war started in 1950 and it was a two-year term you went in for," he said. "All of the guys were getting out as I went in."
Haberman was assigned to stay at Fort Leonardwood as a training cadre. His oldest son was born when he was stationed there.
"I didn't win no war, but I went where they told me," he said. "I did have four brothers in Korea. There was seven boys (in the family). Six of us were in the service; the other had polio. He tried to get in, but they wouldn't take him."
After his two-year stint in the Army was completed, Haberman and his family returned to rural Brewster. A short time later, he was recruited to join the local American Legion post.
"A guy chased me down and asked why I wasn't a member," Haberman recalled. "I said I didn't have any money, so he grabbed me by the arm and took me into the bank. He said, 'They have counter checks in here.'"
Back then, it cost $3 to join the American Legion. Today, a membership at Brewster's post is $30 a year, which helps cover the cost of the Legion's district, state and national publications.
Being a member of the Legion is much more than just getting magazines and newsletters, though. To Haberman, it's the camaraderie of being among other veterans.
"You just sit around and talk," he said. "I think that's a lot of it."
The Brewster Legion, like many others across the state and nation, is having a difficult time getting the country's newest veterans -- those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait -- to join the Legion's ranks.
"They just don't want to join. It's a different time," he said. "People are busy -- people are working damn near two jobs."
Just as the new veterans are reluctant to join, the Legion is losing its older veterans.
"The World War II (veterans), a lot of them are passing away," Haberman said. "A lot of the Korean vets are passing away."
"I think what keeps Ferdie going, though, is marching in the parade and carrying the flag," said Lois.
He's proud of his country. He's proud of the red, white and blue.
The Legion's reach
While a lot of people may not know what members of the American Legion do, Haberman said they do everything from sponsoring Legion baseball and an annual oratorical contest to ensuring that school children can safely cross the highway in Brewster.
"In Brewster, a hundred semis go down that road (Nobles County 1) a day. School patrol -- we sponsor it. We pay the bills and send the (crossing guards) up to Brainerd for about a week every year," he said. "There's never been a fatality in Minnesota by a school that's had school patrol."
The Legion also sponsors Boys and Girls State, providing leadership and citizenship training to high school students selected to take part. In addition, it provides scholarships to those who compete in the oratorical contest.
All of those things are paid for with the money collected by member dues and what the Legion members make working. They host Bingo every Thursday night in Brewster, and sell beer during wedding dances and other occasions that take place in the Brewster Legion Hall.
Haberman remains active both in the Brewster Legion, as well as in the Second District, which consists of 13 counties in southwest Minnesota. In fact, of the 47 consecutive National American Legion conventions he has attended, he's been asked to represent the district as a delegate about 40 times. The other years he served as an alternate, and one year as a guest. In 1968-69, Haberman served as district commander, and logged 37 years as the finance officer for the Second District, retiring from the post in 2011.
This year's convention was in Indianapolis, Ind., and Haberman was among more than 100 Minnesota delegates to join with the 18,000 delegates nationwide.
Rich in service
While Haberman and his brothers did their part during the Korean War, the family is steeped in military history. He had uncles who fought in World War I and World War II; and he has three grandsons in the military -- one in the Marines who served in Iraq, another in the National Guard who served in Kuwait, and the third who graduated from boot camp this week at the Great Lakes Naval Academy and has enlisted in the Navy. The Habermans were present for the ceremony.
Haberman is "pretty proud" of his grandsons for choosing to enter the military, and wishes the country still had the draft.
"These kids running around the street who don't know what they're doing, after the first six months, their feet would be on the ground, I guarantee you," he said. "What have they got to do? Get in trouble.
"I know kids that went in there that were just hell raisers, and when they came back they were at least respected," he added.
That respect continues for members of the American Legion, and as long as Haberman is able, he hopes to travel the country to get to every National American Legion Convention he can.
"I'd like to make it to 2019; that's when it will be 100 years old," he said of the convention. "It started in 1919."
Next year's convention is in Houston, Texas. After that, it's on to Charlotte, N.C., Baltimore, Md., Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Ky., Minneapolis and then Indianapolis again, where the home base is for the American Legion.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.