By Maddy Vitale
Bill Cruice was commander of American Legion Morvay-Miley Post 524 in 2000, when he organized a drive for the veterans to have a meeting place, one where they could share their memories, enjoy camaraderie and hold events.
On Saturday, the 84-year-old reflected on how he and other post members, there were 30 at the time, knocked on doors and began the long journey to having their own building. The post, which grew to 450 members in 17 years, leased space in four different locations.
Now, Post 524 finally has its own space to call home.
“I never thought this day would come – I never thought I would live to see it,” Cruice, an Airforce veteran said, looking at the crowd of dignitaries, members of the public and fellow veterans, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new headquarters for Post 524 at 46th street and West Avenue.
Commander Bob Marzulli led the ceremony, which included raising the flags and the official ribbon cutting.
Several dignitaries attended the event including, Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape, Cumberland, Atlantic. Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, Freeholder Jeff Pierson, Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, City Council President Peter Madden, Councilman Bob Barr, Councilwoman Karen Bergman, Councilman Keith Hartzell and Ocean City Executive Director of the Regional Chamber of Commerce Michele Gillian.
Officials spoke of their appreciation for the veterans.
“You really made a difference. It is one thing to get up every day and say you are going to do something, it is another to do it,” Van Drew said of the members’ efforts to build a headquarters. “You did it and you make a difference. God bless you.”
Wiping away tears, Hartzell gave a heartfelt tribute to his late father, who served both in World War II and the Korean War, as well as other vets.
“I love all of you,” Hartzell said.
“As a 40-year member of the American Legion this is one of my proudest moments,” Thornton said, adding that not only was it the opening of Post 524, but the 100th anniversary of the American Legion.
For many years, the new building with 4,800 square feet, seemed like an impossible dream. In 2014 the City gave the Legion the property to lease for $1 a year for 50 years.
The mayor told the crowd that he was appreciative of the dedication of the veterans and that the city and Post 524 work very well together.
The American Legion operated out of a building on 33rd Street and Bay Avenue. But like the buildings before it, Post 524 needed a larger space.
Members held an array of fundraisers to rally the community’s financial support for the project. In total, the building exceeded $500,000.
“After six years of trying to put this together, it was accomplished, and we did it always with the motto of veterans helping veterans and giving back to the community,” said Chairman of the Legion’s Fundraising Committee Rob Cozen.
“This is our greatest achievement outside of the veterans’ programs and helping the community,” Post Adjutant Jack Hagen noted. “This building exists for that one reason.”