Mike McDermott looks forward to traveling the state and meeting the people who live here after he starts a tour of duty as the new department commander of the New York State American Legion in July.
“I’ve been vetted for three years on this,” McDermott said Friday. “Past commanders and the past national commander, you sit down with them twice a year and they go over their requirements and what you’re looking forward to. They check you out pretty good.”
McDermott became the leading candidate for the position in January. He’ll assume the post in July.
McDermott, of Homer, is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1967. He was in country from 1966 to 1967 where he worked in communication and intelligence.
McDermott joined the American Legion in 1980, after missing and wanting to return to a camaraderie with his fellow veterans. Back then, it never crossed his mind that one day he’d be the face of the organization for the state.
McDermott served for 13 years as commander of the Homer American Legion; four years as Cortland County American Legion commander; at the sixth district for the legion where he has served as commander, vice commander and most recently as the treasurer.
Now he’ll command the state. “Over 800 posts,” he said. “Sixty-two counties.”
Over the year of his command, McDermott will have to travel to every county in the state and meet with people. “Of course I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. He expects to be on the road for 180 to 190 days.
His job as department commander is to act as a voice for the Legion in the state. “I represent the Legion all over the state and the nation,” he said.
First on McDermott’s list — meeting people. “I’ve traveled quite a bit for the district and you meet different people, but they’re all veterans, relatives of veterans … It’s a camaraderie that you can’t explain,” he said.
McDermott brings experience of dealing with people after serving as mayor in Homer for three two-year terms before deciding not to run for re-election in 2011.
One project is to expand membership and further publicize what the Legion does. “We don’t blow our own horn enough,” he said. Girls State, Boys State, Legion Riders, American Legion Baseball are all projects the Legion backs.
McDermott said being from Cortland County is good. “Maybe they’ll think we’re doing something right here,” he said. “Maybe we ought to do it more.”
McDermott has also helped organize the American Legion’s Color Guard and Honor Guard for funerals, said Francis Riter, a member of the Homer American Legion Post 465.
“Everything he’s done has been community oriented,” Riter said.
He said McDermott’s new position is a great honor for this part of the state. McDermott would serve as the first department commander of the state’s legion from Cortland County. “These things don’t happen often,” Riter said.
McDermott also said he wants to bring the American Legion back to what it was when he was a kid — about families.
“It was for families,” he said. “You brought your kids in, they had clam bakes, games for kids. They kind of got away from that.”
McDermott plans to keep a journal of each stop. He’ll also lead the state contingent in the Veterans’ Day Parade in New York City.
“I think it’s probably one of the greatest accomplishments I’m ever going to have in my life,” he said. “Besides my kids. And grandkids.”