1000 x 90

Changing of the Guard at Watauga County American Legion: Commander Finley Hodges “Retires” after 15 Years

Finley Hodges, at left, displays a plaque and gift of appreciation he received for 15 years of service as commander of American Legion Post #130, presented by the new post Commander, Rick Cornejo, pictured right. Photo by Sherrie Norris

By Sherrie Norris

During the July meeting of the Watauga County American Legion Post #130, longtime commander Finley Hodges relinquished his leadership role, but not before installing his successor and new officers for the coming year.

For 15 years, Hodges has led the local veterans organization with dignity and pride, but at the ceremony on July 6, he turned over the reins to Rick Cornejo, who was has pledged to take the group forward.

“Finely is the only commander some of us have ever known,” said post member and Junior Vice-Commander, Norman Garland. “We are going to miss him, but we appreciate everything he has done for us.”

Several in attendance spoke of Hodges and the post’s many accomplishments during his terms of service, which includes: increasing membership, increased funding through donations and monthly breakfasts, leading hundreds of military honor funerals, securing full uniforms for honor guard members, increased participation in civic and community events, and leading the local campaign to have the words, “In God We Trust” placed upon the Watauga Country Courthouse, on more than 700 posters in schools and businesses, and upon county law enforcement vehicles.

“We received a lot of feedback from those (last) efforts,” said Hodges. “Not all of it was positive and we had an uphill battle that even got the attention of Fox News, but it was worth it all. If anyone ever wants to question why it’s important to us that those words never be forgotten, all they’ve got to do is read the preamble to the constitution. It’s there for everyone to see. There’s no question for us, especially as veterans, that it’s all for God and country.”

Hodges thanked his fellow veterans for their support through the years and welcomed Cornejo as the new commander. “There’s no way I could’ve done any of this without the help of our members. I know Rick will continue the good work that we started and I look forward to what the future holds for this post.” 

During the July 6 meeting of American Legion Post #130, outgoing Commander Finley Hodges, at left, installs officers for the coming year: Pictured from left are Senior Vice-Commander Allen Culler, Finance Officer Jeff Winkler, Junior Vice-Commander Norman Garland, and Commander Rick Cornejo. 
Photo by Sherrie Norris

Moving Forward With New Commander

In accepting his role as the new commander of American Legion Post #130, Rick Cornejo expressed his appreciation for the confidence placed in him for his new position, and to Hodges for paving the way for him.

“Finley Hodges will be a tough act to follow. His leadership, guidance, helpfulness, dedication, commitment, and, of course friendship, has led our post through some tough times. I am thankful he will still be available to help us continue into the future.”

During the installation ceremony, Cornejo was joined by returning officers: Allen Culler, senior vice-commander; Norman Garland, junior vice-commander, and Jeff Winkler, new finance officer.

Other leaders of the post include Larry Osborne, adjutant, Joe Bryan, chaplain, and heading up committees, in addition to Garland (building/grounds/uniforms) Culler (guns and ammunition), and Winkler (transportation van), are A.R. Moody (membership) and Buddy Townsend (breakfast).

Coming to the command post with a lifetime of military experience, Cornejo retired from the US Navy in 1994 with 22 years of service. He joined the Watauga Chapter 130 of the American Legion in 2000, served as the senior vice commander until 2008 when, upon the unexpected death of the finance officer, he assumed that position until he became commander. 

Cornejo also served as district senior vice commander when former post commander, the late Earl Moretz was appointed District 21 Commander. 

Cornejo has also been part of the post’s honor guard since joining the organization..

He is also currently the commander for Chapter 80 Disabled American Veterans in Ashe County.

For the last 17 ½ years, Cornejo has also served as the pastor at Mt. Paran Baptist Church on Wildcat Rd in Deep Gap.

High Country Post recently spoke with Cornejo about his new role with American Legion and learned that his No. 1 priority,  “as with all organizations,” he said, is growing the organization through increased membership. “And to continue the great work set down by our outgoing Commander, Finley Hodges.”

We asked Cornejo why should or would a veteran (want to)  be a part of this organization?

He responded;  “As with all of our veteran organization, a veteran should belong to, and support it,  because there is strength in numbers. One voice can do something, however the millions of veterans that belong to the American Legion can accomplish much, much more together.”

And, what is the strength behind this local post, we asked?

“Camaraderie!” he responded emphatically. “One of the things that most veterans miss from our active days, in whatever branch of service we served, is knowing our brothers and sisters in arms have our backs. That is never a question within the American Legion.”

And, Cornejo noted that the national commander of the organization “fights for our benefits in Washington,” for which he and his comrades are eternally grateful. 

When asked how the Watauga County community, in general, can be of help to him and this veterans organization, Cornejo responded, “Prayers for wisdom, for myself and my fellow officers, to lead our post into the future. The motto for the American Legion is ‘For God and Country.’ We are looking for God to continue to guide us.”

Watauga American Legion Post #130 is located at 135 Bear Trail in Boone. Monthly meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month beginning at 6 p.m. New/potential members are welcome to attend.

Fundraising breakfasts take place on the third Saturday of each month, beginning at 7 a.m. until around 9 a.m., or until the food runs out.

 Rick Cornejo leads his first meeting as new commander of the American Legion Post #130, with Adjutant Larry Osborne, Finance Officer Jeff Winkler and Junior Vice-Commander Norman Garland, pictured at right.