For 100 years, the American Legion Post 118 has served the veterans of Hendricks County.
Coinciding with the national Legion’s century mark, the Hendricks County American Legion had its 100th anniversary on Oct. 13. Celebrating at the open house along with the rest of the organization’s members was Danville’s Denise Dillion.
Cover Photo by Rick Myers
“Dee,” as she’s referred to by friends, has been a member of Post 118 for six years, and is also a member of their honor guard. “This place is just remarkable,” the 64-year-old said.
Of the Hendricks County Legion’s 21 founders, four were brothers who served in World War I, Dillion said.
“The American Legion had just gone national,” she said. “Some of their descendants are still in this post. It’s grown, and it’s become a family post. We also have the only honor guard in Hendricks County.”
Post chaplain Rick Moore attended the 100th year celebration.
“Dee is a very hard worker,” Moore said. “She’s in on everything we do at the Legion. She’s very active and is here all the time every time we need her. She does a lot of mechanical work. She loves this Legion, is here to help everybody and is a very good woman.”
Dillion joined the Women’s Army Corp, the women’s military unit known as WAC, right out of high school in August 1973.
“My father fought in World War I,” Dillion continued. “He died when I was six. Something about that first time I ever heard ‘Taps’ at his funeral resonated in my body, and it still does. Serving my country seemed like the thing to do. My mom was my only supporter.”
Photo by Faith Toole
Dillion had three older brothers who were very opinionated, not hesitating to share their opinions with their sister on her post high school intentions.
“I was growing up in a man’s world,” she said. “The things they said weren’t kind.”
Dillion’s mother died age 44 after a battle with breast cancer and becoming one of the first chemo patients in Indiana.
“She got breast cancer, and most of my childhood until 18 was watching her die,” she said. “She felt like she had completed her journey because she had all of her kids graduated from high school.”
Like many other recruits, Dillion had second thoughts as soon as the bus pulled in to basic training.
“You got somebody in your face all the time once you hit boot camp,” she said. “We were young, impressionable people.”
To weed out people who shouldn’t be there, the minute the bus drove on the property, the drill sergeant got on the bus and started reading Dillion and fellow recruits the riot act, she said.
“You mold and make them into stronger people who can survive a war zone if they were ever put in it,” she said.
In 1978, Dillion was a part of the changeover that welcomed women into the military. Some, though, were not as receptive to her presence as she would have liked.
“They didn’t want us,” she said, referring to women in the ranks. “The guys looked at you like ‘I’m being made to do this, and I don’t want you here.’ I was in electronics communication. You show up on a job site, and they’re like, ‘What the heck did they send you for?’”
But Dillion always won her comrades over.
“There was always that sense of camaraderie, that sense of union,” she said. “One thing you knew was that if you were serving with someone that you had certain things in common. You were willing to give your life. It becomes its own family, its own entity.”
She felt lucky to receive the training she did in the service, including training, education, rewards and a job that pays.
“What a deal,” Dillion said. “All I have to do is understand that these are the rules and regulations. What person wouldn’t want to jump on something like that? You set your own destiny. You want to play by the rules, you’ll succeed.”
When her son Bryan was 19, Dillion served as a drill sergeant and retired as a master sergeant from the Army.
“Part of my retirement was just being able to be around him,” she said. “I wasn’t a traditional mom – at least not until he was 19.”
Dillion now has a grandson and a granddaughter. She prepared and gifted a memory box to her granddaughter full of her military awards, uniforms and her story of joining WAC.
“As you go through military in service, most soldiers had a box or binder with ribbons and awards,” she said. “When I retired, I took a hope chest box and I put everything into it, along with a bottle of my perfume. Maddie is 18 now, and is going to go off to college soon. I want her someday look at it and reflect back on what her grandmother believed and did. It’s like a time capsule, I guess you could say.”
Bryan now runs Marine Works in Danville, and that’s what brought Dillion to Hendricks County more than half a decade ago.
As a retired veteran, Dillion is content to spend time with her family and her comrades at the Legion.
Getting to know Denise Dillion
Who or what inspires you? My country. Donald Trump.
What is your favorite movie? “Born on the Fourth of July”
What do you enjoy reading? I love Tom Clancy novels. They’re realistic.
Do you have pets? I have a rescue blue pit bull that is the most lovable dog in the world. His name is Diesel.
What is your secret to success? Listen. Don’t always want to talk. Just listen to what the need is.