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At 90, Legion post recruits young vets using car show

BRADENTON — Charlie Fitt was more than proud to let people get a look at his 1936 black Ford custom street rod during a car show Saturday afternoon at the American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24.

“I threw the old eight-cylinder out, and I put in a new hot dog 350,” said Fitt about the car’s new engine as dozens of people stopped to look.

Fitt’s Ford was one of about 100 vintage, custom and collectible cars, trucks and motorcycles on display for the show called Veteran’s Tribute. The car show was the kickoff event to a week of activities honoring the 90th anniversary of the local Legion post which has been serving veterans and the community since 1919.

“I think it was a good kickoff,” said Fitt, a Vietnam veteran, past commander of American Legion Post 24 and the car show chairman. “We got a lot of people to come out that didn’t know the post existed.”

The show was free to attend and free for participants with a vehicle. Trophies were given to the top entries as chosen by the show participants, according to Fitt.

William Kirby Stewart, nephew of the local hero for whom the post is named, strolled the parking lot with his wife, Connie, peeking inside the classic and modified Buicks, Chevys, Pontiacs, Fords and even a few custom motorcycles.

“We loved it,” he said afterward. “It was great to see so many vintage cars.”

In the Legion’s parking lot was a vintage REO manufactured by the REO Motor Car Company started by Ransom E. Olds in 1904, and an all original 1962 Ford Galaxy 500 with only 25,000 miles, still owned by its original purchaser.

Car enthusiasts got to see a 1958 white Chevrolet Corvette coupe with a red interior worth at least $65,000, according to owners and Bradenton snowbirds, Rudy and Barbara Viegener. Rudy Viegener explained why.

“In 1958 was the first year they came out with the dual headlights and the washboard hood,” he said about the car’s nuance. “In 59 and 60, they cleaned them up.”

Jesse Correll was showing off his 1965 Pontiac GTO. He called it the “granddaddy of all muscle cars,” and said he always wanted one since he graduated from high school in 1966.

“I grew up with the GTO,” said the Vietnam veteran. “There was only one car.”

Down the row was a 1929 Ford Model A roadster with a rumble seat owned by retired U.S. Army Colonel Larry Burnette. Many stopped to admire the car as he talked about what inspired him to buy it.

“I retired three years ago,” said Burnette, a Legion Post 24 member who served 31 years in the military and taught Junior ROTC at Bayshore High School for years.

“A friend saw the car in the newspaper. He knew I was looking for a hobby.”

Burnette said the car show was one way for Legion Post 24 to give back to the community. In its 90 year history, the post has always been active in the community, businesses and schools.

“It’s a big mission of the post,” he said.

“This is our community and I live here. Community support is what it’s all about.”

Although geared as the event to showcase, Legion members hoped to recruit new members to the post because membership has been getting older and declining, said Fitt.

“We’re trying to demonstrate to younger veterans that we have activities they would enjoy,” he said.

The American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24 was named after local hero Kirby Stewart, and is one of the oldest posts in the United States.

After being established in downtown Bradenton in June 1919, it became a central location for not only veterans’ services and fellowship, but dances, dinners and activities.