Legion names first female commander
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 30, 2013

West Branch American Legion Chauncey Butler Post 514 selected Joanne Brookshear to the highest post of commander at its July meeting, making her the first woman to lead the post.

Brookshear is one of only seven women in the 100-plus Legion post. This is her ninth year with the Legion.

“I’m hoping I can live up to the Legion’s abilities and what they stand for,” she said.

Brookshear joked that she was “doing fine” with the post until a reporter asked her about being the first woman commander in West Branch.

“That scared me a little,” she laughed.

Al Bohanan, who just finished a two-year stint at the Legion commander, said Brookshear’s election represents her dedication and service to the post.

“We’re ecstatic” to see her promoted, Bohanan said. “We just haven’t had that many female members. She is really active and loyal.”

Bohanan said Brookshear attended a multi-day leadership training even though it is not a prerequisite to leading the post. She is frequently seen serving the Legion, often through the color guard, at funerals and ceremonies, and also at meetings and fundraisers.

“She’s certainly paid her dues,” he said. “She certainly has the respect of the post.”

Brookshear attended basic training in Bainbridge, Md., then served in the U.S. Navy in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program from 1960-63. She was stationed at the Pensacola, Fla., Naval Air Station during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis.

She was not called into the confrontation, but at the time worked as a 2nd Class Petty Officer overseeing the non-perishable supply warehouse. She remembers locking up the warehouse one night then returning the next day to find “everything was open and gone.”

“They didn’t tell us anything,” Brookshear said. “But my mother wrote to tell me about what was going on with Cuba.”

Her base was the second-closest to the Soviet-Cuban standoff in the Atlantic ocean.

After leaving the Navy, she was interested in joining the Legion, but the group had a policy that women had to join the Auxiliary.

She remembers her husband, Louis Brookshear Jr., a 23-year veteran, now deceased, telling her to be patient.

“He said, ‘Let them invite you to join,’ so that’s what I did,” she said.

Brookshear said her parents were farmers, but she did have uncles in the military. And her daughter, Kelly Sanders, has served in the U.S. Army for 20 years and is currently stationed in Arizona.

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