Q&A with Greenport’s American Legion commander Jack Martilotta

Army veteran and active National Guardsman Jack Martilotta has served his country for more than two decades. Since 2021, he has also served his community as commander of the American Legion’s Burton Potter Post 185 in Greenport.

American Legions throughout the country have seen memberships decline in recent years and many are in need of younger members, such as Mr. Martilotta, 49, who was deployed to Iraq in 2005. These young, active leaders are vital for the posts to navigate through changing times and allow them to grow while adhering to the Legion’s four pillars: veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism and supporting children and youth.

Since the 1950s, the Greenport Legion had been known for hosting firefighter dances, New Years Eve bashes, concerts from national acts including Charlie Daniels and Wilson Pickett and professional wrestling events. But around the turn of the century, the Legion shuttered. Thanks to the efforts of George Costello Sr., a Vietnam veteran, other former service members, volunteer laborers and the broader community, a restoration project began in 2011. Seven years later, the Legion unveiled its new roller skating rink named in honor of Mr. Costello, kicking off a new chapter in its history.

Since he became commander three years ago, Mr. Martilotta has actively recruited vets of all ages and so far this year the post has hosted a line dancing night, a dueling pianos concert, a professional wrestling event, two blood drives and a comedy night fundraiser.

“We were just talking at our last meeting about how proud we all are of all the great stuff we’ve been able to do this year,” Mr. Martilotta said in a telephone interview. “Compared to where we were a couple years ago, it’s amazing. We’re excited about all the great stuff we’re looking to do.”

The Suffolk Times spoke with Mr. Martilotta recently about the state of the American Legion today, how it serves its members and the broader community and its plans for the future.

Have you been able to attract new, younger members in the past year?

We got a few younger guys in their 40s and two new members in their 20s as well as some gentlemen in their 50s and 60s as well. So we had a good cross section come across in the last year. At any given time, right about 1% of the population is in uniform and about 5% of population are veterans. It’s a slim pool for sure, but we’ve also been trying to reach out to to build our ranks of sons and daughters of veterans. As we become more of an active post and do more things, we expect that to continue to help grow our membership.

What are some of the events that you’ve held so far this year and what else do you have planned?

We made a commitment to have one event each month — be at a concert, a comedy event — and they’ve been really successful. I think it’s something that the community is really starting to look forward to. People have been stopping me on the street wanting to know what our next thing is going to be. They’ve been really well attended. At least in Greenport, the Legion is really the last public gathering space that’s left as far as a community center, so we’ve been trying very hard to make it function as such. As our funding is increased through these events, we’re able to do more.

Do you think American Legions have a responsibility to serve the broader community?

We view our Legion as having a dual role. It’s to support veterans, and to support the youth in the community, and doing that supports the larger community. We have the roller skating for the kids on the weekend; that’s become a lot more popular in the last year. \As the Legion has been doing this longer, and, quite frankly, as we’ve been able to put more money in the bank and reinvest more in the building, in the programs, we’ve seen an increase in public turnout. We’re going to keep trying to do that, and the hope is we will see a return on our investment.

Do you feel the Legion is supported by the community?

Sure. Every one of the last few events we’ve had we’ve had several hundred people, and we’ve gotten more at each one.

What is the long term goal for the Greenport Legion? What are you building towards?

We ask ourselves two questions: are we supporting veterans and their families? And are we supporting the youth in the community? As we increase our membership, as we increase our funding, we’re hoping to reach out to more people to do more things. We hoping in the next year to have some sort of movie night. We’re hoping to have more, larger concerts. We’re going to have a lobster bake fundraiser this year. We’re trying to do for the local community. When we have these concerts or other events, we’re trying to give people in town something to do. So much of what is going on right now on the North Fork is catered towards the summer crowd or tourism. We’re trying to do something for the local people who live here year-round, and so far, so good.

How is the Legion celebrating Memorial Day? What message do you want community members to take home with them?

The Memorial Day parade is being hosted by the Greenport Legion on Monday, May 27 at 10 a.m. Everybody is invited, and immediately following the parade we’re going to have hotdogs, sodas, beer and whatnot at the Legion. Please come by, take a look at the place, have a hotdog and celebrate our nation’s most solemn holiday. Everybody should enjoy the day, but everybody should also take a moment to reflect on the incredible sacrifice so many have made, reflect on the sacrifices of those we lost that allow us to do the things we do. Nobody should ever loose sight of that.