Nisswa American Legion member boasts 72 years of continuous Legion membership
James J. Deyo Sr. joined the Legion as a teenager in St. Paul
You might say James J. "Jim" Deyo Sr. is extremely patriotic.
Afterall, he comes from a family of service members.
Deyo himself served in the military for nearly 39 years, retiring from the Army in 1986 as a sergeant major.
His military time included fighting in the Korean War as a young man.
And not only has Deyo been a member of the American Legion for 72 continuous years, he said he helped start the color guard at the Nisswa American Legion Billie Brown Post 627.
"I figured the deceased veterans needed an honor when they were buried. That’s my job - to take care of the veterans after they're gone."
— Veteran James J. Deyo Sr.
The 90-year-old rural Brainerd man with a quick smile and wit has his membership cards to prove it. He received a certificate last year from the national American Legion commander, during a visit to the Nisswa Legion, recognizing Deyo’s continuous years of Legion membership.
Deyo also has his dad’s American Legion membership cards along with other family military memorabilia. Those items include a Congressional Medal of Honor that a relative on his mother’s side - William James Jones - earned during the Civil War.
Deyo’s grandfather - James William Deyo - served in the Civil War; and his father - Clarence Deyo - and three uncles served in World War II. His father was a military policeman in the Army and served in France.
“He was a dedicated American Legion member,” Deyo said of his father during a conversation at the Nisswa American Legion.
He said his father belonged to American Legion Post 515 in Dayton’s Bluff, a neighborhood in St. Paul.
“That’s the post he signed me up to in 1950, in Dayton’s Bluff,” Deyo said, when he was just a teen.
His father told him: “You’re from a military family. Go in the Army.”
Deyo said he and a buddy signed up for the Army on Nov. 17, 1947, at age 16. In 1950, he went to Camp Rucker in Alabama (now Fort Rucker) and then served two years in the Korean War.
Being part of the American Legion color guard became his passion. The color guard honors veterans at funerals by performing patriotic rituals.
Deyo said he’s buried many veterans. He’s kept all the notices.
He and his wife of 57 years - Donna, who died in May 2009 - moved to Brainerd in 1968, where Deyo worked as a switch engineer for the railroad. He said he ran the last train to Nisswa, which then went to Bemidji.
He got into law enforcement and jobs included working for the Brainerd Police Department, serving as Lake Shore police chief for a half dozen years and then joining the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.
Of course, he still has his Minnesota Chief of Police Association card, an Eagles membership card and a “Vote for Deyo” card from the time he ran for Crow Wing County sheriff against incumbent Chuck Warnberg. He didn’t win.
The Deyos owned Suntan Beach Resort on Round Lake, he said, as well as the Old Waterfall for six years.
After moving to the Brainerd area, Deyo joined the Brainerd American Legion Post 255. He was unable to be part of the color guard, so he joined the Nisswa Legion, saying he started a color guard there because they didn’t have one.
“I figured the deceased veterans needed an honor when they were buried. That’s my job - to take care of the veterans after they're gone,” Deyo said.
His passion for the tradition keeps him active, and he wants to keep his dad’s memories alive. He has no plans to slow down.
“There’s no room for a rocking chair for this guy,” Deyo said with a smile.
In fact, he spent last Saturday clad in blaze orange during the firearms deer hunting opener as he has done for so many years. These days, though, he enjoys sitting in his chair with his coffee, cookies and a sandwich, listening to the birds and fondly remembering previous hunts that took place with family and friends.
Though he got his hunting license, he said if he saw a deer, he planned to shoo it away rather than shoot it.
“I go up there to remember all the good times,” Deyo said.
In the warmer months, he loves traveling in his motor home.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.