ENCINITAS — On Saturday, Nov. 3, nearly 20 people affiliated with the American Legion Post 416 in Encinitas gathered at the California Pizza Kitchen in Solana Beach for a unique celebration. They were there to recognize 92-year-old John Tyler, a longtime American Legion member and World War II veteran. The last person to arrive was Tyler himself, who was totally surprised.
“When I arrived, I recognized one person and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’” Tyler said. “There were quite a few people there — it was pretty neat.”
The event also raised funds for the American Legion, with 20 percent of all bills going toward the organization. On the guest list that evening was Encinitas Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca, who presented Tyler with a proclamation from the city recognizing his service. Tyler also received a signed certificate from the American Legion National Commander, congratulating him on his 92nd birthday.
“Well the only thing you have to do to get this award is you have to live for a long time!” Tyler laughed.
Although Tyler became a member of the Encinitas American Legion just five years ago, he had been involved with his previous chapter in Branford, Connecticut, for nearly 60 years. While in Encinitas, Tyler helped rewrite the local bylaws to smooth out its election process.
Matthew Shillingburg, a retired U.S. Army commander and member of the Encinitas American Legion, said the group wanted to acknowledge Tyler’s work in the chapter and the American Legion as a whole.
“We recognize the fact that he has continued to support veterans and veterans’ causes for the last 65 years,” Shillingburg said.
As a veteran, Tyler said he is a strong believer in the American Legion. Back in Connecticut, Tyler recalled how their monthly bingo nights at the local V.A. hospital lifted so many spirits.
“Some of the guys couldn’t get out of bed,” Tyler said. “They had real serious problems. They were really cheered up — they really loved it when we came in and held these parties for them.”
Tyler also stood up for equality in the American Legion in the late 1950s. When his Japanese-American friend was denied entry into the Connecticut chapter because of his race, Tyler resigned from his officer position.
“The only people they would allow at that time were white,” Tyler said. “When I joined, I didn’t know that — I said, ‘Here’s my resignation.’ Thank god they changed that.”
Later this month, Tyler will move to Arizona with his son and daughter-in-law. Shillingburg explained that the celebration doubled as a farewell party to show Tyler he would be missed.
“John was totally surprised when he saw all the friendly faces,” Shillingburg said. “It was a really special moment for him.”
Tyler plans to join the local American Legion post in Arizona, although he admits he’ll probably take more of a background role given his age. Humbly, he said he felt he didn’t deserve the celebration two weeks ago — still, he truly appreciates all that the folks at Encinitas Post 416 did for him.
“I couldn’t believe it when they dragged out all my pictures and my accolades, and I said, holy smokes, I didn’t know that I was so appreciated,” Tyler said. “Then I had to appreciate what they had done for me. They made me feel very, very good.”