By BRIAN WALKER
COEUR d'ALENE — Cope Gale doesn't have to read about how the Idaho National Guard Cavalry transitioned from horses to vehicles.
He lived it.
The Coeur d'Alene 99-year-old, one of just 240 veterans nationwide to have been members of the American Legion for at least 75 years, was honored by several elected officials and veteran groups during a ceremony held by American Legion Kootenai Post 14 at Mountain Lakes Bible Church on Tuesday night.
Gale said he went with the flow during World War II when horse soldiers made the switch to motor vehicles because he didn't have a choice.
"After I got thrown a couple times, I wasn't particularly fond of horses anyway," he said with a smile.
"(President Franklin D.) Roosevelt called the National Guard to take away horses to make field artillery units in 1940. He enjoyed riding horses, but found vehicles easier in some ways."
Gale also served in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Air Force and Navy aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts battleship in the South Pacific as an assistant gunnery officer.
When Gale was asked why he left the Air Force to serve in the Navy, Gale said, "The Air Force didn't like the way I flew their planes."
Gale was a member of the American Legion in Moscow before transferring his membership to Coeur d'Alene in 1970. He has served in several leadership positions, including as state commander in 1974 and 1975.
"He's the only one I know who has made it 65 years (as a Legionnaire), let alone 75," said Dusty Rhoads, a fellow Legionnaire. "Gale is a straight shooter. If he tells you something, it's a fact. We need to recognize these Greatest Generation servicemen and servicewomen as there are not many left."
Dawn Gale, Cope's wife of 37 years, said she never wondered where her husband was when he wasn't home because she knew he was at the Legion.
"The comradeship was necessary because guys talked about what happened during war," she said. "He's been really dedicated to the Legion."
Gale was a regular at Legion meetings until seven years ago. However, he still pops in for coffee once or twice a week.
"He likes to say, 'Hey guys. I'm still around,'" said David Mandell, commander of Post 14. "He's a great community man who has worked constantly to make sure veteran families' needs are met. He's part of a very elite group."
After serving in the military from 1940 to 1946, Gale was the county prosecutor in Latah and Benewah counties and city attorney for St. Maries.
Dee Sasse, the Legion's District 1 commander for the Department of Idaho said Gale has "exemplified the meaning of continuing to serve."
She said Gale has upheld the duties of the Legion well, including defending the Constitution, promoting peace, fostering Americanism and combating autocracy.
There are nearly 2 million members of the American Legion, which has more than 12,000 posts across the country and is celebrating its 100th year.
"Cope is the closest we have to the beginning of the American Legion," said Sen. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls. "He's the Duracell battery of Coeur d'Alene with what he's managed to do in one lifetime."
Tim Kastning, regional director for U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, said Gale has left a great example to follow. On behalf of Fulcher, Kastning honored his fellow veteran with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on May 28.
"Cope, you are a true hero for us," Kastning said while reading a letter from Fulcher.