COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Many look forward to Columbus Day as a day to not go to school or work. But on Monday, American Legion Post 35 in Columbus threw a Columbus Day celebration at their center on North Lumpkin Road.

“It’s Columbus Day,” said retired Lt. Col. Sam Nelson, the chaplain at Post 35, wearing fake dog ears over his baseball cap. “This is Columbus, Georgia. It’s a crying shame that nobody celebrates Columbus Day in Columbus, Georgia. So we thought, ‘How can we have some fun with this?’”

Nelson pointed out that Christopher Columbus was Italian, not Spanish, so Post 35 decided to hold a celebration with an Italian theme. Inside the building (and on Nelson’s t-shirt) were several images of the main characters from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” In the kitchen, Post 35 Adjutant Donna Doughty cooked spaghetti for a spaghetti sauce tasting contest.

Above, Post 35 Adjutant Donna Doughty cooks spaghetti.

Nelson said there would also be a meatball-rolling contest inspired by the scene in “Lady and the Tramp” in which Tramp rolls a meatball to Lady with his nose. Contestants would roll a fake foam meatball across a table with their noses. Two prizes were available for the contest – the best in speed  and the best in style.

Spaghetti wasn’t the only food on the menu. Post 35 members brought homemade banana pudding, brownies, red velvet cake and more.

There were four spaghetti sauce contestants. People sitting at the bar received sheets of paper on which they could vote for their favorite sauce. In the end, Mia Born was the winner. She was awarded a black apron with the words “Spaghetti Sauce Winner Post 35 October 10, 2022” in yellow. Born had previously won a chili contest at another Post 35 event.

Only two people competed in the meatball-rolling contest: Nelson and 9-year-old Santino Hawkins. Nelson won the Tramp Award for best style, having rolled the meatball across the table in about 10 seconds. Hawkins won the Tramp Award for best speed, having rolled the meatball across the table in about five seconds.

Above, retired Lt. Col. Sam Nelson rolls a fake foam meatball across a table with his nose as his wife, Sallie Nelson, times him and contestant Santino Hawkins watches.

American Legion Post 35 is a veteran’s service organization.

“We’re chartered by Congress, as is the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars],” Nelson said. “And we [American Legion] actually wrote the first GI Bill. We wrote it and gave it to Congress; they passed it exactly as we wrote it.”

Nelson pointed out a picture of the first American Legion meeting, which was held in Paris in 1919. He said American Legion was founded because World War I was so “horrible” that veterans would need help readjusting to everyday life.

“And I can tell you that if you join a veterans organization like the VFW or Legion, your chances of suicide are a lot lower,” he said. “People that are out there by themselves, they’re isolated – they’re the ones that [commit] suicide. And that was the case back then, too.”

Nelson said veterans get “therapy” by talking to people at the bar at Post 35.

“They’ll sit there and tell their story to another guy who won’t laugh at him,” he said. “It really helps.”