AMERICAN LEGION POST 501 HISTORY (updated as of 4/10/2019)
The American Legion Severson-Cairns Post 501 has a proud heritage, formulated from the names of two local servicemen, one of whom died in service to his country in World War I.
The current Post 501 was consolidated from two earlier posts named after these two warriors. American Legion Victory Post 57 was established early on in Madison, and named after William Bateman Cairns. He was born in Madison, WI, on June 3d, 1894, the older of two sons of William B and Dora Cairns. One of his grandfathers, Samuel Gregory Bateman, who was born in 1839, from Orlean, NY, was a veteran of the Civil War.
After attending the University of Wisconsin for two years, where his father was a professor, he was called into military service. In 1916 he was a private in Company G, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, the Madison company of the National Guard. He served on the Mexican Border from June 19, 1916 to January 10, 1917, serving with the forces under Brigadier General Pershing in the pursuit of the Pancho Villa incursions into the border states.
On July 15, 1917, Cairns' unit, Company G, 127th Infantry, 32nd Division was sent to France to reinforce the US forces located in the Gardell sector along the Rhine-Rhone canal near Hagenbach. His unit was later transferred to the Aines-Marne Offensive, conducted near Roncherres. Here he lost his life on July 29, 1918, as a result of a German artillery barrage on the farmhouse in which Cairnes was settling his unit down for the engagement. At this time, with a rank of Platoon Sergeant, he was also serving as Acting Platoon Leader.
William B Cairns was the first Madison area soldier killed in World War I. The well respected Victory Post 57 was named in his honor, the post being made up primarily of World War I Veterans. William B,. Cairnes is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery here in Madison, WI.
In 2008, The Cairns Victory Post 57 merged with the Severson Post 501, and today Post 501 is named Severson-Cairns, after these two selfless warriors.
The second service member for which Post 501 commemorates is Donald C Severson. Born November 10, 1929, he was raised in Madison, the oldest son of Russell and Rose Severson.
Donald enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 9, 1948, in the Medical Corps. He served in various assignments during the Korean war period. Upon completion of his Navy service, he entered into the U.S. Marine Corps, and served in the Caribbean area from 1952-1953, again in the medical corps. He attained the rank of Hospital-man Third Class during this time frame.
Upon discharge from the military he returned home to Madison, and joined the American Legion at the Burke Post, being one of the original founding members. Burke Post was chartered in 1953. He worked with the Wisconsin Conservation Department prior to his untimely passing on September 15, 1955. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Madison, WI. Upon his death, the Burke legion post Legionnaires requested that the Burke Post, named after the location in which it was was established, be renamed on October 20, 1955 to be the Donald C Severson American Legion Post 501 to honor him. The Post's motto was "The Action Post", and remains the same motto to this day.
On September 18, 2008, the American Legion Post 57 "Victory Post" was consolidated along with the American Legion Post 501, to be named the current American Legion Severson-Cairns Post 501, located at 105 Dempsey Road, Madison, WI 53714. Post 501 had several iterations in locations - first located on Burke road, then moved to East Washington Avenue, where the Office Depot is currently situation and then relocated to Lien Road, near the current East Town. Finally, an opportunity to purchase their own clubhouse arose from what was an ice cream factory, located on Dempsey Road, near Woodman’s East.
Today, the current members of the American Legion, it's Auxilliary and the Sons of the American Legion, continue to carry on the programs and services established under the leadership of those who, before us, have proudly served and sacrificed in boots for our country. The memorial hall and now the “Post History/Auxiliary Conference room” are filled with post history and military uniformed mannequins. Unit 501, the Legion Post Auxiliary, shares space with an especial display of past Unit President photos. This updated room has drawn numerous positive comments, and is a proud addition to our Post. Our main meeting room has photos of past Post Commanders, stretching back to the early years of the Severson Post. If you are in the area, be sure to stop in and learn about our proud service and history.