Bruce Cottington

Bruce Cottington, left, of Litchfield was named the 2016 Legionnaire of the Year by the Litchfield American Legion Post 104 in late November. Pictured with Cottington is post commander Deanna Frazier.

Nov. 26 was a special day for a devoted local veteran.

Litchfield resident Bruce Cottington was named the 2016 Legionnaire of the Year by the Litchfield American Legion Post 104. A certificate, recognizing his “outstanding leadership and service,” was presented by post commander Deanna Frazier.

“I feel very proud,” said Cottington, a Litchfield resident since 1967 and a veteran of the United States Navy.

Cottington’s service to his country, his state, and his community continued long after his active military service. For the Forest City, Iowa native, his first obligation will always be to God and to his country. “I’m free because of the veterans of the United States — both the men and the women. Period.”

Known across the country for his efforts to promote and advocate for veterans and veterans service organizations, Cottington has been a member of the American Legion for 55 years and a member of the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) for 70 years. He was a charter member of the Litchfield Navy Club. He remains active with the Litchfield American Legion, of which he is a past commander, as well as the VFW and the Litchfield Military Honor Guard, which provides military rites for deceased veterans. To date, he has worked a total of 526 funerals. In addition, Cottington founded the local Peanut Butter and Milk Festival, and he has been a longtime member of the Litchfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis (60 years), and the Shriners (50 years).

The Drake University graduate owned and managed several grocery stores, including a store in Litchfield, and worked for the American Dairy Association of Minnesota. A dairy enthusiast, he has continued to promote agriculture and Minnesota’s dairy industry since his retirement.

Cottington has been a persistent, dedicated, and successful promoter of the U.S. Navy and its history. His advocacy efforts have been noticed across the country by journalists, political representatives, historians, and service organization leaders.

Cottington remembers playing touch football on the farm on Dec. 7, 1941, when a friend’s mother announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. “The President announced that it would be a date that would live in infamy,” he said.

In 1942, he enlisted in the navy for patriotic reasons, serving his country during both WWII and the Korean Conflict. He was sworn into the navy in 1943, the day after his 16th birthday. Assigned to the Fourth Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California, he served until Aug. 1944. He then joined the Naval Reserve and volunteered for active duty in 1950 for the Korean War.

Cottington earned seven battle stars for his service in WWII and one for his service during the Korean War. He was discharged from the navy for the second time in Aug. 1952.

He was just 15 years of age when he enlisted in the navy. While enlistment at such a young age is illegal, the U.S. Congress took action to forgive underage WWII vets so that they would not lose veterans benefits. This action resulted in the birth of the Veterans of Underage Military Service (VUMS). Cottington has been an active VUMS member since its inception in 1981 and is currently the organization’s state commander. To date, he has made over eight million contacts with VUMS, he said.

Cottington has deep-rooted compassion for helping those in need, especially aging veterans, according to Legion members who selected him for the honor of Legionnaire of the Year. He has been active in the community’s efforts to support families of the Litchfield community’s deployed service members and to welcome them home upon arrival. In 2002, the Minnesota State Senate thanked Bruce for his lifelong service to his community, state, and nation by formal resolution on the Senate floor in his honor. In 2004, he represented the Minnesota American Legion at the dedication the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.

For as long as he is able, Cottington’s service to veterans will continue.”Your welfare is to this United States of America,” he said. “Men and women have died to keep that freedom.”