Legion Post 94 Has Its Annual Post Everlasting Ceremony
If you concentrated hard enough, you could almost see the lineup of proud American soldiers, assembling for the last roll call in their home Post Hall.
Their names were read in a silenced room – 40 in all — as friends, family and fellow-soldiers gathered to hear them.
American Legion Post 94 in Valparaiso was conducting the annual “Post Everlasting” ceremony.
There were war stories exchanged and other remembrances were whispered as those gathered huddled together. There were smiles and tears in equal amounts.
The ceremony is to remember those Post 94 members who had passed in the latest calendar year since the previous ceremony.
The room was locked as the ceremony began.
The Color Guard presented the flags. At the front of the hall, an empty chair was draped in a POW/MIA flag, remembering those whose fates remain unknown.
The current commander, B.J. McGuire conducted the ceremony, citing, “comrades who have been called to the command of the Greatest Commander.”
A VFW cap was placed on the guns arranged in a vertical triangle near the podium. After the 40 names were read, the list was placed in a helmet.
“This moment is sacred,” the commander said. “We honor those who gave their lives.”
The chaplain, Jack Gump, invoked a prayer.
Three live salute rounds were discharged in front of the building, then two buglers played “Taps,” one perfectly echoing the other. There was a five-second delay between the buglers, a precise plan.
It was apparent the participating members were there for the love of the membership, a work from the heart.
Bob Mundell is the Color Guard Commander.
He said this year’s total – 40 members – “That’s a lot,” more than likely is the most ever in one year, with the previous recorded high being 31.
The post itself has 640 members, with 100 or so from World War II, 130 from the Korean Conflict and the rest from Vietnam on.
“We are losing those members, including from Vietnam,” Mundell said.
“If you look at all clubs, including the VFW and the American Legions, they really filled up after world War II.
“You can look at the Elks, the Eagles, the Moose and it’s the same and most of their members are also veterans.
“There were 13 or 14 million men available after that war.”
Now membership is dropping across the board as all the clubs try to convince the new veterans from the current conflicts, that joining the soldier groups after service is a good thing.
Like the Post Everlasting event, “What we do is honor veterans,” Mundell said.
He said the sincerity of the service is one reason to lock the doors once the ceremony begins.
“We don’t want interruptions; that’s part of the tribute,” he said.
All family members of members who are eligible for Post Everlasting receive a letter from Post 94, advising them of the date and time of the memorial.
There is always a nearly full house for the final farewell.
Mundell has 19 members in his Color Guard. At funerals, it is called an Honor Guard and for the firing of salutes, it is a Firing Squad.
The Guards on hand this evening shared an easy camaraderie. They laughed with each other, still arguing if Navy is better than Army, if both are better than Air Force and where the Marines rank.
If you just listened, you may have thought this was their first meeting since coming home from a distant war front. Inside, they are still the young men who went away and were lucky enough to come back.
“And you never see anyone pull rank,” Mundell said. “If you were a colonel or a private, you get the same respect. No one gets criticized.”
It is the same for those honored at the ceremony.
“We never think was a guy in three days or three years,” Mundell said. “They all deserve the honor.”
There are two women in his Honor Guard.
“They were discriminated against for too long,” Mundell said. “Now, in the modern Army, there are women flying the Blackhawks, on the front lines. If they want to do it and can do it, they should get to do it. It wasn’t always that way.”
His Color Guards are more than eager when the call comes in for a funeral service. “They will say, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ They all want to be called every time,” Mundell said.
Last year, the Post 94 Color Guard served at 44 funerals.
The big weekends, of course, are Memorial Day and then 4th of July ceremonies.
“If someone calls for us, we’ll be there,” Mundell said.
“We have so much fun; being together means a good time.”
They will visit four cemeteries on Memorial Day and plant 2400 flags on veterans’ graves.
On Flag Day, they will make sure weathered flags are gathered. The Legion’s protocol is to burn such flags (the VFW buries theirs).
Moeller Funeral Home offers the incineration service to the post.
It is such rhythms of life that keeps the Color Guard active.
And it’s been that way for along time in Valparaiso
“Right after World War 1, in 1919, the Legion started and that’s when Post 94 started,” Mundell said.
“The community means so much to us.
You see someone come out of the service, even in World War II, these are 17-18-19-yeard old kids. They have seen some things that maybe they didn’t want to see.
“So some of them come back pretty messed up. And other soldiers understand that. We were doing counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder even before it was identified
“My dad was a first lieutenant in World War II. They truly were the ‘Greatest Generation.’ They were all great people. But think about it, the youngest people who survived World War II are probably about 89 right now.
“Between my wife and I, we had about 18 (relatives) who survived and came back home. They thought about the ones who didn’t come back.
“Now, with Post Everlasting, what we do every year is remember them all.”
When they work the gravesites on Memorial Day, they will start with a computer printout of all known soldiers’ graves.
They will add those discovered through family archives. “Not every serviceman has a mention of his service on his headstone, so we are always finding more,” Mundell said.
He estimates about 75 percent of soldier gravesites have been identified.
“The whole point of what we do is honoring those in service,” Mundell said.
“This is absolutely my favorite thing to do.”
Another Post 94 favorite is an annual gathering of residents brought in from the V.A. retirement home in Lafayette. Soldiers mix with soldiers, swapping tales and enjoying the fellowship.
“There is not an amount of money in the world that would make us stop doing this,” Mundell said.
“If there is one Legion message we want to make it’s that the Legion is not just a lot of guys gathering to drink beer. That is not what we are about.
“We are here to honor servicemen, to make sure that tradition is never lost.”