American Legion Post 817 honors the fallen ahead of Memorial Day

Recently appointed Port of Beaumont President of the Board Lee Smith and the Dorie E. Miller American Legion Post 817, of which Smith is a member, along with students from Central High School’s Navy Junior ROTC program (NJROTC), honored fallen service members Saturday, May 26, ahead of Memorial Day. The group placed American flags on graves at six local cemeteries, according to American Legion Post 817 Commander Milton Chatham, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years, working his way up from a Medical Tech to retiring as First Sargent of his medical squadron. After retiring, he worked at Department of Health and Human Services for 11 years. He has been commander of the 817 post for the past five years.

Chatham said placing the flags each year is good for both American Legion members and the area youth involved in the effort. The post has done so for the past 30 years, he said.

“As veterans, we need to honor our deceased … and this is what we do by placing the flags. We show that we still care and we’re still trying to serve America,” Chatham said, adding that when families of the deceased see the flags, it pleases them as well.

By aiding in the effort, Central High School’s Navy ROTC students were able to not only perform community service, but pay homage to the fallen as well.

“Some of them are going into the military and (are learning) some of the traditions that we hold dear,” Chatham said.

NJROTC Commander Mitchell Normand added it’s important for the youth to remember the service members who made the sacrifice to support the nation and their freedom.

“We are where we are because of our nation’s veterans,” said Normand, who retired as a commander in the Navy. Serving as a Navy Flight Officer until 2001, Normand served for more than 22 years. “They keep us safe and protected from the rest of the world, so we can maintain the lifestyle that we so dearly love.”

NJROTC member Nelson Castille, who is a junior at Central High School, said, “I’m an American and (these) veterans protected America. They died protecting me in a sense, so I’m showing them my respect.”

According to its website, The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States.

Photo by Kevin King - Central High School’s Navy Junior ROTC students and American Legion Post 817 members Harold Nellar, Lee Smith and NJROTC Commander Mitchell Normand pose for a group photo after honoring fallen service members by placing flags on their graves at several Beaumont cemeteries Saturday, May 26.