An everlasting honor

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, May 27, 2012

Once again the Austin American Legion Post #91 will be holding their Post Everlasting Ceremony for Legion members whoe passed away since the last Memorial Day. Jay Jessen, from left, Roger Raller, Ray Waters and Rollie Hanson will be conducting the ceremony.

Post 91 to recognize members who have died in past year

Men like Roger Reller and Ray Waters of the American Legion don’t remember how many friends and fellow military veterans they’ve said farewell to during the past 58 years. At 2 p.m. on Sunday at Legion Post 91 in Austin, they’re saying goodbye to a few dozen more.

Reller, sergeant of arms, and Waters, chaplain, remember when American Legion Post 91 started its Post Everlasting ceremony in 1964. And as many read this, the Legion will have already held its Post Everlasting ceremony, in which American Legion officials honor each military Legion member who has died in the past year. Reller and Waters remember honoring at least 40 to 50 soldiers every year for decades. And since last Memorial Day, Post 91 — now with 836 members — has lost another 38.

Post 91 Commander Roland Hanson will read each name from a card, mention his or her branch of service, date of birth and death, and hand the card to Waters, who will burn the card after placing it inside a soldier’s helmet.

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“That is symbolic of the service record of that person going to Post Everlasting,” Waters said.

Each year, the ceremony reminds Waters, Reller, Hanson, Jay Jessen and other legionnaires about some of the most influential people they’ve ever met — men like the recent 2nd Vice Chair Lloyd Swenson, who recently passed; or others, like Doug Flatland, Pierce Tubbs, Orvis Anderson or Joe Stenger, whose names written on cards have burned and fallen as ashes into an empty soldier’s helmet.

“It’s almost like losing a part of your own self,” Hanson said, who has participated in many ceremonies, as well. “A lot of these people, you’ve worked with or played with or associated with, not just in the military aspect, but in friendship.”

Even though those soldiers have left Post 91, the ceremony honors their service and friendship — forever.

“I get the feeling that they are enjoying their reward in heaven,” Waters said about each soldier.

The families of each honored veteran will receive a resolution, signed by Legion officials, honoring that soldier’s camaraderie and service. Hanson said honoring soldiers is more than just remembering people, but recognizing their efforts.

“I’m trying to let the world know that us veterans are here for the simple reason that we love our country, and we want to keep it free,” Hanson said. “And the way we can also do that is by appreciating our lost comrades that have already paid for a cause.”