ST. GEORGE – The American Legion Lester Keate – Post 90 has a long-standing tradition of honoring the United States military and dedication to community service. On Monday, citizens can join them in showing their support for soldiers past and present at the Veterans Day parade and concert.
Post 90 is the oldest veterans’ service organization in Utah and the largest in Washington County. For more than three-quarters of a century, its members have lent their time, skills and passion for lifelong service to many vital community projects.
Post Commander Bill Haynes served in the Navy for 10 years and joined the American Legion as a way to continue serving his community and country.
“We do this because we love our country and our veterans and we know, better than anyone else, what they deserve,” Haynes said. “But we also serve our community. We do it for everyone.”
The post’s namesake is Southern Utah native Daniel Lester Keate, who served in the Marines during World War I. He died in battle near Champagne, France, in 1918 at age 23 and is buried in the St. George City Cemetery.
Through fundraising events and donations, the post supports the Dixie High School junior ROTC – a youth military training corps that prepares young men and women for service, the Civil Air Patrol, the Veterans’ Coalition and the Veterans Re-connect Club, and sponsors a local American Legion youth baseball team. Additionally, the group was instrumental in the funding and development of the Southern Utah Veterans’ Home in Ivins.
Led by Foster Johnson, the post’s ritual team has performed military honors at more than 1,200 funerals over the past 15 years, often visiting several in the same day. Three members of the team, WWII veterans, are over age 90 yet still serve their duties faithfully. Every funeral is attended at the members’ own expense.
“The American Legion’s mission is to honor those who went before us, to support those who are still with us and to strengthen our nation by serving our communities,” Post Adjutant Ski Ingram said. “I have always been proud of my military service. Now that I’m retired, I have the time to use the training and experience from my military service to provide support to my fellow veterans and community.”
Post 90 also boasts an outstanding women’s auxiliary group, led by veteran Marti Bigbie, who organizes the distribution of Christmas care packages for overseas troops each year. During the holidays, Bigbie and her fellow servicewomen visit local veterans in assisted living facilities, many of whom have no family. Ellen Nathan, the wife of a veteran, oversees Utah’s Homes for Heroes program and is actively involved in raising money for those currently serving in the Armed Forces.
The post’s mission statement uses a widely known yet anonymous quote: “A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America.”
“A veteran is a unique individual who voluntarily agreed to lay his life down for something bigger and better than himself,” Ingram said. “That’s why we need to honor veterans.”
Relationship with St. George
Though historical accounts vary, Post 90 is generally credited with founding the St. George Fire Department in 1936. They organized 23 volunteer members, raised money for the department’s first vehicle, a 1936 Studebaker fire engine, and allowed them to use their building, which is now SGFD Station No. 2 on Main Street.
Today, the relationship between SGFD and Post 90 is limited to the fire department’s participation in Veterans Day and other patriotic events, Chief Robert Stoker said.
On the other hand, the post and the City of St. George have grown closer over the past decade, mainly due to efforts by the post’s current administration. With the support of St. George Councilman and Mayor-elect Jon Pike, the city became an official sponsor of the American Legion’s Veterans Day spectacular last year.
Veterans Day event
On Monday, Post 90 and the city will jointly host the Veterans Day 2013 patriotic parade and musical concert.
The parade starts at 9 a.m. Running along Tabernacle Street from 200 West to 300 East, spectators can expect to see police and fire vehicles (including the 1936 Studebaker), military units, classic and antique cars, horses, school marching bands, elected officials and representatives from local service organizations and businesses, along with live music at the roundabout at Tabernacle and Main. Radio personalities Tim Porter and Buckner from 99.9 KONY Country will serve as announcers.
Many show their support by walking alongside the floats and vehicles, like Samuel Howe Wryouck, an 87-year-old Air Force veteran who flew 35 bombing missions over Germany during WWII. Though he relies on a walker, Wryouck looks forward to traveling the entire 11-block parade route every year.
“I’ve seen everyone from an 80-year-old with a wheelchair to a kid in a Boy Scout uniform saluting the flag as the parade passes by, and my heart just swells with pride,” Haynes said. “The true heroes are the ones who love this country, who are willing to stand up and say they do.”
The parade will be followed by “A Tribute in the Tabernacle” at noon, featuring entertainment from local favorites Brodie Perry, Mikalene, Tammy Houchen, Jadon Webster, Dick Barton, Brooklyn Blanchard, the Color Country Chorus and Tonaquint Intermediate School’s Show Choir, and an address by the parade’s Grand Marshal, Post 90 Sergeant at Arms Johnnie Johnson. As the program’s highlight, city, county and state representatives will personally thank local veterans from each branch of the Armed Forces, including reserves and National Guard, as their respective marches are played.
Last year’s concert packed the house; Ingram would like to repeat that accomplishment.
The theme of the event is “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Amid the day’s festivities, post members hope it will serve as a sobering reminder of the many sacrifices made by America’s servicemen and women and those who support them. From veterans and fallen soldiers to active duty personnel and their loved ones on the home front, the lives impacted by the military, past, present and future, are too many to count.
Veterans Day isn’t just about saying “hooray” for the Armed Forces and waving the red, white and blue; it’s a day of respect. A day to say a sincere “thank you” to a group of people who don’t hear it often enough.
“We feel it is very important that every citizen understands the truth of the statement ‘freedom isn’t free.’ Someone, at some time, paid for our freedom, all of us,” Ingram said. “This event and others like it show veterans and their families that we are thankful for their selfless service. It brings us together in the spirit of gratitude, to remind us of our love for our community and country.”
Event details and contact information
- Date: Nov. 11
- Time: 9 a.m. (parade), noon (concert)
- Location: Tabernacle St. from 200 W to 300 E (parade), St. George Tabernacle, 18 South Main St. (concert)
- Admission: Free
- Contact: Ski Ingram – 435-313-2078
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