Legion chapter provides for area

In early afternoon on Aug. 5, 1919, a group of men who had served in the American armed forces during World War I assembled on the lawn of the Page County Courthouse in Clarinda.

From that location, they marched east to the grounds of the Clarinda Chautauqua, where they were honored at a special “Soldiers’ Day” observance.

They also took that occasion to establish an affiliation with a new group that had been formed nationally -- the American Legion.

Organizational meetings took place locally in September and succeeding months as more men joined, and a charter was officially received in 1920 for what was named Sergy Post 98. Since that time, Legion members have participated in a number of projects and activities, reflecting an ongoing commitment to serve veterans and other residents in Clarinda and elsewhere.

“Service is one of the most important things that the Legion stresses,” said Dave Grebert, current post commander.

Examples of this service are evident throughout the year.

The post provides a color guard that marches in parades for the Southwest Iowa Band Jamboree and the Clarinda High School homecoming, as well as for the Clarinda Lighted Christmas Parade and other local events.

On Memorial Day, post members coordinate the placing of an “Avenue of Flags” at the Clarinda Cemetery, then take part in a ceremony there. They also are involved in ceremonies at other area cemeteries.

For Veterans Day, they participate in programs for students at the Clarinda Middle School and the Clarinda Lutheran School, and at South Page.

In addition, the post supplies an honor guard when requested at funerals for veterans.

“Every veteran is eligible for military rites at the funeral,” Grebert said, adding that the post can help families with securing a flag for a casket and arranging for the presence of the guard.

“We make sure that no veteran goes unnoticed,” Grebert said.

Another service the post provides is the disposal of all unusable American flags.

“There is a proper procedure for the ceremony,” said Alan Schenck, a member of the post’s executive committee. “And part of the ceremony is the burning of the flag.”

A deposit box for the flags is in front of the post’s headquarters on West Washington Street in Clarinda.

“Normally we do the disposal ceremony on Flag Day every year,” Grebert said. “A couple of years ago we did it during New Market’s Fourth of July celebration. We’ve done it in several different places, but you need an open area because of the flag burning, and it has to be done in an honorable and dignified way.”

Along with involvement in public events and ceremonies, the post sponsors projects that directly benefit young people in the community.

Each year the post supports the sending of a local representative to Boys State in Des Moines. “This is for a male student who has finished his junior year in high school,” Grebert said. “It’s five days, and it’s set up like a state legislature where they learn how that process works.”

The post sponsors an annual oratorical contest that is open to any high school student. Four different amendments to the U.S. Constitution are selected. Entrants choose one on which to speak, without notes, and they are graded on their performance.

“Then a committee picks one of the three other amendments, and they must give a speech on that,” Grebert said.

Another project the post sponsors is a flag essay contest for fifth grade pupils in Clarinda and College Springs.

“We take a flag etiquette pamphlet to them and show them how the flag is supposed to be displayed and taken care of,” Grebert said. “They then write an essay on what the flag means to them.” The winner of the local contest moves on to district competition, with the possibility of advancing to the state level.

In previous years, youth projects in which the post was involved included the sponsorship of baseball teams and a boxing league. For the community at large, the post for a half century operated the American Legion Swimming Pool, located on East Washington Street across from the site of the current pool at the Lied Center.

When the post was established, “Sergy” was chosen for the designation because it was the name of a town in France where soldiers from Page County and other Southwest Iowa counties fought battles during World War I while serving with the 168th Infantry.

“Charles Miller of Blanchard was killed near Sergy,” Schenck said.

The “98” in the post’s name means that it was the 98th unit to receive an official charter from the national Legion.

Last year the post had 118 members, and the goal is to increase that number this year.

Schenck noted that the American Legion “helps veterans apply for their benefits. That’s one of the things I tell people when they ask, ‘Why should I join the Legion?’ Part of our dues are used to get benefits for these other veterans.”

He said records indicate that about three-fourth of the “total applications for VA benefits come through the Legion.”

Grebert and Schenck said the hiring of Janet Olsen as Veterans’ Affairs Director for Page County has produced a positive result for local residents who have served in the military.

“She does a great job of accomplishing things for the veterans,” Grebert said, adding that he invites her to every Post 98 meeting.

“She is here about an hour and a half before the meeting starts,” he said. “Any veteran in the area who has a question can come and talk to her. They don’t necessarily need to go to the meeting. They are welcome to stay if they want to, but they don’t have to be a member.”

Other officers of Post 98 are Dennis Bailey, vice commander; Jason Gladman, adjutant; Paul Anderson, finance officer and membership chairman; Larry Schultz, sergeant at arms; Keith Kearney, chaplain; and Joe Christensen, historian.

Also on the executive committee are Carl Buck, Mike Blume and Mike Marshall.

Schenck said all of the post’s activities reflect adherence to the “four pillars” of the Legion: veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation; national security; Americanism; and children and youth.

Along with participating in ongoing post activities, members have helped to establish a local squadron of the Sons of the American Legion.

That organization is open to any male whose parents or grandparents are veterans.

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