OGDEN — For more than 50 years, members of a Northern Utah post of the American Legion — Baker-Merrill Post 9 — have been honoring their fellow veterans on Memorial Day by marking their graves with American flags at Ogden City Cemetery.
This year was no different, though the legion members, and the volunteers who assisted them, gathered on Saturday morning rather than on Monday, so that the flags would be present at more than 1,000 veterans’ graves for the duration of Memorial Day.
Paul Warren — a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, member of Post 9 and resident of Ogden — helped place flags Saturday.
“This is country. This is honor and duty,” Warren said of his reasons for participating. “I can’t think of a better reason than that.”
Warren has been at Post 9 since 2008 and a member of the American Legion since 1996, he said.
The American Legion is an organization for veterans from all branches of the military, and several branches were represented even among the small group placing flags at Ogden Cemetery. About 20 were in attendance Saturday, including Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican candidate for Utah governor, who spoke to the group briefly and proceeded to help the group place flags on graves around the cemetery.
American Legion Post 9 is large, with 472 members, the second largest post in the state, according to Terry Schow, a member of the post and of the legion’s National Executive Committee. But not all of these members were able to gather at Ogden City Cemetery on Saturday to place flags. The older veterans, particularly those who served during World War II and the Korean War, are dwindling in number, many not well enough to participate in an event like this, according to Alexander “A.C” Scheer, commander of Post 9.
In addition to honoring their fellow veterans who have died, members of the legion support each other, Scheer said.
Sometimes, this is practical support, like sharing information about benefits that their fellow veterans might not know about, Scheer said. But the most important support, he said, is understanding their experiences.
“The American Legion for me, and for a lot of (veterans) that I talk to, is the ability to ... talk to somebody else that has been there,” Scheer said, “and to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. I understand what you’re going through, and we’re here to support you.’ And I think that is 99% of it.”
The understanding and support that veterans can provide to each other is unique — something that no one but another veteran can provide, he said. Even loving family members can’t understand what veterans have gone through, he said.
“It’s hard, for example, for me to explain to you what it’s like to be in combat,” Scheer said. “You won’t understand it. You’ll hear my words, but you won’t understand it.”
One of Scheer’s goals is to stop veteran suicides, he said.
“That’s got to stop, and for most of them, I’m sure that they just don’t know who to talk to or how to talk to them,” Scheer said. “We need to be able to support our veterans. That’s what our organization is for, in no uncertain terms.”
Schow also served as the director of the Utah Department of Veterans’ Affairs under Huntsman, who elevated the role to a cabinet-level position during his previous time as governor.
Huntsman created the cabinet-level position first “to honor those who have given everything to our state and country,” he said, and because “(veterans) were terribly under served, traditionally, stuck in the middle of a bureaucracy that is not always responsive,” Huntsman said.
When Huntsman elevated the role, the needs were greatest among veterans of conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, he said, but now the needs are growing among veterans of the Gulf Wars, he said.
If he were to reprise his role as governor of Utah, Huntsman said veterans would continue to be a priority.
“We’ll listen very carefully to our veteran leaders and make sure that we have sufficient infrastructure — beds and care and services to provide for them,” Huntsman said. “And whatever we do next will be in that spirit.”
Huntsman said that the “state department of veterans’ affairs allows for a much closer relationship (than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), where we can hear out the more immediate needs and be that much more responsive.”