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Veterans Continue Service Beyond Duty

Serving his country was not enough for Sterling resident Ernst Stockel. That's why the Vietnam War era veteran joined American Legion Post 150.

"Most of us feel we have an obligation to our community to continue serving in non-military ways," said Stockel, post adjutant and past commander for the post.

Sterling resident Edwin "Ed" Linek wanted to listen to the individuals who provided the service, including World War II veterans who served while he was a teenager. "Their experiences are quite different than ours," said Linek, chaplain and past commander for the post.

Remembering the history of the struggle of the nation was a reason for Cmdr. Charlie Scaggs to join.

"It was important to keep that memory alive so people understand the sacrifices that were made to preserve our way of life," said Scaggs, a Sterling resident who joined the legion 10 years ago and a former member of the Board of Supervisors from 1992-96.

THE AMERICAN LEGION educates residents through various activities and ceremony events. Each year, the post conducts a Memorial Day service at the Sterling Area Veterans Memorial in Sterling Park, which was dedicated in May 1976. The ceremony on May 27 includes a rifle salute, the taps and raising of the colors with Del. Thomas "Tom" Rust (R-86th) as keynote speaker. During the ceremony, the American Legion will be assisted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9478 in the 21-gun rifle salute. In turn, members from the American Legion will assist with the firing squad and color guard during the Veterans Day ceremony in November. The firing squad has eight members and the color guard, six.

"We made it a joint effort," Scaggs said. "We thought all veterans should have an opportunity to participate in the memorial."

The American Legion is a service organization for veterans and their families and has a different mix of programs than the VFW. Members of the American Legion are required to be on active duty during Congress-designated war periods, while VFW members have to have served in an overseas combat theater.

"Our programs aren't essentially that different," Stockel said.

THE AMERICAN LEGION aims to educate the public on constitutional and military history, explaining what happened during military conflicts and why. The legion holds the American Legion High School Oratorical Contest annually to award high school juniors with scholarships for their presentations on constitutional issues. The legion provides community service by distributing holiday food baskets and participating in parades; uses the color guard for parades, ceremonies, funerals and meetings; and offers service officer and chaplain assistance to members and families as needed. "It gives you an opportunity to serve the community. It's hard to do something on your own," Stockel said.

The graveside services for war veterans involve a firing squad, taps, folding of the American flag and presentation of the flag to the veteran's family, some of the same ceremonial activities included in the Memorial Day service. The service this year marks the American Legion's 26th anniversary. Post 150 received a charter on Nov. 11, 1967 and was named Charles E. Peters Post 150 after the first Vietnam casualty from the Sterling Park area. Elbert Mac Fowler served as the first commander for the post, which chartered with 51 members.

BY DECEMBER 1971, the post had 120 members, compared to about 220 members today. On Jan. 21, 1980, the post combined with Breckenridge Post 91 of Herndon and Cyrus W. Wood Post 10 of Reston to form the Breckenridge-Peters-Wood American Legion Post 150 of Sterling Park, which received a new charter at that time.

The members of the post meet the first Wednesday of the month for a business meeting to organize administrative duties, program expenditures, memorial upkeep and fund-raising activities. About 10 to 15 members show up at each meeting.

"It's nice to be with a group of veterans and listen to their experiences," said Linek, who served in the Korean War and joined the American Legion 14 years ago. He also is a member of the VFW.

Stockel said, "I enjoy gathering with people my age who had similar experiences. We talk about the struggles we went through and reminisce."