American Legion conducts Veterans Day program

Family, friends and members of American Legion Post 89 in Seymour gathered Friday morning to honor American veterans of all wars and military branches.

Throughout the ceremony at the post on West Second Street downtown, being there for one another was a recurring theme.

Post Commander Bob Kinzie welcomed attendees to the program and recognized several veterans in the audience, including World War II veteran Elmo Rivers.

Vietnam veteran Gary Dyer, chaplain for the American Legion and VFW posts, stepped up to the podium and thanked veterans for their service and said a few words before leading a prayer.

“If we leave here today with one thing, it’s that we need each other,” Dyer said. “We need all branches of the military, we need America and we need each other.”

American Legion member and finance officer Scott Sandlin then draped a black flag over a chair during a POW/MIA Empty Chair ceremony, a physical symbol of the thousands of American POW/MIAs still unaccounted for from all wars and conflicts involving the United States.

Guest speaker Toni Allen, an Army veteran, said she retired just a few years ago after 20 years of service.

Allen said it means a lot to her to be a veteran, and at first, she didn’t fully realize what it was and how it becomes like a family.

“You start respecting people even more when you know what they’ve been through, and you start to understand how they feel about all of it,” she said.

Allen said the mission of the American Legion nationally this year is Be the One, tackling one of the toughest challenges facing veterans: Veteran suicide.

“We do worry about our veterans, and we want to take care of each other, whether we’re a veteran or not,” she said. “It’s a matter of mental health, and it’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), it’s depression and anxiety that has affected a lot of people.”

Allen said it’s important to talk to people and make sure they’re OK.

“If you see them changing their habits, if they stop talking to people or saying they’d be better off dead or if they start taking dangerous risks, make sure you reach out to them,” she said. “Let them know there’s somebody who cares, and sometimes, that might be all they need.”

For a veteran, it could mean reaching out for help to assist a loved one or calling a help line in times of crisis, and the new 988 emergency suicide hotline is a valuable resource for anyone, Allen said.

“Statistics say that someone in the United States dies every 11 and a half minutes from suicide and 22 veterans a day die from suicide,” she said. “Depression is a very serious thing, and if someone wants to die, they can’t see past that moment and they need help, so every one of us should try to be that person that’s going to reach out and try to help them find the help they need.”

State Rep. Jim Lucas, a legionnaire and Marine Corps veteran, also was a speaker at the program and said he agreed with Dyer about needing each other.

“We need to support each other, and it’s not just us. We need to support everybody,” Lucas said.

Pastor Rick Prather brought his wife, Amber Prather, because he knew there was a surprise in store for her.

She was called up front to receive a U.S. flag and the medals her father, Marvin Pearson, had earned while serving in the U.S. Army.

“It has been about two or three months in the works, and I kept it from her,” Rick said. “I told her there was going to be a Veterans Day program, and I asked her to take off work and go with me.”

He said he knew her father had passed away and she didn’t have the medals, so he started thinking about how he could do that, and the American Legion said they could help with that.

“My dad never talked about it a lot with me, what he went through during his time in service,” Amber said. “I knew he had medals but didn’t know what they were or all the places he had been until I saw this today.”

She said the surprise was an honor and very humbling.