Top leaders of The American Legion Family paid tribute to their organizations' founding generation Tuesday at Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium.
American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt, American Legion Auxiliary National President Mary Davis, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Jeff Frain, and American Legion Department of France Commander John Shanahan all placed wreaths at the same cemetery chapel that was originally dedicated by American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery, architect of the GI Bill, in 1937.
The Legion Family group was given a tour of the new interpretive center at the historic cemetery where 368 who fought in World War I are laid to rest.
The interpretive center, added in time for increased visitation during the World War I centennial period, includes a hall of sacrifice portraying the stories of some who are buried outside. Also in the center is a 9-minute video that explains both the history and continuing vitality of cemetery.
Prominently featured in the video is an adopt-a-grave program strongly supported by The American Legion's Flanders Field Post BE-02.
Cemetery Superintendent Chris Arseneault, an American Legion member, says that for Memorial Day this year, "easily 85 percent of the graves were decorated by adopters. When you have individual flowers at the headstones, it changes everything."
The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion and the Legion Riders of Belgium have adopted one particular grave - that of an unknown soldier - and has made the grave-adoption program one of their marquee activities.
Also involving the Waregem community since 1923 is a tradition of local schoolchildren coming to the cemetery to sing the Star Spangled Banner every Memorial Day. This year, some 900 children were involved.
"The involvement of the local community is amazing," Arseneault said. "I always warn veterans when they come that they are treated like superstars here."
By Jeff Stoffer