With a hint of a German accent, and some emotion, in her voice, Veronica Cavins doesn't hold back when praising The American Legion – and specifically, nearby Stanley Cochrane Post 16 in Crisfield, Md. The mother of four and wife of a U.S. Army veteran has witnessed firsthand the influence the Legion has had on all three of her sons – who either already are or on course to be U.S. service academy graduates, thanks in part of both support and guidance from Post 16.
Starting with Alexander Cavins, a 2012 U.S. Naval Academy graduate now serving aboard the USS Germantown LSD 42, continuing with Lawrence, who is in his third year at West Point, and finishing up with Richard, who will attend the Naval Academy this fall, all three boys have participated in Legion programs that have helped guide them along their military careers.
"Without The American Legion, they wouldn't have been able to do the things they have done," said Veronica, who met her husband Chris while he was in the Army serving in Germany in the 1980s. "There's no way we'd have been able to send them to the (service academy) seminars, Boys State. Our involvement with The American Legion has been life-changing for our boys – especially the help they've given us."
Post 16 Commander Phil Riggin said he first met the Cavins in either 2006 or 2007 when the post sponsored Alexander's trip to Boys State. Both Lawrence and Richard went through the program, courtesy of Post 16.
And when all three boys expressed an interest in attending one of the service academies, the post provided financial assistance for each to attend summer leadership seminars at the respective military academies – and then provided financial help to each of them for their first-year expenses at the Naval Academy for Alex and West Point for Lawrence, and will do the same for Richard at the Naval Academy.
"It's remarkable what they've done, and obviously the parents deserve an enormous amount of credit," Riggin said. "But the post has almost taken a sense of ownership in the family as well. We wanted to do whatever we could to support and encourage each of these boys to meet their goals. They've had amazing success, individually and collectively, and they've shown a remarkable commitment to education and to service to their country."
Alexander, now a member of Post 16, said his desire to serve has felt natural for a long time.
"My brothers and I were always outside growing up," he said. "Before we went outside, we would ransack my father's Army trunk and put camouflage paint on our faces and wear his old Army uniforms as we played in the woods. As a child growing up, I always knew I was going to follow in his footsteps. He was my role model growing up, and I knew that I was to do the same thing. People expect so much from this nation, but I knew that somewhere in all of that it was my duty to give back."
Post 16 helped Alexander along that path. "Post 16 sponsored my trip to Maryland Boys State between my junior and senior year of high school," he said. "I did a few seminars that summer, but without a doubt, Boys State was the one seminar where I learned the most and got the most out of it.
"Upon acceptance into Annapolis, Post 16 gave me a scholarship which I used toward a laptop and books while at the academy. I was very thankful for it because money was always tight in my family. To have that relief financially and focus on my academics was unbelievable."
Lawrence originally wanted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy but changed his mind – in part because of financial help from Post 16.
"In my early years of high school, I wanted to pursue a career in the Air Force," Lawrence said. "Shortly before my senior year of high school, the post funded a trip to send me to week-long seminars at both USMA and USAFA. I can honestly say this was a life-changing experience. At the end of the two weeks, the in-depth perspective into both academies and services brought to light the differences between the two services and changed my future. I wished to attend West Point and accepted this change of heart without reservation.
"For that, I thank the post for their continued support in helping mold both my short-term experiences and my long-term career commitment to the Army."
Richard cast the tie-breaking vote by choosing Annapolis ahead of West Point. "My two brothers and I have had disagreements since we were young, and we've always bounced back," Richard said with a laugh. "(Lawrence) is happy I'm going to a military academy, no matter which one."
Richard said he didn't feel any pressure to follow in his brothers' footsteps. "I grew up in a military family, so going to a service academy was always at the forefront for me ... because of the opportunities it will present to me, both now and in the future," he said. "It's the right path for me."
And one that made Lawrence proud of little brother. "One of the things I love about my family is that there is no pressure to follow in other's footprints, so each of us sons has been able to make our own decisions," Lawrence said. "Seeing Richard pursue a goal shows me that the goal is his and his alone, and will make him happy. Even if it is at a lesser academy ... but I digress. Richard will do great, and I am glad that he has achieved his dream."
That Veronica has three sons who will have attended military academies still is overwhelming to the mom.
"I'm still kind of on cloud nine," she said. "It's unbelievable what these boys have achieved. When Alex was in the ninth grade, his math teacher asked us if we knew he wanted to enlist in the Marines right after high school. When she said that we should send him to college, we told her that we couldn't afford to do that. So it's still unbelievable to me to see where all three ended up.
"We've always been very proud of America, and we've always tried to instill that in our boys. And it's really organizations like The American Legion that prove why we should have that pride."