American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz presented a plaque of appreciation Thursday to Indianapolis Legionnaire Raymond Shearer for over two decades of dedication to remembrance of U.S. military personnel buried and memorialized at isolated sites in Europe.
A member of American Legion Post 510 in Lawrence, Ind., Shearer serves on the board of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association, formed in 1920 by the national commander of The American Legion, the U.S. defense attache to France and the U.S. ambassador to France at the time. Among Shearer's responsibilities with the association today is the placement of U.S. flags at the isolated burial sites and memorials. He has also served as secretary of the association for four years.
"There are nearly 200 isolated, little-known locations in Europe where U.S. military personnel from World War I and World War II are laid to rest," said Shearer, a Marine Corps veteran. "Some are still on the battlefield. Some are in village cemeteries. Some are in farm fields. All of them deserve our honor and respect."
The American Legion Overseas Graves Decoration Trust Fund, established in the 1920s, provides all U.S. flags flown at cemeteries and burial sites in foreign countries where American troops are buried or otherwise memorialized. The flags are supplied from the trust fund free of charge. Most of the graves are at American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries, while others are at other locations which Shearer has catalogued over the years.
"I think there are over 1,000 isolated graves around the world," Shearer said. "They are in Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy... all over. There are some in China and in Japan. And they are all in various states of repair, and not all of them get flags anymore, but we are now trying to connect with locals who can help with that."
Shearer provided National Commander Koutz and American Legion Auxiliary National President Peggy Thomas with a tour of Paris in June, including visits to the site of the Paris Caucus March 15-17, 1919, and Pershing Hall, home of Paris Post 1 for many years, as well as the site of the 1927 national convention rendezvous in Paris.
The plaque presented to Shearer reads:
"For dedicated service to The American Legion and its timeless mission ‘to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars' and for providing valuable insights about the organization's roots in France, art, artifacts, early history and, most significantly, the graves and monuments honoring American military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice overseas on behalf of our freedoms and the liberation of others."