American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt talks to Telly Hager, the 8-year-old grandson of Missouri Department Commander Betty Gonzales, during a Walk for Veterans in St. Joseph, Mo. Photo by Barrett Emke

A walk back home

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt’s recent visit to northwest Missouri was not just a typical department tour for him; it was a return to his American Legion birthplace.

Born and raised in Craig, Mo., Schmidt led more than 50 Legionnaires on a two-mile awareness Walk for Veterans through the nearby town of St. Joseph on Oct. 29.

“Why do we want to raise awareness for veterans? Because every veteran has invested in America,” Schmidt told the walkers while gathered in Civic Center Park. “I believe you all still want to invest in America or you would not want to be a member of The American Legion Family. We are going to continue to advocate for veterans, whether it’s on the bonus issue concerning the National Guard or through our service officers. If you run into someone on this walk, tell them our story. I am proud to be an American Legion member.”

Telly Hager, the 8-year-old grandson of Missouri Department Commander Betty Gonzales, saw the walk as another opportunity to wear his favorite apparel – his Sons of The American Legion Squadron 312 cap. “I like wearing the cap and visiting different cities with my grandmother,” Hager said. “I always enjoy talking to veterans. They risked their lives for this country.”

Deputy Mayor of St. Joseph Pat Jones presented Schmidt with a mayoral proclamation declaring Oct. 29 as “American Legion Veterans Awareness Walk Day.”

“I join with all citizens to honor those who have and will continue to secure, defend and maintain our nation’s freedom and to recognize their valor and sacrifices through ceremony and prayer,” she said on behalf of the city’s mayor, Bill Falkner.

Raising awareness has also been a priority for Gonzales. “My priority is too teach,” Gonzales said, pointing out that she added presentations from national headquarters staff to a recent department conference. “The more you learn, the more willing you are to join the Legion and stay active.”

Gonzales added that the walk allowed non-Legionnaires the opportunity to show their support for veterans. “I would like to have seen a bigger turnout, but it’s a small town," she said. "I saw civilians who came here to honor their family members in the military. Everybody is pretty motivated to get involved in community activities.”

Schimdt was the guest of honor at a packed dinner hosted by Story Hardin American Legion Post 164 in a place of special significance to him – the school in Craig where he attended grades one through 12.

“This is a rare occasion when I can refer to Legion Family and really mean it!” he said inside the packed gymnasium. “As some of you know, my late brother was a post commander and my other brothers, Larry and David, are also veterans and Legionnaires that are here.”

Although Schmidt has been a longtime resident of Hines, Ore., where his Legion activity propelled him to the top office in the organization, his reconnection with the "Show Me State" was a smooth one.

“Craig (Mo.) really is a homecoming for me,” he said. “This is the post that started it all for me. It introduced me to the greatest veterans organization ever known, The American Legion.”