The sign posted at the makeshift memorial in front of Schemengee’s Bar and Grill in Lewiston, Maine, reflects what many in the community feel. “Fix the mental health system,” was the message to a town reeling from a mass shooting on Oct. 25, which took 18 lives.
Mental wellness has been a priority for The American Legion as well. National Commander Dan Seehafer leaned on his pastoral background while taking his “Be the One” message to the Department of Maine during a visit Nov. 3-4.
“God gave us two ears for listening,” Seehafer said. “For me as an ordained minister, I do it all the time. We have office time. I have it with my members and people in need. We talk. Over 90 percent is listening. When people seek my counsel, they are the ones talking. By the time we are done with my little portion, they say, ‘Pastor, I feel a lot better.’ And I didn’t even basically say a word. So, it’s that listening.”
Seehafer added his appreciation for Past National Commander Tony Jordan, who referred to him as “the right commander at the right time.” It’s a sentiment that was shared by many American Legion Family members who met Seehafer during his visits to six different posts in the Pine Tree State.
“I think it’s critical that we show family support,” added American Legion Auxiliary National President Lisa Williamson, who accompanied Seehafer on some of the post visits. “We know the individual who did these atrocious crimes had some mental health issues and the Legion Family – that’s the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion – firmly believe in our Be the One mission. And that mission is to destigmatize mental health. It’s been a taboo subject for far too long.”
Matt Jabaut is a Lewiston native and The American Legion National Membership & Post Activities Commission Chairman. “I’m lucky in the fact that I have lots of different families and the Legion obviously being a primary one. Some of the first messages I got were from Legion Family members, who were messaging me and saying ‘Hey, are you all right?’ They know that I’m from Lewiston, that I live in Lewiston, went to Lewiston High School. It’s a big part of my community.”
Post 153 in Auburn hosted Seehafer for breakfast Saturday. The post is just a few miles from where the shootings occurred. Paul L’Heureux, a member of the post, described the tight-knit community. “When this came about,” he said, “nobody knew who the victims were in the beginning. Within the next eight hours after the event, some of the names started to surface. It became apparent that as large as we thought we were here, we weren’t. Your thought process became we are not that big. We are a community of one.”
Department of Maine Adjutant Jason Hall also noted the smalltown feel that permeates the state and the impact that such a massive crime has on its residents. “In Maine, every town is a rural town. We’re all close knit. Most parts of the country are six degrees away from separation. Maine is two degrees from separation. It almost affected every person in Maine. We either played softball with that person or it was our hairdresser’s brother. It was a schoolteacher’s aide from your high school. It was somehow connected to every person in Maine.”