Members of American Legion Post 206 in Seattle have thrust themselves into the primary role of organizing and carrying out commemoration activities during a weeklong tribute on the University of Washington (UW) campus this week.
On Saturday, Post 206 members organized, set up and tore down a 5K run-walk course that started and ended near veterans memorials. Various events — which also included a remembrance ceremony, campus flag displays, a ROTC service review and more — helped raise awareness of the holiday’s meaning.
That was a far cry from just a few years ago.
“They (UW) didn’t seem to understand that Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day had very specific purposes and we wanted to highlight that,” said Jordan Houghton, the post’s founding commander, as well as the commander of the First District in the Department of Washington. “Memorial Day was the one that woefully missed the mark. There were a lot of ‘Thank you for your services.’ It was not what it was supposed to be about.”
Houghton, who at the time was president of the Student Veterans of America chapter, and other veterans worked with the university to turn Memorial Day into a time to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“It helped the university understand what really is going on, that Memorial Day is not about ROTC wearing uniforms,” he said. “It's not about thanking all the veterans for their service. It's about remembrance. It's about those who aren't here with us anymore. And having a reverence for that.”
Among those to be revered is William Stacey, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, who is the namesake of Post 206. Stacey was killed by an IED on Jan. 31, 2012 — his mother’s birthday — while leading his squad on a mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was 23.
As a youth, Stacey was a military history buff and leader on the baseball diamond. As a Marine, his leadership blossomed.
“He could evoke passion in any sort of tale that he told you, or get you on board to do something that maybe you didn't feel so confident in,” Houghton said. “He was bigger than life. A real leader from the get go. His teams always knew who to look to. It wasn't a question. He just had a knack for getting things through.”
Houghton never met Stacey but has learned about him through conversations with his parents, friends, platoon members and others. “All he did was look out for others, care for them and put the mission and the people first,” Houghton said. “We really try and put that as our kind of core ethos, and do that through and through, on each of the things that we pursue.”
As part of the weeklong commemorative events, post member Sirena Herd, a Marine Corps veteran, spoke at a memorial service. Her address focused on servicewomen, including the 3,724 who died in combat or by suicide from 2005 through 2016. Herd specifically paid tribute to Shannon Kent, a senior Navy chief petty officer and cryptologic technician who was killed in a bombing in Syria.
“For me, I wanted to shine a light on a female veteran,” Herd said. “She was a badass. She was amazing and accomplished so much on so little time she had. It kind of makes you wonder about where you in life and how much you can achieve.”
Herd joined the post, which was chartered in November 2017, as a way to bond with other younger veterans who she can relate to.
“I like how we do a lot in the community; when you do things for others that’s very fulfilling,” she said. “I look forward to doing more volunteer work.”
That’s also what drew in Adrienne Ashley, who is among the newest members of Post 206.
“I wanted to find a stronger support group because in Seattle it’s hard to find people you can count on or to be a part of something,” said Ashley, who was among the post members volunteering at the 5K. “I like being part of a team, organizing events and setting things up for people to enjoy and to be part of something bigger.”
While most members of Post 206 are new to The American Legion, chaplain Joey Massa participated in Evergreen Boys State and is now an assistant director with the department program.
“The yesteryear image of the veteran didn’t seem to myself and the other founding members of the post to fit the image we saw and the experiences we had,” said Massa, who has been a Legionnaire since 2010. “Further, our generation communicates in a whole different way — and wants to contribute in a way that’s different from past generations. We felt it necessary to start a post with that mind and we think it’s been really successful.”
Being so close to the Puget Sound and the Navy and Coast Guard stations, “there are a lot of veterans in this community,” Massa said. “Being able to reach out to them and be an image for the Legion of how we could change, and how there are opportunities for us as an organization and react to the veterans of today’s generation.”
A driving force behind all the community activities Post 206 handles is to honor the memory of Stacey. The post is working to name a baseball field after Stacey, and then launch a Legion Baseball team.
“We didn’t name our post after him for no reason,” Massa said. “He lived in Seattle before his service. Will was very involved in his community. To contribute back to the community in his name and carry that legacy on after he is gone is incredibly important.”
Houghton and Massa are among those who are deeply committed to a post project that involves cleaning up Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, a cemetery dating back to 1884.
"It’s one of my personal favorite things I have done,” Massa said, pointing out a wrist band he wears in honor of Stacey. “To be able to see all those grave markers of all those individuals who have gone before us is inspiring. They sacrificed as a veteran. That is why I am so proud to wear this band, to represent veterans who have gone before me and have contributed to their civilian lives and their military service.”