Nine years ago, Legionnaire Blair Moran came to his fellow American Legion Family members at Henry Meldrun Post 114 in Sikeston, Mo., and asked for them to assist in funding a new bell tower at the nearby Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Bloomfield.
The post and Auxiliary Unit 114 stepped up to fulfill Moran’s request, and those efforts haven’t waivered since. In that time period, Post and Unit 114 have combined to donate more than $169,000 to the cemetery, including this year’s $25,740 gift in June.
“I’ve been on the Assistance League for 20 years, since the inception of the cemetery in 2002,” said Moran, Post 114’s service officer and the president of the Missouri Veterans Cemetery Assistance League. “I assumed the presidency four years ago. Nine years ago, our committal shelter was not heated, was not air conditioned … and was really an inconvenience in cold weather and hot weather. I said, ‘we need to do something for the cemetery.’”
In addition to the bell tower, the post’s and unit’s donations over the nine years have funding providing heat, air conditioning, LED lighting, a sound system and enclosure at the cemetery’s committal shelter. It’s also provided money for beautification projects throughout the cemetery, including a new fountain in the cemetery’s lake.
Although the cemetery receives stand funding, not every need is met through the state budget.
“Without their support it would be very difficult to keep up the pace that we do,” Missouri Veterans Cemetery Tammy Smith told the Standard Democrat. “It is expensive to maintain the cemetery and groups like this make it so much easier. The whole interment process for the family, the experience of having to be down here, they have just made so much more comfortable for them.
“Grieving is very difficult. You cannot make that easy. But being comfortable when you are having to go through it is a plus.”
The most recent donation was made possible through a series of events: a cornhole tournament, a chicken wing cook-off, a poker run, a live auction and a 22-team BBQ cook-off. Community members also provided $200 sponsorships.
The events were a collaboration between the post and unit. “It’s teamwork,” Moran said. “We’ve had a great relationship, and from that relationship we’ve been able to develop visibility to raise this money every year for the cemetery. And the Community of Sikeston has been wonderful in supporting this event each and every year. Without their support we couldn’t do it.”
Moran said cemetery staff are “absolutely elated” when they receive the donations. “And not only are they elated, but also the Missouri Veterans Commission in Jefferson City appreciates all our efforts on behalf of the cemetery.”
The commitment to the cemetery by Post and Unit 114 comes from a personal connection to it.
“Many of our post members are buried there,” Moran said. “We just think it’s our moral obligation to help them in any way we can, and this is the way we do it every year: with a nice donation. From those donations we’ve been able to make a tremendous difference for the cemetery and for the families that are burying their veterans there.”