Legion scholar and post connect to raise patriotism

A long-standing tradition of American Legion Post 264 in Lake Forest, Ill., is placing over 2,000 small flags on the graves of veterans the Saturday before Memorial Day and raising nearly 400 large flags around town in the early morning of Memorial Day. The flags “make everybody feel really good and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said past post commander Ed Geraghty.

Legion Family members of the post and volunteers began hoisting flags at sunrise on May 25, and those involved included Sydney Kirages, a 2023 Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipient who was sponsored by Post 264 to attend Auxiliary Girls State last summer. She brought along high school friends to help raise the flags to show her involvement with Legionnaires and her why to serve alongside them.

“One of my favorite things about bringing different people to these events is getting to show them my favorite things in life … ‘this (Post 264) is where I like to spend my time. I want you to see this part of me,’” said Kirages, a Unit 264 member who will be a freshman at the University of Illinois this fall.

Her relationship with the post started four years ago during her freshman year in high school when she answered Post 264’s competition of “What Does Veterans Day Mean to You?”

“I absolutely fell in love with everything the Legion is and does, and I just wanted to become involved,” she said. The following Memorial Day she reached out to the post and asked, “‘What can I do to help? Where can I bring students?’ I wanted to connect the high school with the Legion more.”

Ever since her first Memorial Day with the post four years ago, “I have absolutely loved it. I have been at all of the flag raisings and lowerings, helping with Memorial Day and really anything I can do. These past four years have been absolutely incredible with them.”

American Legion Post 264 Commander Jim Holmes appreciates Kirages’ support of the post, and her role in getting more youth from the high school involved.

“She works hard in school, she works hard in the community, she gives back. She’s what we want our youth to aspire to,” he said. “She has recruited veterans that are tied to the high school that I would have not been able to get involved nor would the other veterans here. And she really knows how to reach out and have a conversation with people, and she includes everyone. For me, it’s very special to see that. I work with youth a lot through Scouting, and it’s very nice to see when someone is truly genuine with working with other people.”

After raising of the flags, Post 264 and the Lake Forest community held a Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. downtown on May 27. Kirages was there with her parents, friends and American Legion Post 264 family members. Prior to her first Memorial Day with Post 264, Kirages didn’t attend the annual ceremony. For her, Memorial Day was an extra day off school. 

"It had very little meaning to me, and I am totally fair to admit that," she said. "But I also realize that that is so wrong and that should not be how my perception is. As I learn more and more about the Legion, it has come to be a weekend full of giving back and talking and spending time with some of my favorite people. It has been a weekend of hearing so many stories. I think that's why I love Memorial Day weekend so much. As I've gotten to know the Legionnaires more and more, they have open up about their own stories, which I think has been an eye-opening, heartwarming feeling for me.”

Holmes understands where Kirages is coming from. Before he wore the uniform in the Iowa National Guard, Memorial Day too was an extra day off. Now, when he thinks of Memorial Day, “I get a lump in my throat,” he said.  

And Geraghty wears his father’s World War II name tag as a reminder of his war experience and what he went through in the South Pacific.

“This is an emotional weekend for them so for them to want to include me and tell me their stories has made me feel once again that this is a family that I am so proud to be a part of,” Kirages said. “I’m so thankful they let me be a part of this family.”

Geraghty describes Kirages as a natural born leader full of ideas. “We just can’t thank her enough for all of the things she has done for the post,” he said. “A big tenet of The American Legion is patriotism and educating the youth. The more we can educate the youth of our country on the importance of patriotism, it’s critical. And Sydney is just a huge key to all the things that happen in the post with the high school.”

Post 264 member Tom Marks echoed Geraghty’s characteristics of Kirages, also adding enthusiastic and dedicated.

“It’s important to our post, and to me personally, to do what we can to encourage young people to recognize that service is important and that our freedom is protected by people who are willing to serve,” Marks said. “Sydney gets that. She really does.”