A big surprise was in store for the many Legionnaires and guests who attended the annual Legionnaire Awards Banquet on Saturday, April 30, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church.
Special dignitaries in attendance were the Alternate National Executive Committeeman and Department Service Officer Bob Wallace and his wife Eva, Area I Commander Gary Osness with his wife Janet, District 2 Commander Loren Sperry and his wife Jan, and former District 2 Commander and Department Commander Vince Schmitt and his wife Frankie. Also in attendance in uniform were active duty military Andrew Wallace, U.S. Coast Guard, and Cory Stillwell, U.S. Navy. The American Legion Auxiliary Unit 181 catered the meal, and Boy Scouts from Troop 42 assisted as servers.
Recognition and awards are traditionally given after the dinner to members who have participated in events or activities that significantly helped The American Legion during the previous year.
Two non-Legion awards were also presented. The first was accepted by Brad Smith, Scoutmaster of Troop 42, on behalf of the Scouts and leaders of Troop 42 for all the assistance they have provided during the year, especially for the annual June 14 Flag Day and Pearl Harbor Day Flag Retirement Ceremonies.
The other award was presented to Pam Stevens, Co-publisher and Managing Editor of The Lake Stevens Journal, for publicizing and reporting Legion events throughout the year.
Post 181 has nearly 200 members on its rolls. Half of those assisted in at least one activity during the last year. Several members distinguished themselves by continually helping at various events for the entire year. Altogether 29 Legionnaires received recognition for their help during the 2010-2011 Legion year.
The most special award of the night is the “Legionnaire of the Year” award. This was started by Jack Sahlbom in 2002 to recognize those Legionnaires who played an important role in the building of the War Memorial in downtown Lake Stevens.
During the next seven years as commander, Sahlbom honored Legionnaires and others who help with American Legion events, activities, and programs. Jack continues to play an important role with Post 181, yet he was never received recognition by his own Post 181. Jack has been the driving force for the vision he has to honor all military veterans. It all started with an idea in early 2000 to build the memorial.
In April, 2000, after only three months of planning, there was a ground-breaking ceremony for the War Memorial. In just one year the memorial was constructed ahead of the dedication deadline of Memorial Day, 2001. There was a tremendous community-wide event for this dedication which brought special dignitaries from throughout our state.
The War Memorial became a community assembly area just months later after the 9/11 attacks on our country. Since then, Memorial Day, memorial services, and special flag-lowering ceremonies have been performed, averaging about 11 formal events a year. Informally, people are always stopping by to see the names on the plaque, the flags, and the flowers.
Sahlbom has been instrumental in the growth of Post 181 for the last 10 years. This was his year to be finally recognized. Except he did not receive the “Legionnaire of the Year” award. He received the first-ever “Legionnaire of the Decade” award.
After the standing ovation subsided, he reminded the Legion members that “...you are my heroes. Each and every one of you were willing to lay down your life for my freedoms. We live in the greatest country on earth because of you.”