When Vietnam veteran Bill Kastens supplied the St. Peter City Council with new U.S. flags for display throughout the community, his other message was a simple one: American Legion Post 37 members continue to serve.

“It is with great pride and pleasure that Post 37 again has the opportunity to replace the city-owned flags for Jefferson Park, Veterans Park, City Hall, fire station, public works, Gault Park and Minnesota Square.”

“Veterans have a love of country, community and family,” Kastens told councilors. But it’s the volunteerism that local Legionnaires provide for the common good that he wanted to reinforce. Not surprisingly, Kastens was pinch-hitting for Post 37 Commander Eric Thomas, who was handling another meeting responsibility.

“In addition to serving their country, veterans volunteer by being in parades, supporting sports and being present at games,” Kastens added. “They provide honor guard at funerals. Post 37 also supports many, many different organizations.”

Among those organizations and ceremonies American Legion Post 37 supports are school graduations, scholarship programs, prom parties, classroom materials, crossing guard volunteers, Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, the Nicollet County Fair, brain trauma foundations, and the local fire, police and sheriff’s departments.

Kastens also encouraged area residents who have flags that are becoming worn to bring them to the St. Peter American Legion, which follows national guidelines for “proper and dignified disposal of old flags.” The St. Peter area Boys Scouts have assisted in past disposal ceremonies, typically held each Flag Day, June 14.

“Veterans have a great deal of respect for the American flag,” stressed Kastens. “It is because of this respect that we request the city, as well as the citizens of St. Peter, give us their old, tattered flags to dispose of according to the respect they deserve.”

Kastens is currently post adjutant for William R. Witty American Legion Post 37 and is also a member of the Vietnam Last Man Club, which has operated a St. Peter branch since November 2011. Kastens served in the U.S. Navy from 1971-75 as a flight deck medic on the USS America. Respect for the flag and veterans continues to rise locally, according to Kastens. He says that’s been evident in local ceremonies, flag etiquette and parades. As a Vietnam veteran, that particularly pleases Kastens.

“The cheers our group received during the Fourth of July parade (in St. Peter) brought tears to my eyes.”

The local Last Man Club of Vietnam War Era was originally the brainchild of four St. Peter area residents: Ron Haugen, Windy Block, John Jensen and Bob Lutz. It is open to veterans who served from 1961 to 1975 and is designed after the original Last Man Club concept established by the national American Legion organization for veterans of World War II. Kastens says Post 37 has also adopted the local World War II Last Man Club.

Reach reporter Dana Melius at 507-931-8568 or follow him on Twitter @SPHdanajohn

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

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