ST. LOUIS – On Veterans Day, Donna Harrell-Saddler made her way to Denny’s to be served up a free appreciation meal for her service to her country.
In her heart, she believes that she and other veterans as well deserve it.
“Veterans in general don’t realize how much we are owed,” said Harrell-Saddler, a retired special school educator and WWII and Vietnam-era veteran. “We keep people safe, we keep the enemy away; and people don’t talk about it, but we are the real first responders.”
On Tuesday, it was back to her post, or at least plotting her next move for it.
She commands Corporal Leonard Scott Memorial AmVets Post 67. It’s the only Missouri post (and one of only two in the U.S.) that was established as an African-American post, and among the first to integrate.
Harrell-Saddler said that although the military was about diversity, that should be highlighted.
“As a black post, we struggled and maintained, and we’re still in existence,” she said.
Established in 1960 in a church, it’s named in honor of an African-American veteran of the Korean War who went MIA in South Korea in December 1950.
Post 67, at 5022 San Francisco Ave. in the Mark Twain I-70 Industrial neighborhood, is tucked away behind fast food restaurants near North Kingshighway Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue. However, its mission to aid veterans in any way that it can is front and center.
In fact, its slogan is Veterans Helping Veterans.
They are officially there every first and third Sunday, from 7 p.m. to about 3 the next morning.
As a 501(c)(19) organization, they aid veterans with disabilities to get due compensation. They also connect them with available community resources and help with resume writing. The post sponsors eight ROTC schools, including three colleges.
The veterans provide backpacks and basic school supplies. Family members of veterans can use the post free of charge for such purposes as repasts, or gatherings for a meal after funerals.
Veterans attend funerals and provide biker escorts. On grave sites, they place flags.
Post 67 also doubles as a club for area residents, known as boosters. Sunday night, for example, they celebrated Veterans Day with a live band: Skeet Rodgers and the Inner City Blues Band.
They also disseminate information from the national AmVets headquarters and give to other charities when finances allow.
“We are community activists,” Harrell-Saddler said. “I know some people thinks that’s a bad term, which they tried to say when [Barack] Obama ran for president, but we think it’s important.”
One of her main tasks as commander is rebuilding the post and upping its enlistment. It currently has 15 active members, but 110 on paper.Harrell-Saddler was already a contributing member of the post when she found out that her late father had also attended. He was among the first African-Americans to fight in World War II, as a member of the Montford Point Marines, receiving a posthumous medal.
Harrell-Saddler is one of five siblings, three of whom served in the military. And while serving in Fort Riley, Kan., she married a soldier from her infantry unit, 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed Big Red One. He too is retired, from the Army, however.
“I’m proud to have served and glad to be a veteran,” Harrell-Saddler said. “If I had any regret, it would be that I didn’t do my 20 years. But I married someone who did 20.”