Local American Legion serves breakfast to area's veterans
Families at Cassville Legion Post 118 give back
The American Legion veterans breakfast was a family affair Saturday morning at the Irwin-Easley Post 118 in Cassville.
Harry Stephens, who joined the U.S. Army in 1973 with a communications specialty and was discharged in 1976 as a sergeant, started preparing for the breakfast at 4 a.m. The breakfast began at 6 a.m.
The breakfast is a way for him to give back to veterans, said Stephens, who lives in Exeter and has cooked the breakfast for nearly 20 years.
His son, Craig Stephens, helped him cook and prepare the meal.
The younger Stephens joined the Army in 1994 and was discharged in 2004 as a staff sergeant with the 3rd Ranger Battalion. He lives in Monett.
"The breakfast is a good way to honor veterans," he said.
Harry Stephens said it is a tradition for him and his son.
Retired Col. Michele Hovland, the American Legion district commander, served the refreshments and talked with the veterans and their family members. Her husband, Post Commander Darrell Hovland, helped cook and made sure the breakfast went smoothly.
In 1983, Michele Hovland received her commission in the Army. She retired in 2012.
She started in Germany with nuclear weapons and worked in communications in South Korea and Operation Desert Storm. She also went to California to become a quartermaster and was involved with logistics.
She was born in California and grew up in Cassville.
Her family in Cape Fair, Shell Knob, Viola and Berryville, Ark., would work in California to make money, and they would come back to buy land, Col. Hovland said. She graduated from Cassville High School and Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. In college, she joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program in 1980.
Post Commander Hovland joined the Army in 1982 and retired as a chief warrant officer 3 in 2004. He started out as an infantryman in the 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Ga. He then went into Special Forces as the team's engineer (or demolitions expert).
He was a chief warrant officer for 10 years.
"The warrant officer on the Special Forces team is like the XO, or they call them the assistant detachment commander," Post Commander Hovland said.
He enjoyed his time in the military, he said.
"There was a lot of long deployments, and it is something you kind of get used to," Post Commander Hovland said.
He served in the first Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I spent numerous trips going back and forth to the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and north Africa, working in different countries in those regions," said Post Commander Hovland, who was originally from northern New Mexico.
He and his wife run Kids of Our Heroes Adventure Camp (kidsofourheroes.org) at their farm, northwest of Jenkins.
In the summer, they have two separate camps where they help children of Wounded Warriors, and they help children who have had parents or siblings killed in action, Post Commander Hovland said.
"The camps are designed to develop coping skills and give [the children] tools to assist them to get over the loss of a loved one or to live with a Wounded Warrior," he said. "We have one counselor for every four kids. All of our counselors have degrees in counseling, and all of our camp staff as well as our board members are all veterans. The majority of them are combat veterans.
"We are looking at running a third camp if we can get the funding for kids whose parents were in the military and committed suicide."
He and his wife are very involved with veteran organizations, said Post Commander Hovland, who is also a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2203 in Shell Knob.
"We feel like we can still serve by helping veterans and their families," he said.
When she was in school, Col. Hovland said the American Legion would host school dances, square dances, Fourth of July celebrations, carnivals and rodeos.
"The Legion was the hub of anything fun happening as a kid growing up," she said.
The Cassville post has more than 100 members, and it has meetings the second Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m., Bingo every Saturday and a truck and tractor pull each year on July 3.
To become an American Legion member, veterans must have served during the following eligible dates: April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918; Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946; June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955; Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975; Aug. 24, 1982 to July 31, 1984; Dec. 20, 1989 to Jan. 31, 1990; or Aug. 2, 1990, to cessation of hostilities as determined by the U.S. government.
The American Legion has about 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.