American Legion to establish post at Illinois

Vincent Lara-Cinisomo
American Legion post Reggie Alston Dean Hanley-Maxwell

Long before she joined the American Legion, long before she became the first woman to command the Legion’s 19th District in Illinois, Cheryl Walker knew what one of her first official acts would be.

On Wednesday night, she moved closer to accomplishing it.

At a ceremony at Illinois’ Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, the American Legion signed a charter to establish a post at the university. That post will be named in honor of the late Shawna Morrison, the first female Illinois National Guard member killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and an Illinois student at the time of her death.

Sgt. Morrison, 26, and another member of the 1544th Transportation Company, Spc. Charles Lamb, 23, were killed on Sept. 5, 2004, in a mortar attack on their base near Baghdad. Walker served in the 1544th with Morrison and credited Morrison with helping her acclimate to military service.

Walker was 34 when she enlisted, just short of the maximum Army National Guard age.

“When I first came to the unit, Shawna was one of the first people that I had met,” Walker said. “I didn’t know anybody in 1544th, and she looked out for me. When I came there, I didn’t have my beret or anything, and she got me everything that I needed. She was just a very sweet person and so I knew when I became an officer in the American Legion, that was one of my missions. That if I ever got an opportunity to start a post, that I’d do it in her honor.”

American Legion William F. Earnest Post 559 has served Champaign-Urbana since 1925, but this new post will be based on campus and will hold occasional meetings at the Chez Center, Walker said.

“It’ll be the type of post (in which) meetings will be videotaped, and there’ll be a website (from which) notes will be sent out to veterans,” Walker said, adding that that includes some students, some alumni and veterans who have moved out of the area.

Walker said it was important to establish the post at Illinois because the arrangement is mutually beneficial.

“The university has an opportunity to do more community service in the Champaign-Urbana community and I would like to see them have a bigger footprint in the community,” she said. “Teaming up the American Legion and the University of Illinois is an awesome way for each. It benefits both the University of Illinois and the American Legion. They’re both very unique in their own right. But it gives the University of Illinois the opportunity to do more community service. Today’s veterans are sprouting up on college campuses.”

The post will be the 54th in the American Legion’s 19th district, and while Walker oversees all of them, it is undeniable that the Illinois one, named for Morrison, will have a special place in her memory.

Shawna.jpg

“Shawna was very patriotic person. She was a soldier’s soldier, and she would give you the shirt off of her back. I just felt like she was very loving and kind. She had a smile on her face and she talked to me and was very welcoming.

“It’s a way to honor Shawna, a very service-oriented person, and the American Legion has some very awesome programs.”