Canton American Legion to be honored as Canton Day Off parade grand marshals

NEWS LEADER FILE PHOTO BY CHARLIE WARNER The Canton American Legion sponsors the Memorial Day service each year. Part of the service includes the gun salute.

NEWS LEADER FILE PHOTO BY CHARLIE WARNER Post 400 conducts a flag-burning service each year, where approximately 100 flags are disposed of in the proper manner. Legion members, from left, are Jim Richardson, Ken Fabian, Butch Helgeson, Kristi Elsebernd, the late Mert Fairchild, Nick Prestby and Greg Turner.
Charlie Warner

When the Canton Day Off parade gets underway on Saturday, Aug. 17, members of the Canton American Legion will be leading the parade. But it just won’t be the customary color guard heading up the 1 p.m. parade, it will be the entire post.

“Most of us will be marching, but those who can’t will be riding on a float,” explained Legion member Mike Wilder.

Members of the Canton Day Off Committee, now known as the Canton Community Association, decided to honor the members of Paul Blegan Post 400 for all of the community service work the local veterans do each year. While the post is fairly small in numbers, with just 18 members, they make up for it with the numerous activities they volunteer for.

Paul Blegan Post members organize and put on the annual Memorial Day service, which includes a program at the town hall and a gun salute and Taps. They also make sure there are American flags placed at all six cemeteries in Canton Township and that all grave markers of fallen veterans are properly designated.

The Canton Legion also conducts a flag-burning ceremony every year during Flag Day. They encourage area residents to bring their worn out/distressed flags to be properly put out of commission in the proper manner. And they give new American flags (either 3 by 5 or 4 by 6 feet in size) to persons wanting to replace those decommissioned flags. “And these flags are made in America,” Legion member Nick Prestby was quick to add.

Legion members donate their time to make sure an honor guard is present at funerals of area veterans, regardless of whether they were members of Post 400 or not.  They also provide financial support through funds raised by their charitable gambling to a myriad of groups, organizations and causes. They include the Boys and Girls State programs for Mabel-Canton students, the M-C Post Prom Party, the Canton Area Historical Society, the Canton Fire Department, the city of Canton, the local Boy Scouts Troop and to families facing hardship cases due to fires, floods or other disasters. When the ball diamond in town needed updates, the Legion provided much of the funding for new lights, fencing, seating and the landscaping of the infield. A donation was also made to the new veterans home that will be located in Preston.

Post 400 also serves as the financial engine for the Canton Community Association’s weekly bingo activity. The vast majority of that money raised goes to support Canton’s annual summer community event.

The Canton Legion also maintains the flagpoles in the community, helped develop the war memorial near the bandstand in town and is working with the local city council to expand that memorial. All of the money raised during the Canton Day Off pancake breakfast goes towards the memorial expansion project.

Besides money raised by the charitable gambling program (pull tabs at ZZ Tap and Pauly’s Canton Pub) the annual pancake breakfast, held each spring, is Post 400’s main money-raising event. Hundreds of area residents flock to the Canton Town Hall for the breakfast, which according to Legion member Greg Turner, always sees great attendance.

Paul Blegan Post 400 was established in July of 1922. The original members included Robert Milne, A.G. Donald, Arthur Sanden, Oscar Olson, Otto Rassmussen, Clarence Sanden, Edward Wallner, George Bjertness, Harry Patterson, E.G. Wallner, Ole Bjertness, Harry Ward, Reginald Pierce and Willie Nelson.

The current Post 400 roster includes Commander Nick Prestby, Adjutant Richard Bjertness, Finance Officer Greg Turner, Gambling Officer Mike Wilder, Kristi Elsbernd, Spencer Engen, Ken Fabian, Gary Gunderson, Don Helgeson, Gerald Johnson, Doug Marin, Randy Newman, Josh Nordsving, Jim Richardson, Matt Snyder, Larry Soiney, Dave Terbeest and Mert Fairchild (recently deceased).