The Davis-Sikes Destin American Legion Post 296 on Main Street smells like an old church. The hallway’s walls are covered in American Legion license plates from outposts all over the country; presumably from people who have visited this location.
Corlene Ziegler, the Auxiliary President of the Destin American Legion chapter, is wearing an American flag scarf, a bright red top, and carries an American flag-patterned tote bag.
She’s bubbly and kindhearted; passionate about the American Legion and what it represents as an organization, and there’s no question that she loves her country.
“We want to recognize that below those stones in the national cemeteries is someone’s son, brother, father…” Ziegler trailed off, her voice catching.
On a tour around the building, she points out the Sunday breakfast buffet room. It’s dark now with neatly set tables and overturned coffee mugs; ready for the weekend crowd.
“Everyone here is a volunteer. When you come in for breakfast, there’s a veteran or a veteran’s wife who is taking your order. It’s the heartbeat of the community, and all the food is homemade,” Ziegler said.
In the dimly-lit lounge area, the Beach Boys play from the speakers and three older men perch with their beers at the large wooden bar.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?
"Then we would have to wait so long”
One of them hums along to the old tune.
Corlene sits at a table, which is decorated with a mini American flag centerpiece. She’s working on a project called Wreaths Across America, which is a program that honors veterans by placing a wreath on the grave of each soldier at Christmas time.
Members of the community can pick up a Wreaths Across America form at the Legion, the Destin History & Fishing Museum, and at City Hall. The wreaths cost $15 each.
There are about 200 veterans buried in Destin, so Ziegler hopes to raise a little over $3,000.
“Less than 30 percent of the graves get a wreath during this time, and Susan Vetter, who is an auxiliary member, said that her mission was to see 100 percent of the graves have a wreath,” Ziegler said. Vetter’s husband passed away a year ago
Ziegler, who was a Marine herself, was married to her husband Jack, an Air Force veteran, for 38 years. He passed away from cancer caused by Agent Orange eight years ago. She orders a fresh bouquet of flowers to be placed on her husband’s grave in Riverside National Cemetery each week.
“When people see the fresh flowers on his grave, they know that someone loves that person," Ziegler said. "Hug your loved ones every day and tell them you love them. Because when they’re gone, forever is a long time.”
National Wreaths Across America Day is Dec. 15. The organization’s goal is to “remember the fallen U.S. Veterans, honor those who serve and teach your children the value of freedom.”
The wreaths will be delivered to Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola and Ziegler, along with a few volunteers, will go to pick up the ordered wreaths and bring them back to Destin.
Ziegler said it’s important to remember those who have passed.
“We’ll place the wreaths on the graves," Ziegler said. "We stand up, and we say the person’s name, and we thank them for their service. Everyone gets recognized for their service.”