If you’re attending events staged by Wellington’s American Legion Post 390, don’t be surprised if one of the key people involved is a lot younger than you might expect. Odds are, it’s Sons of the American Legion Post 390 Squadron Commander Joshua Katz.
This past year, Wellington’s traditional Veterans Day Commemoration with its wreath-laying ceremony was a virtual event led by the Post 390 officers, who placed wreaths at the Wellington Veterans Memorial. The ceremony is believed to be a first in having American Legion Post 390 Commander Bill Bartels joined by Katz, representing the Sons of the American Legion, present together for the honor of laying the ceremonial POW-MIA wreath.
Katz went to some effort to be part of the ceremony. Upon being invited, he received permission to leave college for the day at Keiser University to attend the event and return, all with appropriate social distancing.
“Keiser is great and very supportive of military events,” Katz said. “They are looking to have ROTC, and they are very supportive of soldiers who attend the school.”
He was quite modest in explaining why he had been tapped for the opportunity. “Mainly for the other work I have done in support of the American Legion,” Katz said.
Those efforts began some six years ago, when he was just 12 years old and working on the accomplishments necessary to earn his Eagle Scout rank. To honor his grandfather, a Vietnam era veteran who he longed to have known better, Katz visited the South Florida National Cemetery, where he did his Eagle Scout project. There, he noticed coins on some markers that let a grieving family know that a compatriot has visited the grave. The higher the denomination of coin, the closer the relationship of the visitor — a penny for a fellow serviceman up to a quarter for someone present when the service member died.
Katz enlisted the help of his father, David, and created his own POW-MIA-OREE (Outdoor Remembrance Educational Event) complete with his own custom-designed commemorative coins for each veteran in the cemetery. Katz and his father experimented with various coins and designs, and trademarked the coined phrase, “No Soldier Should Ever Be Forgotten.”
In events to show respect for all veterans and their families, Katz does a live read of every name in the cemetery and places a coin for the family on the headstone.
“This year would have been the sixth, but we had trouble this year. We had to cancel it because of the virus,” Katz said.
The program has since expanded to other locales and is held with other volunteers in other cemeteries as well. “We were in lots of cemeteries last year, something like nine,” he said. “We get lots of inquiries about expanding the program across the country.”
Katz devotes up to 1,500 hours each year to the POW-MIA-OREE program. It is the only event of its kind, live reading the names of all the veterans interred in national cemeteries and leaving the custom challenge coin on every headstone. These are a keepsake for the families, friends and loved ones with the message, “No Soldier Should Ever Be Forgotten,” all in support of National POW-MIA Remembrance Day, which is held the second Saturday of September. Katz holds fundraisers and accepts donations to provide the coins. He has some 200,000 so far for the next event.
Named previously as the Eagle Scout of the Year by the American Legion Florida District, Katz’s Eagle Scout project was a memorial at the South Florida National Cemetery. Katz also became only the second person ever in 40 years to receive the “Legacy Keeper” title for his dedication to sharing the legacy of America’s veterans. This was presented to Katz in 2019 by Undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves.
David Katz is proud of the work his son has done organizing events to honor military veterans. “We want people to remember the things [veterans] have done,” he said. “They deserve to be remembered forever. Joshua is known nationally for his work and was recognized with the honor of laying this year’s wreath.”
Wellington’s American Legion post is honored to have Katz on their team.
“It was quite an honor to receive such an accommodation on a national level,” explained John Shwiner, Post 390’s adjutant and public relations officer, who said that Katz has created a lifelong memorial for veterans.
Katz himself is passionate about furthering social media programs that develop and maintain awareness of the sacrifices every veteran makes. He hopes the POW-MIA-OREE program will be commemorated in all national cemeteries throughout the country to signify, “No Soldier Should Ever Be Forgotten.”
For more information, visit www.pow-mia-oree.com.