Not just another day
For many, Veterans Day is yet another day on the calendar that we can check off, load up the car, and plan for an extended weekend getaway. It’s a last-ditch effort to break out the grill and selection of occasion-worthy meats for an end-of-the-season cookout in front of the game, another workday out of sight and out of mind in the afterglow of a day off.
However, for a rare breed of Americans, Veterans Day is not just another red checkmark on the calendar. It is not a kickback day. It is a solemn day – a day spent in quiet remembrance of time served and lives lost; a time to salute the country and those men and women who serve to protect it. For those abroad, it is a time to mourn and recognize them far from home. For those retired, it is a time to gather with brothers and sisters from the “olden days” and reminisce and to mentor. Those in active service gather together in formal uniforms for a day spent in high honors. And for families, it is a time to remember, honor, mourn, rejoice, and gather.
And for people like Legion Commander Scott Edwards, it is a day best spent in service of others.
A man with a story
For a number of years, Scott Edwards has been the steady voice of leadership for Buffalo’s American Legion Post #270, sharing his wisdom and his passion for the United States Military with members and families within the community. He has been the voice behind the pillar of a number of memorial events and celebrations – he has shaken the hands of many decorated men and women, while lending a listening ear and helping hand to many families in need.
For thousands of legacies across the country, the Legion has been a staple community in times of war and peace. It is a place for veterans and their families to gather in times of trouble and abundance – it offers a banner of communal oneness for those who have taken the vow to serve and protect, whether home or abroad. The walls of the Legion have most certainly heard the best and worst of military portfolios, while having seen countless faces whom have made up this country’s armed forces.
Edwards has been a part of the standing pillar that is the American Legion, and wouldn’t have it any other way. As a veteran career soldier, he continues his service with the Legion, because that is what the Legion is – an extension of service.
“You are still in the service if you are a part of the American Legion,” Edwards explains to many who ask him about the Legion itself. “You are still in service to the country and your fellowmen because that is what the Legion is about. Service.”
Service began for Edwards on July 11, 1974. At just 18-years-old, Edwards knew that the military was the route for him to jump-start his desire to become an electrician. After studying the branches of the military and understanding which would be best for him, the United States Navy made the cut for Edwards, and he enlisted not long after Independence Day.
The United States Naval Construction Battalion, better known to many as the “Seabees,” is a form of naval construction for the U.S. Navy. The nickname comes from the heterograph of the force’s initials, “C.B.,” standing for “Construction Battalion.” Founded in March of 1942 with the motto Construimus, Batuimus, or, “We Build, We Fight,” the unit consists of about 7,000 active personnel and 6,900 reserves.
That’s what it says online, anyway.
Edwards could probably tell you a lot more about his unit of choice, as he would go on to have a 31-year career with the Navy’s Seabees. Six of those years were active-duty, while 25 of them have been spent in the reserves. With a track record stretching from Orlando to Puerto Rico and many places in-between, Edwards has a memory that is as sharp as the metaphorical tack, and can tell you each and every place where he travelled, with a timestamp to boot.
Currently, however, Edwards lives in Buffalo, where he is Legion Commander at Post #270, not far from the city’s Target store. He is active with his wife, Marty, who has an Air Force background under her belt, and his two sons, Chris and Nick, have also spread their wings beneath the military’s badge as well – Chris, in the Air Force, and Nick following his father’s steps as a Seabee.
You could say it’s in the family’s blood, and that would make Scott Edwards chuckle.
The career behind the man
Bootcamp began in Orlando, Florida. And, what for many is the most challenging part of bootcamp wasn’t all that difficult for Edwards – by “keeping his head down” and sticking to the rules, Edwards shared that he came out alright through bootcamp; discipline, loyalty, and quick-thinking just a few of the many skills were “drilled” into the raw experience of bootcamp.
From basic, Edwards stated that he went across the country to Port Hueneme, California, where he attended Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC). One of two Seabees from his unit, Edwards explained that after rigorous courses and lots of classroom time, he managed to graduate the program as an honor student, off to make his way into the Seabees.
His first deployment was to Adak, Alaska, a place where the skies are wide and open in January 21, 1975. Stationed on the third island from the end of the Aleutian Chain, Edwards commented that the country was some of the most beautiful country he’d see during his service. The “Birthplace of the Winds,” Adak rests parallel to Seattle, Washington, with the Bearing Sea on the north side with cold seas.
“On a normal day, winds are thirty miles an hour and chilly,” Edwards states. “We were assigned to a high-voltage crew of electricians in public works,” he continued, “we kept really busy keeping lights on.”
Edwards can tell you who he bunked with without a beat of hesitation – Harvey Hesselgesser (who’s name he can spell without a pause), David DiCenzo, and himself. With three guys, he echoed his early comment, stating that they were “real busy, all the time.”
A little known fact, and perhaps one of Edwards’ favorite tidbits of information to share, is that during World War II, there were many troops stationed on Adak in preparation for the potential invasion of Japanese forces. Later, in the 1950s, the base was used primarily to conduct antisubmarine warfare operations against submarines and surveillance of naval surface vessels of the former Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, however, the base was closed after the Cold War.
Edwards left Alaska on January 21, 1977, exactly two years after his arrival.
From Alaska, Edwards went back to California, where he was assigned to the 800-strong construction battalion, NMCB-4. Then, in June of 1977, Edwards flew to Puerto Rico, where he was assigned to a six-man high-voltage team working in public works at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. There, he would build power lines for commissaries, while the Navy practiced bombing runs on the island of Vieques, which is another landmass with quite the history.
“Well, on the island, we learned that during World War II, Vieques was intended to be used as a bunk spot for the royal family of London, should London be overtaken,” Edwards shared. “It’s a unique piece of information. It was interesting working there and running lines around all the implants and buildings built up in the area.”
Edwards would leave Puerto Rico in February 1978.
Four months later, in June of the same year, Edwards touched down in Diego Garcia, which is an atoll “six thousand miles from nowhere,” as Edwards would share. Part of the British Indian Ocean Territories, the base would become the largest-ever project of the Navy’s Seabees – and Edwards took part in the construction of just about everything on that base.
“It is known as a ‘spoiled island,’” Edwards commented, sharing his knowledge of the atoll, “’spoiled’ because it was rich in coconut harvests. The place is five degrees off the equator, and it spectacular because you never have to worry about hurricanes, since they all start that far out in the ocean and make their way from the land. It was an amazing place to be.”
By March 1979, Edwards came back to the States, where his Seabee duty came to a close. He would continue to teach at the same place where he started, NCTC, and assist others who shared the same passion as him in their journey to becoming Seabees.
Edwards retired from active duty on December 23, 1979. He would be officially off-listed on January 21, 1980.
After active duty
In June of 1980, Edwards began his service in the reserves, where he spent time in Sioux Falls, SD. By 1985, he was in Fargo, ND, then bounced to Fort McCoy, WI doing work. By 1990, Edwards was active in the Construction Battalion Hospital Unit – 23, which was what he loosely compared to the hit reality TV show “MASH.” There, he set up environmentally-controlled facilities, and maintained other structures for hospital units.
After a few more runs in a handful of other stations, Edwards retired in May of 2006, with the sparkling rank of E-9, the title of Masterchief Petty Officer gracing his record. With an E-9 being the highest rank achievable for his unit, Edwards completed his career with pride. The fact that only 1% of service personnel ever attain the rank makes it all the more commendable.
“There’s a ton of respect that comes with that rank,” Edwards said. “It influences your entire life – it’s the culmination of years of critical thinking, discipline, and leadership rounding out a petty officer’s career.”
Edwards credits the man he is today to his time in the Navy, stating bluntly that he would never have been the same person if he hadn’t joined up as a young man of 18 years. “It really gives you a leg up when it comes to gaining and understanding of how society works,” he stated.
If not for his experiences abroad and on the homefront, Edwards shared that he might not have been the citizen of America that he is today, either. His service and dedication to the Legion has much to do with his service, as he shared early in the interview, stating that you never really retire the aspect of the service when you take part in the Legion.
“You really share a piece of something with everyone you meet at the Legion,” Edwards said. “You identify with men and women to some extent, since you ‘chew the same dirt’. You have a mutual respect and shared ground you may not ever get with other people. It’s a sense of community like none other.”
When it comes to commemorative holidays like Veterans Day or Memorial Day, Edwards will take a serious tone with you. His shoulders straighten up, and his chin lifts a little; not in a prideful manner, but one in a respectful and serious way.
“These days aren’t a day off for us,” Edwards said, adhereing to his days in active duty. “These are days you put on the uniform and it’s all hands-on deck. You remember why things are they way they are when it comes to these commemorations – it’s not a matter of if you celebrate, but when you need to be there. You rally together and keep a hallowed spirit – these are important days.”
Edward and those at the American Legion Post #270 – Buffalo would like to remind you to take a moment to remember those in service of the country, and to not only view Veterans Day as just another day to check off the calendar, but another day to be thankful for the freedom so many work to ensure for our great nation.