For nearly 20 years, Legionnaire Loretta Young has worked with the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. She calls the ROTC cadets "the best of the best" and a source of pride for the Arthur R. Lanni Memorial American Legion Post 365 in Sunrise, which sponsors the program.
On February 14, 2018, pride turned to sorrow when three of Marjory Stoneman Douglas' JROTC cadets - along with 14 of their classmates and teachers - were gunned down by a former student of the high school. Six days later, Young and hundreds of other mourners gathered for the funeral of one of those cadets, 15-year-old Peter Wang.
One week after the deaths of Wang and fellow JROTC cadets Martin Duque and Alaina Petty, both 14, Young struggled to express her grief.
"It really breaks your heart," Young said. "Really, I can hardly describe how you feel when you work closely with them on a regular basis. You admire all that they do. And then to know that their life is gone - I can't even put it into words. We shouldn't have to see them put into the ground and see their families so heartbroken. I'm a mother, so I know."
Young, the longtime commander of Post 365, has seen the benefits of the JROTC program as the Department of Florida's JROTC and Shooting Sports chairman, and a staff member at the Legion's 3-Position Junior Air Rifle Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"They work very hard," Young said. "They are shining examples of what our youth is and what we have to look forward to as a country. To lose any one of them is devastating."
Post 365 members attend the school's JROTC events and sponsor year-end award ceremonies for military and scholastic excellence. Young had just met with school officials about the JROTC's formal inspection program, which was scheduled for the day after the shooting. The inspection is a "shining example of what the cadets are," she said.
An Air Force veteran, Young had visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas to prepare for the awards ceremony and shook Wang's hand. The day of the shooting, she spoke with the school's curriculum adviser.
"To hang up the phone and then look and see the school on the news...I was speechless," she said. "It's devastating."
The Army posthumously awarded all three cadets with the Medal of Heroism for their actions during the crisis. Wang's fellow students said that he held the door open so others could escape before he was gunned down. In addition, the U.S. Army at West Point, which Wang hoped to attend, posthumously admitted him on the day of his funeral.
The American Legion is active in many areas. We try our best to be all we can be by supporting the following segments of The American Legion. We call these the "Four Pillars."
1) Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation
2) National Security
4) Children and Youth
Each of these pillars encompasses a variety of programs that benefit our nation's veterans, its servicemembers, their families, the youth of America and ordinary citizens.
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