Local veterans honored in ramp-up to parade activities

Former Sweet Home resident Al Severson is one of three Distinguished Veterans named by the organizing committee of the Albany Veterans Day Parade.

Other honorees this year are Veteran of the Year Larry Sayles, Grand Marshal Dave Russell, and Distinguished Veterans Robert Bronson and Bill Clotere. All are Albany-area residents.

Sayles, 63, is junior vice-commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 584 in Albany, where, he said, he stays busy helping out in a wide variety of ways.

For the past three years, he has led the post’s memorial flags program, in which members place close to 1,200 flags at Willamette Memorial Park Cemetery on Memorial Day.

“It’s pretty big, sizable,” he said of that activity when asked to list some of the things he’s involved in at the VFW.

He also regularly helps out in the kitchen, frequently transports aged veterans and auxiliary members to and from the post, and to events at the Oregon Veterans Home in Lebanon or to the Timberview Rehabilitation Center.

He also organized a program to provide electric razors to veterans staying at the Lebanon home.

“They appreciated that,” said Sayles, who was trying to come up with a list of his activities for a reporter.

“If I see something that needs to be done, I do it,” he said. “Today, the recycling and garbage cans needed to be brought in, so I did that.”

He said he was “shocked” to be honored.

Following his graduation from South Albany High School, Sayles entered the Navy in September of 1976, volunteering for duty on nuclear submarines.

“I was in the Navy for about two years and they wanted me to go for another year, so instead of four years I went through a five-year program,” he said.

In 1981, back in the civilian world in Oregon, he had trouble “finding what I wanted to do” and when a friend applied to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Sayles followed suit, getting a job at the federal penitentiary at Sheridan.

“I got my foot in the door for the financial office,” he said.

He ended up working in prisons in North Carolina and eventually northern Virginia, moving into managing contracts for supplies, counseling services and religious services, he said.

“I actually ended up in charge of building a prison. That was a lot of fun.”

When he was working in the D.C. area, he got involved with a VFW post in Woodbridge, Va., about 10 years ago, and started visiting “comrades” in the VA hospital in Richmond, about 90 minutes to the south, once a month.

“We played Bingo, had a little dance night, a day when they could come in and have a good time.”

It was an impactful experience, Sayles said.

“What I noticed there was that people don’t get visits from their family,” he said. ”

“I told my family, ‘You’d better come and visit me.’ I decided I’d go heavier (on visiting needy vets) after that.”

Severson, the longtime announcer of the event, would have been celebrating his 50th year of involvement in the parade, but he’s been recovering from some health issues.

He’s been involved for decades in the Veterans Commemoration Association, which stages the event.

Severson grew up in Sweet Home before serving in the Army from 1970 to 78, mostly at Fort Polk, La. – “a hell hole” – and in Alaska.

“I never made it to ‘Nam,” he told The New Era in 2017. “I came close, but was always able to dodge the bullet. I shouldn’t say it, but I had a pretty easy gig, considering what a lot of those guys did.”

Severson, who has also been an auctioneer in addition to running Al’s Frame Shop in Downtown Albany, announced the parade each year, beginning in the 1960s, through 2019.