HUNTERSVILLE – Joseph Reale Sr. takes pride in serving veterans across the country.

He works as senior commander at the American Legion Post No. 321 at 107 N. Main St. Reale will be the honored guest speaker at the Memorial Day Ceremony at 7 p.m. May 26 at Birkdale Village.

The American Legion is the largest veteran service group in the country, with roughly 2.4 million members spread across 14,000 posts in the U.S. The organization provides services to veterans, service members and communities. 

“The Legion honors four pillars: Providing services for vets and rehabilitation, spouse of vets, children of vets and demonstrating Americanism,” Reale said.

The Huntersville post consists of 150 members from all walks of life and people who served in the military, whether it was during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.  

Reale’s job as commander is to guide veterans to a successful life upon returning home, focusing on veteran jobs, benefits, healthcare, education, family and finances.

“The American Legion is very family-oriented,” Reale said. “You can visit living vets in hospitals or nursing homes. The Legion provides scholarship opportunities to make education more affordable for vets, their families and Legion participants.”

Before becoming actively involved in veteran services and working five years for The American Legion, he attended military school for much of his life, starting in the 1960s to the early 1990s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1988 at the State University of New York.

He even helped run the annual New York City Veterans Day Parade for several years.

Some of the awards he won are the County Distinguished Service to Veterans Award on Aug. 4, 2004, and the New York State Red White & Blue Certificate for his promotion of Americanism.

He moved to Huntersville in November 2013.

At the Huntersville Memorial Day Ceremony, Reale plans to speak about the background, importance and purpose of Memorial Day. He will represent 8,000 members from 54 posts within The American Legion. 

“Memorial Day originally started in Waterloo, N.Y., in 1966 to honor the soldiers from both sides of the Civil War who were incarcerated,” Reale said. “A bunch of ladies in the town decided to take a day to commemorate the soldiers after the Civil War back in the late 1860s. They planted flowers and decorated grave stones.”

Reale will also shed light on combat and commemoration of veterans.

“Dying for freedom is not the worst thing in the world,” he said. “Being forgotten for dying for freedom is the worst thing.”

Although Reale never experienced life on the battlefield, he said combat is a huge burden.  

“Fighting in war doesn’t have an expiration date,” he said. “You carry that for the rest of your life. We cannot forget the sacrifice made by our vets.”

Reale will honor vets in surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the state, considering North Carolina has the largest population of veterans. 

“The best thing you can do is tell a vet thank you,” he said. “Because of our veterans who fought and died for us, we now have rights and freedoms laid out in the Constitution.”

 

Want to go? Birkdale Village hosts its Memorial Day Ceremony at 7 p.m. May 26. Guests include Joseph Reale Sr., senior commander of American Legion Post No. 321; the Central Piedmont Community Chorus; Mayor Jill Swain; North Mecklenburg High School JROTC cadets; Huntersville Police Department Honor Guard led by David Thornburg; and buglers from Troop 19 from Huntersville Presbyterian Church.