By Maddy Vitale
Mike Byerly did not serve in the military. But every day, he honors those who have been in the military, currently serve, or made the greatest sacrifice for the country.
Byerly is the commander of the Sons of The American Legion Squadron 524, a program within Ocean City’s Morvay-Miley American Legion Post 524. The sons include men whose parents or grandparents served in the U.S. military and were eligible for American Legion membership.
His father, Ken Byerly, 72, who lives with his wife Jean in Ocean City, is a retired Army captain who served in the Vietnam War.
“My father was my best man in my wedding. I don’t think I have any respect for anyone else in the world like I do for my father,” Byerly said in a recent interview. “He sacrificed everything for his country and for his family, and continues to do so.”
So, when Byerly’s father approached him about seven years ago and asked him if he was interested in joining the “Sons,” Byerly knew immediately what he would do.
“I said, ‘Of course I will,’” he recalled.
For the last six years, Byerly, along with a strong team of Legion members, work together to build up the organization to do what they were meant to as “Sons.”
“When you see a veteran in need, you want to help them,” Byerly explained. “We try to fill that need however we can,” he explained. “Sometimes they just need help reintegrating after serving.”
But with only about $100 in the “Sons” checking account seven years ago, there was a lot of work to be done to fundraise and showcase what the membership, which is now 158 strong, could do for veterans.
Byerly said over the last few years, with more and more “Sons” getting involved, they are able to provide healthy donations to charities, organizations and groups that they believe in.
“Guys like me, have a strong respect for veterans,” he said.
This last year, the “Sons” donated to two worthy causes, Byerly explained: Heroes on the Water and Operation Safe Haven.
Heroes on the Water is a non-profit that provides no-cost therapeutic kayak fishing experiences to veterans, first-responders, active-duty military members and their families. Their volunteer-led chapters hold regularly scheduled events that improve lives while supporting our heroes.
The “Sons” gave $1,500 for the South Jersey Chapter.
“We will be continual supporters of this program,” he noted.
Byerly said George Daley, of Cape May County, is involved in the program. Daley attended a “Sons” meeting and told the members that he needed funds to purchase a storage trailer for the kayaks and other equipment.
“It is a great program,” Byerly said, adding that Daley does so much on his own the “Sons” were happy to help out for such a noble cause.
Operation Safe Haven, under the direction of Pastor Donnie Davis of Amazing Grace Ministries, is such a monumental program, the “Sons” decided to give large donation of $7,500 to help the pastor in his efforts.
Davis operates a 277-acre area, including a 65-acre lake in Franklin Township, where he is building 300-square-foot “tiny houses” for homeless vets and those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The homes will be free of charge to the veterans who qualify.
“It is the most substantial donation we ever made,” Byerly said. “The pastor is terrific. It is really a neat thing he is doing. It is exciting to see how he is providing homes for veterans.”
Byerly who owns a landscaping business and works in marketing for a casino, lives with his wife, Karen, in Ocean View. They have two children, Ian, 21, and Erin, 23.
He said he is able to juggle work and family life, and still put in a lot of effort into the “Sons” because of fellow members and the relationship between his organization and the veterans at Post 524, which he described as strong.
He credited some of the success to the leadership of American Legion Post 524 Commander Bob Marzulli.
In addition, he said there are about 10 members of the “Sons” who also served and belong to the American Legion post.
One of the dual members is Doug Otto, whom Byerly said, along with member, Steve Koch, and a few others, are instrumental in their getting things done
“I’m very blessed with a great group of guys,” he noted. “We have always been laid back. It allows the guys to discuss any ideas they may have.”
In addition to larger donations given to Heroes on the Water and Operation Safe Haven, the “Sons” also sponsor events at assisted living communities, including the United Methodist Communities at The Shores in Ocean City.
They also recently provided landscaping materials for a local Girl Scouts group to create a garden in front of Post 524.
Despite the active post and squadron in Ocean City, Byerly pointed out that the number of veterans joining posts is dwindling across the country.
The hope is that the Sons of The American Legion will fill that temporary gap in membership to assist veterans.
“You see young kids coming out of the military who are less engaged with veterans organizations,” Byerly noted. “Six or seven years from now, they might be ready to become more involved with veterans groups.”
He added, until then, and after, the Sons of The American Legion are there to help veterans any way they can.
For more information about American Legion Morvay-Miley Post 524 at 46th Street and West Avenue and Sons of The American Legion Squadron 524 visit www.legion524ocnj.org. To learn about Heroes on the Water visit www.heroesonthewater.org and Operation Safe Haven go to www.opsafehaven.com