Emily C. Roush
The Ashland Beacon
A local man has been awarded Kentucky Veteran of the Year by AMVETS of Kentucky. Mike Wurts, who has belonged to AMVETS for the past 20 years, is the first member of Post 95 in Greenup to be granted this honor. According to its national website, AMVETS is a Congressionally chartered veterans service organization that represents the interests of 20 million veterans from all branches of the military. Any active duty and honorably discharged service personnel, including National Guard and Reservists are eligible to join. The organization’s mission is “to enhance and safeguard the entitlements for all American Veterans who have served honorably and to improve the quality of life for them, their families, and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy and services.”
Volunteering his time to help veterans and promote veteran related causes has become Wurts’ emphasis over the last two decades, but military service and helping veterans have been a passion throughout his life. Wurts comes from a self-described “military family.” His father, three of his uncles, and his brothers have all served in different branches. Wurts himself served in the U.S. Army beginning in 1972 and was honorably discharged following an accident. Even as a child, he was taught the importance of honoring veterans. During summers spent with his uncle, a member of an American Legion post in St. Albans, WV, Wurts and his siblings would help place American flags at the graves of veterans. This is something he has continued to do for the last 36 years. He even periodically visits his uncle’s resting place in West Virginia to make sure it has a flag on it.
After his time in the Army ended, Wurts made a career in the Department of Highways for 28 years. His schedule, particularly demanding during weather emergencies like the snow and ice storms currently gripping the area, left little time for volunteer work. Retirement provided time to give back to causes he cares about. “I got a lot more time now,” he laughed. Wurts first became involved with AMVETS 20 years ago. At the time, there was a local post in Ashland (it is now in Greenup). Its Commander knew Wurts and asked him if he would like to be a member. “I joined the organization, and I fell in love with [it]. They are a bunch of really good people.” Wurts recalled. After a few years, he ran for a position within the state organization, headquartered in Louisville as a Convention Corporation Officer. He has recently added a second position within the state organization as a Service Officer. Wurts loves the people he works with at the AMVETS of Kentucky office. “The people in Louisville are so sweet and so nice,” he described. However, his first love is his local affiliate. “My post (Post 95 in Greenup) is the best!” he exclaimed.
As a member of AMVETS, taking care of veterans’ graves is still central to Wurts’ volunteer work. “When I worked, I took two or three days off in May to do this, and there had been times where I had to buy the flags myself and put them on the graves,” he remembered. Joining AMVETS gave Wurts the resources and network to expand this project. Every year he makes sure that flags are placed in all of Boyd County’s cemeteries. “There are 158 cemeteries in Boyd County alone. Out of 158, I probably handle 140 of them. I will drive out to them and make sure there are flags on all these veterans graves.” Now Wurts begins placing flags two weeks before Memorial Day. He coordinates supplies and volunteers ensuring that staff and caretakers of the county’s cemeteries don’t have to lift a finger.” Wurts noted that he typically receives help from local Boy Scouts and the Russell High School ROTC. “The Boys Scouts have been really faithful about coming out and helping during Memorial Day. I mean they have been seriously faithful,” he emphasized. Wurts also appreciates the help he gets from the Eagles Club 2329 in Ashland, of which he serves as Chaplain. “If I need money for flags or something, they are there 100 percent. They have always come through and support what I do. They are really a great bunch of people.” Wurts credits the help of these community groups and his fellow AMVETS members for accomplishing their yearly goal of placing an American flag at each veteran gravesite.
Placing flags is only one of Wurts’ passion projects for AMVETS. He also serves at the Chaplain for POST 95. He visits members who are sick in the hospital and attends memorial services for those who pass away. He can help the families navigate the process of obtaining memorial grave markers from the VA. Wurts also leads the Pledge of Allegiance at various local events including the annual Memorial Day Service in Central Park, the Labor Day festival in Catlettsburg, Summer Motion, and Ashland City Commission and Boyd County Fiscal Court meetings.
Another movement to help veterans that Wurts is particularly fervent about is suicide prevention, serving as a Suicide Prevention Officer in addition to his other roles within AMVETS. “To me, you have got to get out there and let people know what is going on. There are 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. It’s unreal.” Wurts spreads awareness about the pandemic of veteran suicide to local organizations, individuals, and city officials. He educates people about potential signs of a veteran in crisis and provides resources to help, carrying informational cards wherever he goes.
Wurts has devoted countless hours to helping veterans over the last 20 years, but did not ever expect to receive the Kentucky Veteran of the Year Award. “It was a shock!” he exclaimed. He had no idea he had even been nominated. The award is typically given in June at the AMVETS of Kentucky Annual State Convention in Louisville, an event Wurts usually attends every year. The convention had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A scaled back statewide meeting was eventually held a later date. Wurts did not attend as he and his wife have been limiting travel and group interactions during the continuing pandemic. The Commander Post 95, Lori Grizzle attended the meeting and brought back the Kentucky Veteran of the Year Award for Wurts. “I couldn’t believe it when Lori gave it to me,” he recalled.
Wurts insist that this honor is not solely his. Rather, it reflects the community around him and the other members in his post. “I love this place. Everyone does their job. They are all really good people.” Wurts is grateful to receive such a prestigious honor and proud to bring it home to his community but emphasized the volunteer service done by everyone in his post. “There are a lot of people who have helped me get this award. It’s not just me. I do the best that I can.” Their shared goal is helping other veterans, and that has become Wurts’ life's work. “That’s what AMVETS is all about. Our saying is ‘veterans helping veterans.’ If I know a veteran that needs some help, I will make phone calls and do whatever I can to help.” AMVETS Post 95 is located at 110 Herring Road in Greenup. People interested in joining and learning more about their work can call 606.473.7805.