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American Legion Baseball alums take home major MLB awards

A year after American Legion Baseball alums Kris Bryant, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Corey Seager dominated the major MLB awards, former Legion Baseball players once again had a good showing in 2017.

The National League’s Cy Young once again went to Scherzer, his third such award. Following up his 2016 Cy Young campaign, Scherzer, formerly of Coeur American Legion Post 397 in Missouri, had a better season and finished with a 2.51 ERA and led the MLB in strikeouts (268) and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.90.

Craig Kimbrel received the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award after a stellar season as the closer of the Red Sox, posting 16.42 strikeouts per nine innings and a WHIP of 0.68.

The Decatur, Ala., Post 15 alum became the first player to win the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award.

He was presented with the award prior to Game Four of the World Series, which featured the 2017 American Legion champions, Henderson, Nev., Post 40, honored on the field prior to the game as well.

The AL Manager of the Year race featured four skippers, all of whom played Legion Baseball. Paul Molitor, the 1996 American Legion Graduate of the Year, earned the award after leading his hometown Twins to a 26-win improvement, going from 103 losses to the first postseason trip in seven years.

Molitor beat out Cleveland’s Terry Francona, who played Legion Baseball in Pennsylvania, and World Series champion AJ Hinch, who played in Oklahoma.

Rounding out the voting was Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who is a Sons of The American Legion member and Peoria, Ill., Legion Baseball alum.

Legion alums also littered the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger list, led by 2016 Graduate of the Year Brian Dozier and 2015 Graduate of the Year Alex Gordon receiving Gold Gloves for outstanding defense.

In addition, Justin Verlander, formerly of Powhatan Post 201 in Virginia, was the ALCS Most Valuable Player, leading the Astros to their first World Series win.

South Dakota Legion post honors World War I soldier

The Veterans Day program put on by Harry G. Fix Post 23 of Garretson, S.D., in November was a bit out of the ordinary. In addition to the emphasis on today’s servicemembers and veterans, the post Legion Family conducted a multimedia presentation on the life and death of a local World War I soldier, and how the first incarnation of what is today The American Legion Magazine helped bring closure to his family.

Martin Haugse was a native of Garretson who enlisted in the Army during the war. He sent letters and photographs back to his parents. And after he was killed in action, the Haugses received more letters – from the Army, the governor of South Dakota, and friends of Haugse’s who had been serving with him when he died in the Argonne on Oct. 15, 1918.

According to post member Jim Kurtz, who also serves on the board of directors of the Garretson Historical Society, a packet containing all this information was dropped off at the society by an unknown person, likely a family member. Each of the friends’ letters “seemed to reference an article in The American Legion Weekly that Martin’s father had apparently written, seeking information.” It was in the “Find Your Buddy” section of the Nov. 21, 1919, edition, asking for more information about the incident that led to Haugse’s death at his automatic rifle position; it is reminiscent of today’s “Comrades” section in the monthly magazine.

Reid Christopherson, director of the historical society and another Post 23 member, took possession of the packet, and contacted National Headquarters to get a copy of the “Find Your Buddy” listing. When he left the society’s board and Kurtz ascended to it, he passed the information on. Discussion then ensued within the post on how best to make it public.

In the end, it was decided to tie it in with the Veterans Day program. Post Commander Steven Warren wrote a script for himself and post Legion Family members to read from; they also read from the actual letters the Haugses received. Kurtz prepared a PowerPoint from the materials; he commented that “it was a powerful presentation; not only the commander struggled with tears, but a number in the audience did likewise.”

Paul Evenson, former NECman for the Department of South Dakota, is also a member of Post 23 and attended the program. He called the Haugse family’s story “an example of how The American Legion was a significant and positive influence for our veterans and their families in the Legion’s early start.”

The program can be viewed on YouTube here.

12 fallen heroes from the War on Terror come home in an artistic tribute

“Let the pride override the pain” are the profound words that Marti Miller often speaks before getting out of bed in the morning. Her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Norman Lane Tollett, was killed in Iraq on April 28, 2007, and was buried one day shy of his 31st birthday.

The ultimate sacrifice paid and bravery shown by Tollett and nine other fallen servicemembers from the War on Terror will never be forgotten as their face are now immortalized on a mural in the heart of downtown Amherst, Ohio. Two other fallen have a battlecross and dog tags to remember them.The mural was dedicated on Veterans Day in front of several Gold Star families, American Legion Post 118 members and Legion Riders, and hundreds of community members. Everyone stood united to pay tribute to the heroes that were all from Lorain County.

One by one the faces of the 10 young men were revealed as the black construction paper that covered them was removed by the skilled hands of the two artists. They unveiled the face of a son, a brother, a husband, a father all dressed in uniform and standing together around a military Humvee to show a sense of team.

“This is our way to pay back, our tribute, to show that we care,” said artist Mike Sekletar, 41, a Sons of The American Legion Squadron 118 member from Amherst. “I’m bringing awareness and honor to our veterans in the way that I know how to do it … that’s by painting. So it’s a real privilege to use our skills and our ability to bring something like this to Amherst.”

For fellow artist Brian Goodwin, his involvement was a unique way to give back.

“They always say never forget and now you can’t,” said Goodwin, 39, who is also a chef at the Valor Home Lorain County, which provides transitional housing for homeless veterans. “I’m serving our country the best way I can … with a paintbrush. I’m glad we can help out in our own way.”

Sekletar and Goodwin painted the young men by reference of small photos that the parents provided. As their sons’ names were read during the Veterans Day ceremony, several of the Gold Star families in attendance spoke words of admiration to Sekletar and Goodwin for capturing their sons’ smile, eyes and honorable service.

Tollett was 27 when he told his mother that he wanted to join the 82nd Airborne Division. “He said, ‘Mom, if I can take the place of a young husband, if I can take the place of a father with young children at home, that will be my contribution.’ And he did,” Miller said. When Miller asked her son why he didn’t want to join the Air Force like his grandfather whom he is named after, she said his response was, “If my grandfather can learn to fly perfectly good airplanes, I’ll learn to jump from them.” Miller lost her son on his second tour in Afghanistan.

She visited Sekletar and Goodwin while they were sketching the mural, and so did the parents of U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric M. Barnes. Miller told Tom and Sherry Barnes that “someone is upstairs making sure everyone down here doesn’t forget. We are always proud of our soldiers. But this mural is really neat for others to see and be proud of our soldiers.”

Barnes was 20 years old when he was killed in Iraq in 2007. Before joining the Air Force, his father told him there was a good chance he would be sent to Iraq. Barnes looked his father in the face and said, “‘Dad, that’s the reason I want to join,’” Tom said. Now, as they look at the lifelike image of their son kneeling in the forefront of the mural, they are appreciative of Sekletar and Goodwin for capturing his “bright smile, the person that he was, the airman that he was. We can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for all of our boys. I know for sure this whole project was done out of love. The love you (Sekletar) have for your country, the love for humanity, and the love that you show our family.”

“Every time I see the mural I smile,” Sherry said. “It’s just a wonderful tribute to those young men.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James P. Hunter, 25, with the 101st Airborne Division was the first Army journalist to die in combat since the war began. It was June 18, 2010. The mural shows him holding a camera, capturing the soldiers’ stories. “He was telling their story,” said Patty Phillips, his mother. “Sometimes how I can handle his death is knowing that he died doing what he loved.”

Hunter was covering the war in Afghanistan for The Fort Campbell (Ky.) Courier. His family read a passage from one of his war coverage articles that they said stated perfectly why Hunter wanted to serve. “Every soldier and civilian is counting on us to perform our duties so that our freedom and our rights, we fought so very hard for, will not be put at risk or possibly diminished.”

When Hunter told his mother that he wanted to serve with the 101st Airborne Division, the first question out of her mouth was, “Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?” As she reflected on the mural of her son and his other fallen nine brothers, Phillips said, “It’s breathtaking. It takes your breath away to see those young men, their faces, and my son’s face is there. I hate seeing it. But those young men will not be forgotten. And that’s what this is about. They can’t be forgotten. Not just by us, the families, but by our community. This country needs to remember these young men and women who fought for our freedom.”

Since 2011, Sekletar has transformed the blank two-story brick wall into a historic timeline that honors veterans over four generations. His first mural is that of the famous photograph of the Iwo Jima flag raising, followed by a rendition of the Vietnam War painting “Reflections” with the names of the 98 fallen men from Lorain County, and then a tribute to the Korean War.

John Sekletar, Mike’s father and a member of American Legion Post 118, said he’s happy his son “shows respect to our veterans and the honor that they deserve for serving our country. He’s done a fine job on all of them. This last one is more personal because they gentleman gave their all for their country.”

The artists dedicated hundreds of hours and painted late into the evening hours to bring the men home to the mural at 248 Park Avenue. Ending the brick wall with a mural that captures the faces of real fallen heroes of their generation was emotional for Sekletar and Goodwin, as well as challenging to ensure the most important part of their mural was accurate – their faces.

“Even though I never got to meet any of these guys, I could have easily been buddies with them. It’s emotional,” Sekletar said. “While working on the portraits I got teary-eyed.”

Goodwin said, “The task of taking on something like that, to give the likeness of a person that was living and will live forever in some family’s hearts, is a daunting task. It’s super emotional. Sherry Barnes said her son’s left eye always smiled and that we captured it perfectly. I met Torres’ mom for the first time (on Nov. 10) and she was crying and hugging me.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Louis Torres, 23, died stateside on Aug. 22, 2012, from wounds sustained in Afghanistan. On his last visit home before deployment he asked his mom if there was anything she needed. “I said, ‘No Louis, I’m fine,’” said Armanda Ellis. “Shortly after that he was killed by an IED. Louis was a joy to have as a son.”

Larry Giese, a Marine veteran from the Vietnam War, was overjoyed when he was asked if his son could be honored on the mural. He flew from his now hometown of Las Vegas to witness the dedication and to see his son’s face, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan “Goose” Giese.

“He wanted to be a Marine his whole life … he wanted to follow in my footprints,” Larry said. “He was a grunt. He loved being a grunt. In the less than six months that they were in Afghanistan, 13 of them were killed. He was the last one.” It was Jan. 7, 2011. He was 24.

“This is a club that we don’t want to be involved in, but we are. That’s the way it goes,” said Larry as he reflected back on the other Gold Star families. “It was (Ryan’s) last foot patrol and he was coming home … he didn’t make it. But this is a great tribute. This is a day of celebration and I won’t forget this. Semper Fi.”

The other fallen servicemen on the mural include Army Capt. Michael J. Medders, 25, killed in 2005 in Iraq; Marine Lance Cpl. David R. Hall, 31, killed in 2009 in Iraq; Army Sgt. Daniel M. Shepard, 23, killed in 2004 in Iraq; Army Master Sgt. Robert H. West, 37, killed in 2006 in Iraq; and Army Sgt. Benjamin W. Biskie, 27, killed in 2003 in Iraq; Army Spc. Jason N. Cox, 21, killed in 2008 in Iraq; and Army Sgt. Bruce E. Horner, 43, killed in 2007 in Iraq. 

This spring, they will add Horner and Cox to the mural as pictures of them arrived after the mural was well underway. “It's the right thing to do," Sekletar said. "The honor to do this for the families is all mine. This mural hits home in a different way than the others because there’s real men who gave their all for their country.”

“When the families look at the mural, it’s like they are looking at their son,” Goodwin said. “I like that we brought them to life.”



Virginia post restores World War I-era cannon

On Veterans Day, American Legion Post 104 in Appomattox, Va., dedicated a World War I-era cannon display, a project that united local veterans and the community.

James "Buck" Owen, a past commander of Post 104 and member of the Legion's National Media & Communications Commission, said the artillery piece required nearly a year of restoration work.

"There are only seven of these (cannons) we know of in existence," Owen said. "Four are in museums, and two others are in personal collections. It's great advertising and a great recruiting tool, especially with the 100th anniversary of The American Legion coming up."

About three years ago, Owen noticed an object sticking out of some brush down the road from his house. He went for a walk to check it out and discovered the cannon.

"I parted the brush and there it sat, the wheels off and lying on the ground," recalled Owen, a local Civil War re-enactor. "I got super excited because I knew what it was when I saw it."

Fast forward about six months, and Owen was able to get in touch with the family of Tom Weaver, the cannon's owner. During World War II, Weaver worked at Fort Pickett, Va., and was friends with its commander, which is how the cannon ended up in his possession.

Owen told Weaver's daughters – Kendall Levin of South Carolina and Anne Wojcikowski of Lynchburg, Va. – that if they ever wanted to give away the cannon, Appomattox Post 104 would love the opportunity to restore it for display.

Not long after, Weaver passed away, and Wojcikowski called Owen. "She said, 'We're going to donate the cannon to your American Legion post.' I said, 'Fantastic!' And she said, 'There's a "but" to it. It's got to be out of the yard by Thursday.' I said, 'No problem.'"

Owen called a fellow post member who owns a wrecker service, who told Owen to meet him at his shop at 7:30 a.m. An hour later, the cannon was sitting in Owen's driveway.

Much of the cannon was rusted. The wheels’ wooden spokes were rotted. Birds’ nests filled the barrel. “It was really in sad shape,” Owen said.

He immediately went to work with post members, disassembling the iron pieces using an acetylene torch and impact wrench.

“I’m a retired hull technician in the Navy, so this goes right along with what I did,” said Owen, who retired as a senior chief after 26 years.

He also found a man in Atlanta who does restoration work for the Smithsonian Institute; he took on the job of rebuilding the cannon’s wheels using the original rims and hubs.

Meanwhile, Post 104’s “Big Wheel” project raised $3,000 in donations from individuals and businesses. “We have a great rapport with the people here in Appomattox,” Owen said. “The community has been fantastic.”

Once the wheels were rebuilt, Owen and Wayne Schmitt, Post 104’s adjutant, used an engine crane to lift them into a vat of wood preservative. “We wanted the new wheels to last at least a century,” Schmitt said. “The original wheels lasted nearly that long.”

Local companies sandblasted the cannon’s barrel, shields, bolts, nuts and washers, and made brass pins for the upper shield. Post members wire-brushed every part before priming. Owen and Schmitt researched the proper paint, following the Smithsonian’s advice on finding the right olive drab.

Finally, after thousands of hours of labor and nearly $16,000 in total costs, the 3-inch field gun went back on the cannon. Still, it doesn’t look brand new, and isn’t meant to.

“We left all the bullet dings in it and everything,” Owen said. “We wanted it to look the part.”

Owen modified a trailer to haul the cannon, and Post 104 has plans to build a garage to keep it protected. Already, they’ve been asked to bring the cannon to parades and other events around the state. Several Virginia American Legion posts have inquired about a visit, too.

“They want us to bring it when they’re recruiting so people will come down and see it,” Owen said. “Hopefully they’ll get more members for the Legion. That’s the idea behind this thing.”

New naval asset named for Legionnaire

On Oct. 21, the U.S. Navy christened the expeditionary sea base future USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) during a ceremony in San Diego.

The ship is the first to bear the name of Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Hershel Woodrow Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient recognized for heroism at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

Williams’ daughters, Tracie Jean Ross and Travie Jane Ross, who serve as the ship’s sponsors, broke a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow to formally christen the ship, a time-honored Navy tradition.

“This ship honors a man who dedicated his life to service – heroic service as a Marine and continued service to his fellow veterans,” said the Hon. Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy. “This dedication will live on in USNS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams as the ship is deployed around the world bringing additional capability to our growing fleet. ”

Williams is optimized to support a variety of maritime-based missions and designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets. ESBs can be enhanced to meet special operations force missions through increased communications, aviation and unmanned aircraft system support.

The platform has an aviation hangar and flight deck that include two operating spots capable of landing MH-53E equivalent helicopters, accommodations, work spaces and ordnance storage for an embarked force. The platform will also provide enhanced command and control, communications, computers and intelligence capabilities to support embarked force mission planning and execution. The reconfigurable mission deck area can store embarked force equipment including mine sleds and rigid hull inflatable boats.

Williams is a PUFL member of Post 177 in Barboursville, W.Va. Click here to see Williams talk about his experiences during the war.

Beyond the common knowledge of World War I

One of the nation’s foremost World War I scholars, Dr. Jennifer D. Keene of Chapman University in Orange, Calif., says educators want deeper understanding of a pivotal time in U.S. history too often defined by four long-studied phenomena:

- The 1915 German U-boat sinking of the British cruise ship Lusitania that killed 1,198, including 128 Americans.

- The intercepted and British-decoded prewar “Zimmermann telegram” proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States.

- The horrors of trench warfare.

- America’s political impasse over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles after the war.

“That’s the common knowledge,” Keene said in a recent interview. “Except for that, how do you fill in the gaps? How do you get people to really understand the significance of this period of history?”

Keene is among the scholars and master teachers lined up to address the challenge of filling those gaps as a participant in the United States World War One Centennial Commission Teacher Professional Education Program sponsored in part by an American Legion grant. The program kicked off Oct. 21 in Louisville, Ky., and continued Nov. 4 in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Keene is the master scholar presenting at the Albuquerque, N.M., Public Schools City Center on Dec. 4, with master teacher Angelina Moore. Future sessions include San Diego on March 6; Detroit on March 17 at the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency; and a spring date yet to be announced in Providence, R.I.

Author of "Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America," along with other books and articles on U.S. history, the war and its effects, Dr. Keene recently spoke with The American Legion Magazine.

What drove your interest in World War I?

“I was interested in progressivism and the idea that this group of reformers saw a lot of social problems and wanted to figure out solutions. I did my first project by looking at reformers who went into training camps in the First World War to teach soldiers how to behave appropriately, have good morals and healthy living habits. I got really interested in these soldiers. But I only studied them in the training camp and never knew what happened to them afterward. I thought and thought about them and wanted to understand what they were thinking, what they were going through, what happened to them in France. That was 20 years ago, and nobody was asking those questions then. So, in a sense, I had the field to myself.”

It seems everything that could be said about World War I has already been said. What are some discoveries you have made?

“One of the things that surprised me most was discovering this was the moment when the modern military was being created. A lot of decisions had to be made quickly and soldiers were part of that process. The thing that I didn’t expect to find was how much the military cares what soldiers think. Just like I wanted to know what soldiers thought, the military really wants to know what soldiers are thinking. They want to know if soldiers are committed to the cause. They want to know if soldiers believe in each other. Are they going to fight well? Are they going to stay out of trouble and do what they are supposed to be doing? And so, you see a lot of interest in understanding the soldiers, their backgrounds, how their lives can be improved by being in the military … I didn’t expect to find that.”

Was that a function of a specific generation or window of history?

“It was certainly an era in which public opinion had new prominence. When you think about how social reformers worked, they were always trying to influence public opinion to force the government to make changes. For the military in the First World War, it was a huge enterprise – going from 300,000 men to 4 million men in only 19 months. You had to have that average soldier on your side. If they were uncooperative, if they were resistant, if they refused to behave or do what you needed them to do, it just wasn’t going to work. In that sense, they had to develop new ways to explain war and what it meant to serve in the military. Cultivating morale became an obsession. What’s interesting is the new techniques they pioneered to measure and influence soldier opinion were continued by the military in future wars. The military needs cooperation as well as discipline and structure. It can’t be one or the other.”

Aren’t troops under arms just supposed to follow orders?

“The last thing you want is mass disobedience to orders. Then you don’t have control of your men. It’s better to know ahead of time where people’s heads are, and then give orders they are willing to follow.”

What are some lasting effects of World War I that commonly get overlooked?

“I think the most important thing to understand about the First World War is just what a transitional moment it was for the United States as a world power, in terms of entering ‘the American century,’ if you will. There are clearly ways in which World War I impacts domestic society that aren’t hard to come up with – women getting the right to vote, the prohibition amendment, the Great Migration of African Americans moving north, the federal government enacting national conscription to form a new type of mass military, and passing sedition acts. Those things are really important to the United States – even this idea that citizens have a right to free speech; this was not a widespread notion in America before World War I. Modern conceptions of free speech come from opponents to the Espionage Act who press legal cases and basically articulate that Americans have this right.”

What about how the war changed America’s place on the world stage?

“Think about the role America has played in the world in the 20th century. It’s Woodrow Wilson who articulates that America needs to be in the world because America can be a force for good, that it can help spread democracy, promote capitalism, and bring a better way of life to the people it touches. This became an article of faith in the 20th century – that through war, however reluctant we are fight, America could make the world a better place.”

As the author of U.S. history texts, what kind of enthusiasm do you see among educators for a refreshed view of World War I?

“Educators are very hungry for information about the First World War. I think there are several ways to reset how we think about World War I. One tactic is to challenge common myths. The most common thing a student will tell you is we got into World War I because of the Lusitania. That’s not true. Lusitania goes down in 1915. We don’t get in for two more years. So, clearly there’s got to be another explanation. It’s true we don’t ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty, but yet we’re involved in negotiating disarmament treaties and re-financing the German reparations debt. We’re involved in the world in so many ways throughout the 1920s that it’s a mistake to believe that failing to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty means a retreat into isolationism.

“Then, if you think about what’s happening at home – right now, this really resonates with issues we are confronting today – how challenging to national security are those people who dissent? If you oppose the war, are you a danger to national security? Or are you exercising your right as an American and therefore protecting American society? We are in this argument now. What are you required to do to prove your loyalty, to prove your patriotism? How do you balance civil liberties with national security? These are big questions that studying World War I encourages us to ask.”

What was it about the World War I veteran generation that led it, through The American Legion, to draft and fight for passage of the GI Bill?

“We always like to say we study history to learn lessons from the past. The story of the GI Bill is a great example of the World War I generation learning its lesson and trying to help the nation not repeat past mistakes. In World War I, the majority of soldiers were conscripted. They came home with $60 separation pay from the military. Some states gave them small pensions, one-time payments. But for the most part, that was it.

“They came back to a recession, and many veterans believed that by entering the military they missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have high-paying wartime jobs. They’re really struggling. And there is not much government help for them. The American Legion steps up and launches a campaign demanding that the government pay veterans adjusted compensation, essentially retroactively giving veterans a higher wartime wage. They succeed in 1924 when the government awards all veterans a government bond, worth an average of $1,200 and payable in 1945. Veterans seem pretty satisfied and willing to wait for their money until the Great Depression occurs.

“Then we have the Bonus March in 1932 when men come to D.C. and demand immediate payment of this bond. The march ends badly, with the army violently expelling the men from the city. The memory of these events becomes important in World War II because The American Legion is composed of World War I veterans whose sons are now fighting in this new war. They want to be sure that their sons come home and are not as economically disadvantaged as they were; that they don’t come home feeling it was a mistake to serve their country because they lost valuable opportunities for education, for buying a house, for starting a family.

“They also want to be sure that – compared to 4 million World War I veterans, you’re going to have 12 million World War II veterans – that veterans don’t come home angry and somewhat revolutionary. The fear of an even bigger Bonus March turning violent is in their minds as well.

“Their answer is to craft the GI Bill, which is a set of benefits given to veterans, not as a present or reward, but out of recognition that these men have earned these benefits because they have been taken out of civilian society sometimes up to four years and deprived of a lot of opportunities. For instance, those who stay at home not only receive high wages, they have the opportunity to go to school, can save their money for the down payment of a house, and have wage-paying jobs so they are actually eligible for unemployment payments if they lose those jobs. These are going to be things that the GI Bill gives to the men from World War II, and the idea comes from lessons learned after World War I. The lessons are that you cannot expect men to serve their country patriotically and then suffer literally for the rest of their lives for the cost of that service. Before that, people mostly thought that if you are wounded, yes, we will take care of you. But this is about everybody – able-bodied as well. In this respect, if we ask 'Why is World War I important for America?' one answer is that the greatest piece of social welfare legislation in American history is a direct result of World War I veterans forming The American Legion, and The American Legion being able to give voice to the collective will of that generation.”

It seems like The American Legion, in its argument for the GI Bill, had to convince the rest of the country to have faith in veterans. How important was this?

“It’s hard to recall moments when veterans were routinely criticized – asking for help raised fears that veterans expected society to just carry them along. This suspicion came from the generous pensions that Union veterans had been given after the Civil War. These pensions consumed a huge proportion of the federal budget, and the nation was still financing these pensions in the early 20th century. Going into World War I, the government hoped that they would give men an honorable discharge, a handshake, thank them their service and off they would go – end of the story, our contract has ended.

“And yet, as we know, when you serve in the military, even if you’re not fighting, it’s a disruption to your life, and it’s not that easy to just come home, pick up the pieces and start over again. Other people have advanced in the race while you’ve been away. How can you give everybody an equal place at the starting line? That’s what the Legion was arguing. They were also saying that veterans are not having difficulties because they are lazy, unwilling to work, drinking or just squandering their money. They’re having legitimate difficulties. Their difficulties are not ones they caused for themselves. They, according to popular terminology of the time, were the ‘deserving poor.’ They deserve this help because of the service they performed for the country.”

How did the GI Bill then change public perception of the veteran in U.S. society?

“In the 1930s during the Depression, the Legion made a lot of arguments about the social good that would come from paying adjusted compensation early because if a father now has money, he can clothe and feed his family. He will spend this money in the local economy. It will trickle out and create prosperity for others. In that sense, it’s a new way of thinking about the veteran, presenting a more positive and empowered image of the veteran. The Legion applied these same arguments to the benefits bestowed by the GI Bill.”

Could anyone have predicted the economic prosperity that came from the GI Bill?

“People knew the Depression had basically ended because of World War II. There was a real fear on the part of the average American that when wartime industry went away, the Depression was going to come back. By giving veterans access to education benefits and sending them to college or technical schools, you would ease their re-entry into the economy, and this would give industry the chance to make the transition back to peacetime.

“And veterans who had unemployment benefits were consumers. They were going to be able to buy things. This would also help civilian industry make the re-adjustment because there would be customers for their goods. It’s not just about the veteran spending money in his community. He also brings his education to a position in his community. He goes to agriculture school and becomes a better farmer, learns how to grow more efficiently. There’s the prediction, which proves accurate, that the GI Bill will bring about positive social good overall, and not just help one group at the exclusion of others.”

What about the GI Bill’s effect on the advancement of equal rights?

“Adjusted compensation and the GI Bill – benefits that come from the federal government – set in motion new patterns of activism within the civil rights movement. Once you have legislation that says, in principle, these federal benefits available to all veterans equally regardless of their race or ethnicity or class or educational status, that becomes a way for you to press the federal government to live up to that promise. It’s not that the government always implements these laws perfectly – clearly not – but it gives the civil rights movement legal paths for challenging racial discrimination whenever black veterans are prevented accessing these benefits.

“Also, out of the African American veterans who go back to school, you’re creating an educated class of future leaders who have come through the military. They have gotten an education because of the GI Bill of Rights, usually at historically black colleges. They have experienced racial prejudice within the military and also been overseas where they get treated like Americans often for the first time in their lives. You have the perfect storm of education, motivation, a cause, international exposure … you can see just how formative these experiences were for these mid-century civil rights leaders.”

Given that the world wars produced a much higher number of veterans, compared to today’s less than 1 percent in uniform, was the impact of World War I and World War II veterans skewed simply on the basis of their constituency size?

“Large numbers are one way to measure the significance of something. But sometimes it doesn’t matter the largeness of the numbers. It matters who it is – who is that person. What’s more important: that 4 million people served in World War I or that Harry Truman served in World War I? Is it more important to me that Harry Truman or my grandfather served in World War I? It depends on the question you are asking and where you want to put emphasis. This generation of soldiers, who are a very small percentage, the impact they have on American society may far outweigh what that percentage looks like. We’re not really sure yet. Are numbers ever the whole story? That’s the question I always ask about the First World War. When people look at global battlefield deaths in World War I and they often conclude, ‘Well because the numbers of European casualties were so much more significant than American casualties, that must mean that America barely thought about World War I afterward.’ I believe that sends you down the wrong path. That’s the wrong way to ask the question.”

How can historians, and average Americans for that matter, advance our understanding of World War I and its impact?

“I think Americans should look at the role that World War I plays in family history. A lot of what I talk about is movement history. It’s legislative history. It’s thinking about how America created new institutions to fight the war and how military service politicizes soldiers. But the war was also a pivotal moment in family histories – where things could have gone one way, but they went another way. What does the war mean for the immigrant who becomes a citizen because of his service in World War I, the family who lost a son to the influenza epidemic, or to the African American soldier who be-friended a French family? What about the family that struggled in the Great Depression, whose son serves in World War II and then gets an opportunity to go to college when he comes home – something that family could never have imagined as his future. In all these examples, World War I was a transformational experience for individuals and families.

“If we add up all those collective histories, this is the history of our country. A lot of people are using the centennial as an opportunity to go back and look at their family histories to discover their personal connection to this war. Through exploring history in this manner, we will once and for all be able to put aside this ridiculous myth that World War I didn’t matter to Americans.”


Jeff Stoffer is editor of The American Legion Magazine.










2018 American Legion Legacy Scholarship application now online

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship application for 2018 is now online for new and returning applicants to fill out. The Legacy Scholarship is available for children whose parents lost their lives while honorably serving on active duty on or after 9/11, as well as for children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.

The renewable scholarship will award up to $20,000 for the expense of graduate or post-graduate tuition, books, room and board, meal plans, transportation and other supplies needed to achieve a higher education.

The application deadline is March 1. Apply online at

The Legacy Scholarship is a needs-based one. The grant amount each scholarship recipient will receive will be based on his or her financial need after all federal and state aid is exhausted. Recipients will have a year to use the grant and may reapply to the scholarship up to six times. The number of scholarships awarded and the amount of financial aid granted to each awardee (this includes returning applicants) will be determined on donations to the scholarship fund and one's financial needs.

Scholarship recipients are selected by The American Legion’s Committee on Youth Education during the organization’s annual Spring Meetings in May. All applicants, whether recipients of the Legacy Scholarship or not, will be notified immediately thereafter.

Double amputee veteran runs 31 marathons in 31 days

Wake up in a different city. Run a marathon. Travel to the next city. Repeat for 31 consecutive days.

That’s exactly what retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rob Jones, a double amputee who lost both legs serving in combat, did in his quest to become a stronger individual and help unite military and civilian citizens alike. Jones ran 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities, what he calls a "month of marathons," putting his body under extreme stresses along the way.

But one can’t help but ask – why undertake such a daunting challenge?

Jones’s motto is simply to survive, recover and live. Instead of letting a tragedy destroy his life, he wants to inspire others by showing that a double amputee can rise to the occasion and beat the odds, honoring veterans while raising awareness in the process.

“I was able to bounce back pretty quickly from my injuries,” said the former combat engineer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Somehow, I was able to accept the situation and just get on with my life and what I thought needed to be done. I wanted to live so my life objective was still the same – that was to have a positive impact on the world.”

For Jones, he said America’s most valuable resource is its people. He believes in collective action, where people can unite as a nation to solve problems and enrich the lives of others.

Most importantly, Jones hopes that his cross-country marathon challenge will bridge the gap of understanding between military and civilian communities. Inspiration is contagious and people can be inspired to affect change for important causes in their community and beyond, he said.

“Since I couldn’t fight in direct combat with America’s enemies anymore, I wanted to have an impact for some of the people coming back,” Jones said. “That’s when I decided to set out on my bike ride challenge in 2013. This ‘month of marathons’ is just a continuation of that. I’m trying to be an example for the men and women who may be struggling to figure out their way of contributing to society.”

Jones became the first and only double amputee to ride a normal bicycle after his solo 5,180-mile, 181-day bike journey from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 2013.

Jones also trained for and competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games, for which he won a bronze medal.

“I just want to put my story out there as a person who went to Afghanistan, and had a traumatic experience, but was still able to come back and find a new path to that ultimate goal of having an impact on the world,” he said. “For somebody that may be struggling or even somebody that isn’t struggling, I hope my story will make it easier for them to envision themselves accomplishing the same thing.”

But that wasn’t a big enough endeavor for the Virginia native who walks with two bionic knees.

Seeking a new opportunity to raise awareness for wounded veterans, Jones once again put the pedal to the metal – this time with the marathon challenge. Improving himself both physically and mentally while encouraging others to do the same, he said, requires fortitude, endurance and perseverance.

“People are already aware of veterans and the fact that they have struggles,” said Jones. “But I want to raise awareness to the fact that veterans can still contribute to society.”

For Jones, his main objective is to show his fellow veterans that they are not alone. It’s one thing to be aware of an issue, but encouraging others to make a contribution that symbolizes the love America has for its veterans is just as important, he said.

“I want people in the veteran population to know that and those in the civilian population as well,” Jones said. “The survive part of my motto is to do everything you can and have to do in order to overcome any tragedy or hardship you’ve experienced. Once you get through that, you have to spend time recovering – that means getting back everything that you may have lost and finding out what you’re capable of doing now to accomplish your mission.

“The live part of it would be to move forward with that plan and get back on your path. I found my new mission with the bike ride and month of marathons – that’s why I worked so hard in therapy. I didn’t want to be limited by anything because of my injuries.”

In honor of Veterans Day, Jones completed his 31st and last marathon on Nov. 11 in Washington, D.C., running loops near the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and surrounding war memorials. More than 100 veterans, civilians and their families participated or waved American flags from afar as they watched him run in a bright red Rob Jones Journey T-shirt.

“I just want to provide a window into part of the story of the wounded veteran. They may come back wounded but that doesn’t mean they’re damaged, broken or incapable of still contributing to society,” Jones said. “It is a worthwhile story and it’s important for people to realize that. I do want both sides of the coin to be shown so that they can have a broader range of knowledge of what a veteran is.”

Thanks to the overwhelming support and encouragement that Jones received during his nationwide journey, Jones is optimistic that he will accomplish his $1 million fundraising goal for wounded veteran charities. He will continue this endeavor in support of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.

“We’re all warriors. We’re all members of that brotherhood we had while serving in the military,” Jones said. “You didn’t go to war by yourself; you were with a team. So, that team remains intact in the civilian world and if you’re struggling, all you got to do is lean on that brotherhood. We’ll be there.”

American Legion Baseball to participate in ABCA Convention

The home of American Legion Baseball will host the nation’s preeminent baseball coaching convention Jan. 4-7, as the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention will take place in Indianapolis.

The ABCA Convention will be held just blocks away from The American Legion National Headquarters, and will feature an impressive list of guest speakers, a trade show featuring hundreds of baseball-related organizations, two awards banquets and an expo theater.

American Legion Baseball will once again take part in the annual event as an exhibitor. In addition, American Legion Baseball will be hosting a special session on Friday, Jan. 5 for American Legion Baseball coaches and interested parties. More details regarding the session will be announced closer to the event.

Registration for the weekend can be found by clicking here. Coaches may sign up until January, but early bird registration for the convention offers a $20 discount off of registration fees. Early bird registration ends on Friday, Nov. 17.

This year, the ABCA has placed an increased focus on youth baseball, debuting the Youth Coaches Breakout Session on Jan. 6, which will revolve around young players up to the age of 14. “We are very excited to add this new element to the ABCA Convention and bring additional educational resources to coaches of youth teams,” said ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz.

Coaches interested in just the one-day Youth Coaches Breakout Session may register by clicking here. The day-long event is only $20 for ABCA members.

Boys State 'really is for everyone'

Nick Claudio isn’t shy about his ambitions. He wants to run for mayor of Boston one day, and another goal is to be governor of Massachusetts.

He’s not going to let his blindness get in the way of those goals. After all, it didn’t stop him from running for, and being elected, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts Boys State this past spring.

“At Boys State, after hearing about all of the different offices that we could run for, I definitely wanted to run for one of the offices that was high up there, and I thought that lieutenant governor was probably the perfect office for me,” Claudio said, acknowledging that, at least at the time, being governor of the Boys State program would have been a little too stressful.

It’s hard to fathom much stressing Claudio, who’s twice played the Tin Man in school productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and has also performed with a musical troupe called Showstoppers.

The senior at Old Rochester Regional High in Mattapoisett, Mass., added Boys State to his resume when a 2016 attendee, Jonathan Kvilhaug, and the school guidance counselor talked to Claudio and others at the school about the Boys State and Girls State programs.

“(Kvilhaug) started telling me about this program for boys, and Girls State for girls, to learn about U.S. government, state government, local government … and how it was a program where you could run for local offices, all sorts of offices, and learn about law and the country’s economics. I was really into it because that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m into; that’s what I want to study when I go to college. So when I heard about it, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to go to this program,’” Claudio recalled.

He said there were no problems when he arrived at Stonehill College in Easton, site of the program, in June.

“Everybody at Boys State was actually pretty inclusive. I made a lot of really cool friends; there was never really any time where I had any trouble finding someone who was willing to help me with any of the activities we were engaging in. … There was always someone there who would help me out with anything,” said Claudio, who noted that he and his friends still keep in touch through the GroupMe app.

Claudio lost his sight at age 9 after being diagnosed with choroid plexus papilloma, a rare, benign tumor in the brain.

“It was the size of an orange when we found it, so the surgery crushed my optic nerves,” Claudio said.

But he still skis, performs on stage and learned Braille in a year.

“Just because you have a disability, that doesn’t mean you should let it hold you back from striving for your goals or trying to achieve your dreams. You can do anything,” he said.

That’s a lesson he hopes to share. He’s already written a letter to be sent to the Perkins School for the Blind, encouraging the school in Watertown — the oldest school for the blind in the U.S. — to encourage its students to apply for the Boys State and Girls State programs.

“Personally, I think that if you ever get the opportunity to go to Boys State, you definitely should because it teaches you a lot about U.S. government, and also you get to spend a week on a college campus with boys — or girls, depending on your gender — who are all interested in the same thing you are. You make a lot of long-lasting friends who also strive for similar goals as you are,” Claudio said.

“It really teaches you how to be a more civically-engaged citizen, which is starting to become more important. In the last presidential election, only about 60 percent of registered voters voted. Most of those voters were in the baby boomer generation. I’m hoping that Boys State will continue to encourage students in my generation to become civically engaged. I know it’s made me more civically engaged. … The program really is for everyone.”

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