The honor guard at American Legion Post 72 in Orem, Utah, stays busy conducting military honors at more than 130 funerals a year. At its most recent funeral, the honor guard did its best to right a wrong.
A week earlier, while Post 72’s honor guard was attending another funeral – that of a fellow post member – the wife, family and friends of World War II veteran Wally Norton sat graveside waiting for another honor guard to show up. It never did.
The lack of a military honors burial left Norton’s wife of 31 years, Nedra, in tears. According to the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, Norton's family friend Sheron Drake wanted to make sure both Wally and his family got the funeral he’d earned through his service in the U.S. Army.
Drake contacted Post 72 to request an honor guard. There never was a question what the answer would be.
“I’m sure (the funeral experience for Nedra) was not good,” Post 72 Commander Brad Prescott said. “People think they’re going to have an honor guard and it doesn’t show, that’s very disconcerting. We do not want to have that happen for that very reason.”
Prescott said Post 72’s honor guard has long been a source of pride and a regular attendee at funerals for area veterans. “Last year we did 134 funerals, and we’ve gone to around 60 or so this year,” he said. “The mortuaries contact us about three to four days out, we email our guys and they come. They’re very, very dependable. I never worry about people showing up.”
On June 16, Post 72’s honor guard was at Lindon City Cemetery to provide Nedra with a folded flag and a 21-gun salute. Utah’s Patriot Guard Riders gave the widow an escort from her home to the cemetery.
“Between our post and the (Patriot Guard) Riders, we had a very, very nice service,” Prescott said. “It turned out extremely well.”
Nedra told the Daily Herald that the June 16 service made up for the previous disappointment she’d felt at the lack of a military burial for Wally. “It was just beautiful, wasn’t it,” she said of the service.
Nedra’s daughter, Vonnie Norris, told the Daily Herald the second funeral service brought some closure to her mother. “This morning she gets up and goes, ‘I don’t feel any sadness. I just feel such a relief and happiness,’” Norris said.
More than 100 Legion Family members, Boy Scouts, community members and others joined together to give more than 500 tattered American flags the proper sendoff on June 14 at American Legion Post 557 in Wintersville, Ohio.
At the post’s annual flag retirement ceremony, one by one flags were dipped in kerosene and safely burned in a barrel. About 30 youths from two Boy Scout troops and Young Marines were among those who participated in retiring the flags.
“It means a lot to the community,” said Post 557 Commander Holly Lewis. “For the next generation, it’s really important to teach the next generation to respect our flag and the proper way to dispose of one. I can’t tell you how many of these kids can’t tell you what our flag means or understand the proper handling and care of it as well.”
Lewis has a vision for what a successful flag etiquette program would look like in her community.
“There wouldn’t be a child in this community who didn’t respect the flag and respect what it stands for but they would know the proper handling and care,” she said. “We’re not there yet but with our passion and willingness to do these types of events, we’ll get there eventually.”
Such community events are vital for Legion posts, said Past Department Commander Dave Hilliard, a member of American Legion Post 274 in Steubenville.
“It’s important because it brings the community out,” he said. “Our job is to get the community to come out and support us. You see the Boy Scouts and Young Marines. Those are the future — future veterans and members. We’ll send a lot of these kids to Boys State. And they will learn what we stand for, and the community will know what we stand for.”
Hilliard said that any post — even those smaller than Wintersville — can have successful community events. “As long as the posts work their programs, they will grow. I have a small post and we are growing. When we started growing and getting into our community, the community started embracing us. Now, we are getting younger veterans who want to be a part of the Legion. Small posts can grow and serve their community by working programs like this.”
Retired Marine Sgt. Jack Ernest gave a 20-minute address before the ceremony in which he educated the youths on the colors of the flag, proper etiquette and more.
“It’s not just a piece of cloth,” said Ernest, a Vietnam War veteran who has made more than 40 humanitarian missions to that nation. “When I see the color red in our flag, it means so much more to me than that. Oftentimes, when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I have trouble finishing because of what I see in it. I begin to choke up, tear up and sometimes cry.”
To Ernest, the red represents Terry, a fellow Marine he served with in Vietnam.
“The fighting was fierce that day,” Ernest recalled. “Many were killed that day. Many of us were wounded. When the fighting had stopped, I yelled for Terry. He never answered me. When I crawled over to where he had taken up his position, I soon realized that Terry would never again be able to stand or to say, ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag.’”
Ernest concluded with a warning to the future generations in attendance.
“Death occurs when the soul departs the body after which the body begins to decompose,” he said. “And so it is with a nation. Patriotism is the soul of a nation; it’s what keeps a nation alive. When patriotism dies and a nation loses its love, loyalty and respect for the nation, then that nation dies and begins to decompose.”
Ernest’s speech and the flag retirement ceremony had a big impact on Boy Scout Troop 3 from Steubenville. Members were attending their first flag retirement event.
“It’s really cool,” said Clayton “Zeke” McGalla, leader of Scout Troop 3. “We knew there was a proper way to retire a flag. We didn’t know how they were going to do it. I thought it would be a good thing for the boys to be a part of.”
McGalla said his Scouts would talk about what they learned when they reconvened later. There were many valuable lessons to take away.
“They need to maintain the path that people like Jack and people before him and other veterans have laid for them,” said McGalla, whose son is a 100-percent disabled veteran. “Some of our Scouts might go on to defend the flag wearing a uniform. I just want our boys to leave here knowing that it is not simply a flag. There are many men and women who gave life and limb, my son included, so that we can be free and be able to retire a flag in freedom and not in secret.”
Roscoe Butler, American Legion deputy director for health care in the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, testified June 13 before the Subcommittee on Health to voice the Legion’s support for five pieces of pending legislation, which included bills addressing the severe staffing shortages plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
There will be a shortage of more than 100,000 doctors by 2030, including medical officers, nurses, psychologists, physician assistants and medical technologists, according to a March 2017 study commissioned by the Association of American Medical College.
“The American Legion has identified and reported staffing shortages at every VA medical facility and reported these critical deficiencies to Congress, VA Central Office, and the president of the United States,” Butler said.
H.R. 5521, the VA Hiring Enhancement Act, seeks to address the shortcomings in the recruitment and retention of qualified medical professionals. The bill will speed up the hiring of newly recruited doctors and allow them to immediately begin treating veterans at the completion of their residency by allowing VA to make binding job offers of up to two years before a physician completes their residency program.
According to Butler, the bill also releases physicians from non-compete agreements. This helps to ensure that "when a qualified physician who is an applicant for appointment to a position in the Veterans Health Administration has entered into a covenant not to compete with a non-department facility, the individual will not be barred from accepting an appointment to a position in the Veterans Health Administration.” Through the establishment of a pilot clinical observation program for pre-med students preparing to attend medical school, H.R. 2787, the Veterans-Specific Education for Tomorrow’s Medical Doctors Act, aims to address these issues. The American Legion passed two resolutions supporting legislation that addresses the recruitment and retention problems VA faces. They are Resolution No. 115, Department of Veterans Affairs Recruitment and Retention, and Resolution No. 377, Support for Veteran Quality of Life.
The shortage of medical professionals — particularly those with highly specialized skillsets such as orthotics and prosthetics — requires Congress to ensure that resources and funding are available to continue the education and training of such clinicians. H.R. 3696, the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act, requires the secretary of the VA to award grants establishing and expanding master’s degree programs in orthotics and prosthetics. By admitting more students, providing better training faculty, expanding facilities and increasing cooperation with VA and the Department of Defense, this bill addresses the needs of the approximately 90,000 VA patients with amputations.
Testimony supporting two other pieces of pending legislation — H.R. 5693, the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act, and H.R. 5938, the Veterans Serving Veterans Act of 2018 — were submitted to the subcommittee by The American Legion. H.R. 5693 authorizes VA to enter into contracts to place veterans who cannot live independently in non-VA medical foster homes. Currently, veterans enrolled in Home Based Primary Care through the VA can choose to receive care at a medical foster home, but veterans eligible for nursing home care through the VA are not eligible to receive care at these homes, nor does the VA cover the expense. This bill requires VA to provide nursing home care at a veteran’s request and the veteran can then be placed in a medical foster home that meets VA standards. American Legion Resolution No. 114, Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Agreements with Non-VA Providers, provides the foundation to support this bill.
Finally, H.R. 5398 expands an existing database to include members of the armed forces in the talent pool to meet VA’s occupational needs. The recruiting database covers every vacancy in the VA with the ability to select applicants for positions different than the one for which they originally applied. To be known as the “Recruitment Database of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs,” the database will provide the military occupational specialty or the skillset corresponding with each vacant position, as well as qualified servicemembers who could be recruited for these vacancies before separating from service.
Davy Leghorn, assistant director of The American Legion's National Veterans Employment and Education Division, testified June 7 before the Subcommittee on Investigation, Oversight and Regulation. Leghorn’s testimony focused on the challenges facing veteran-owned small businesses operating as wholesale distributors under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Surgical Prime Vendor-Next Generation (MSPV-NG) program.
“MSVP Next Generation not only reduces federal contracts for veteran-owned businesses, but also sidesteps the rule of two,” Leghorn said. “Privatizing the functions of the VA Office of Acquisitions and Logistics presents a conflict of interest and harms small businesses.”
The “rule of two” is an obligation for government purchasing officials to conduct market research. If it validates that two small businesses can do the job at a fair and reasonable price, then the contract is set aside to be awarded to small businesses. The Veterans Health Care, Benefits and Information Technology Act of 2006 intended for the VA to adhere to the rule of two even after they have met the minimum goals for utilizing service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. This was affirmed by the Kingdomware Tech. Inc. v. United States Supreme Court decision in 2016. Since then, the VA has created internal regulations and policies to work around the court’s ruling, leveraging the narrative that veterans’ lives are at stake due to the burden placed upon them by the decision.
“We believe VA is the most qualified to deliver health care services to veterans, and we want them to step up to their responsibilities,” Leghorn said. “The intimation that the adherence to the Vets First procurement priorities could potentially cause catastrophic disruption to the health care supply chain is markedly false.”
To help the VA carry out their mission of serving America’s veterans, Congress established the Veterans First Contracting Program, also known as Vets First. This program gives the VA authority to award sole-source contracts to veteran-owned small businesses so long as they are a responsible source. The contract falls between $150,000 and $5 million, and the contract can be made at a reasonable price.
“Despite this authority, the VA has continued to impede its own authority and work against the intentions of Congress by creating internal regulations and policies that make it harder to award contracts to veteran-owned small businesses,” said Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss.
The VA filed a justification and approval to move thousands of medical products under the control of four prime vendors, according to Kelly. Many of these products could be purchased from veteran-owned small businesses. Instead, the VA is including small businesses at the subcontracting level and have provided no details for a plan.
“The VA has used many excuses for these actions, the most common being that it’s too burdensome or too expensive to work with veteran-owned small businesses,” Kelly said.
The American Legion is an advocate for reasonable number of federal contracts to be set aside for veteran-owned small businesses, according to Resolution No. 154.
“It is clear from today’s discussion that the theory that contracting with veteran-owned small businesses is expensive and burdensome is nothing more than a misconception,” Kelly concluded. “Therefore, the VA needs to take their responsibility to help America’s veterans succeed in all aspects of life seriously. We shouldn’t try to meet goals for veterans — we should try to exceed them.”
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, residents of Murrysville, Pa., kept asking city officials, “Where are our flags?”
City officials turned to Bob McKenna, who in 1991 started the regular patriotic displays of hundreds of American flags down Route 22 in the community 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.
“This community is great,” said McKenna, a member of American Legion Post 711 in Murrysville. “We had to get 16 people together and we ended up putting up the flags on that Friday — the Day of Prayer. That was a great day.”
On the morning of Flag Day this year, McKenna once again led a delegation of Legionnaires, a half-dozen Boy Scout Venture crews and other volunteers to set up the three-mile display of American pride. One group started at the western boundary of Murrysville, setting up the 3-foot by 5-foot flags along one side of the highway. A second group started three miles down the road, placing flags on that side.
In roughly 75 minutes, all 340 flags were in place alongside the heavily traveled road.
“This event means pride in America to me,” said Post 711 Commander Frank Persia, who drove one of the vehicles this year but has walked and placed the flags previously. “I feel pride when I do it. The more people who see the display, the more patriotic I think it is. It’s a great cause.”
McKenna started “Flags over Murrysville” as a member of Kiwanis, but four years ago he transitioned it to a project for his American Legion post. He needed volunteers so he reached out to all those who had offered their assistance over the years. His goal was to get 80 volunteers who could take turns to handle the eight to 10 annual flag displays.
Post 711 members jumped at the opportunity. “The Legionnaires were 100 percent behind it; they wanted to make sure that the project didn’t die,” Persia said. “As soon as Bob said that he needed support, they were all in.”
In addition to Legionnaires, community members and others rallied to maintain the popular display.
“It’s the American flag — these men and women all fought for it,” McKenna said. “It’s a perfect fit — a better fit than Kiwanis — for The American Legion. It’s been a good thing. It’s a patriotic thing to do.”
Local businesses, community members and others sponsor flags for $25. The proceeds, about $7,000 each year, fund programs and projects for the Legion post.
Since the project began, it has grown. In 2000, the Route 22 highway expanded and so did the number of spots for flags. McKenna and his team increased the number of flags from 260 to 340.
McKenna’s 28-year project has led to at least 75,000 flags being displayed in his community. The community shows its support each time the flags are positioned. Commuters honk their horns and wave in appreciation.
“After 9/11 when we put up the flags, it was the peak moment of my life,” McKenna said. “That day, it just hit everybody. And everybody — trucks, cars, tractor-trailers, everything — blared on their horns. I never heard anything like it. It was so loud, like a New York City street. It just fired everybody up.”
The tragedy of 9/11 inspired Pam Toto to volunteer to set up the flags, which she has done dozens of times over the past decade.
“I have always admired the efforts to put up the flags to honor our country on significant days,” said Toto, who has lived in Murrysville since 1995. “But my catalyst for volunteering was after the World Trade Center attacks. A childhood friend of mine, Larry Senko, unfortunately passed away in the World Trade Center. I saw this as a way to pay tribute to him, in context of a larger representation of our country and the sacrifices that people make for our freedoms.”
As she walked the route and placed scores of flags, it gave Toto time to reflect.
“Our lives are so busy we tend to forget things,” she said. “This gives me a pause button and an opportunity to think about a friend who I grew up with and — more importantly — to think about the implications of that day, and other days, and how those actions affect all of our lives.”
Al Zdon is a big fan of The American Legion and its history. The 22-year Legionnaire – and communications director for the Department of Minnesota – is also serving as chairman of the department’s centennial committee, and holds a position on the national 100th Anniversary Observance Committee.
But he is also a fan of individuals, and their histories. To that end, he has composed three volumes of “War Stories: Accounts of Minnesotans Who Defended Their Nation.” The stories are taken from features he wrote for the department newspaper. Taken between them, the volumes have raised thousands of dollars for both Legion youth programs and a state World War II memorial.
Zdon spoke with The American Legion about the process, and why holding on to history is so important.
How long have you been active in department initiatives/offices/etc.?
I was the editor of the Hibbing, Minn., Daily Tribune for 20 years. I was hired in 1996 by the Minnesota American Legion to be the communications director and department newspaper editor.
Where did the idea for these books come from?
When I took over the Minnesota Legionnaire, I knew I had a problem. I had been receiving the newspaper for several years, and it kind of made a beeline from my mailbox to the circular file. If I wasn’t reading it – and I love newspapers – I knew it needed some improvements.
So I did all the usual stuff like redesign it, add more news, and make it more valuable for the veterans who read it. One of the changes was to start writing feature stories, often two or three tabloid pages long, about Minnesota veterans who had served in the wars. It took a long time, but the stories started to catch on with the readership. When they announced they were going to build a World War II memorial in Minnesota, someone suggested to me that we collect a bunch of the stories, put them in a book and sell the book to raise money for the memorial. It worked, and we raised about $70,000 for the memorial. That book is now in its fourth printing. Not big printings, but we keep running out of them.
How long does it take to put one together?
You’d think that with all the stories already written, it would be a breeze to just collect them into a book. I’ve learned otherwise. I hire two proofreaders just to untangle my brilliant prose, and also a professional designer and an artist to do the cover and the interior of the book. I desktop-publish the whole thing to save money. It will take me more than two years to do a book once the process is started.
How did you collect the stories? Who did you look for?
I do stories on all the wars, but I’ve always concentrated on the World War II guys and gals because I could see that they would not be with us much longer, and once those stories are gone they’re gone. The idea was to preserve as many stories in a permanent form as possible. I’ve done about 200 stories over the years.
How much has been raised so far? Where is the money going to?
As I said, about $70,000 for the World War II memorial here at the Minnesota Capitol. About $16,000 has been raised by the second book for Legion youth programs. We’re still trying to pay for the third book, but once we achieve that the proceeds will also go to Baseball, Boys State, Girls State, Legionville Camp and the Oratorical Contest.
Are there more volumes to come?
I call it a trilogy, because I’m pretty sure this will be the last book. There are other projects I’d like to work on while I’m still on this side of the grass. But I also hope to put all the stories on our website for permanent access. The cloud is probably the real permanent storage place now.
How do you see this as connecting to the Legion’s centennial?
It has no real connection with the centennial, except as a reminder of the rich history our veterans have provided us.
What has been the response?
People seem to like the books. It’s been my goal to let the veterans tell their own stories as much as possible. I can provide a framework, but I want their voice to come through as much as possible. I’ve found that many veterans are great storytellers, and they have a terrific sense of humor.
What do you see as the best way to get service experiences recorded so that they’re not lost to history?
I always encourage veterans to write or record their own experiences. The veterans I’ve known who have done this have enjoyed the experience, and their families will always have this important piece of history. Strangely enough, my dad would never talk about his experiences, nor would he let me tape him. So I know more about the 200 people I’ve interviewed than I do about my dad. It’s very sad, and I think that’s the story in many families. We have to preserve these stories when we have the chance.
What do you think is most important about this project?
As I said, when I started it was mainly a plan to increase readership of the newspaper. I figured veterans would like to read about veterans. But as time went by, and the books started coming out, the project took on a life of its own. I’ve been a newspaperman for over 50 years, if you count my high school writing, and I’ve done everything from interview presidents to write a lengthy report about the death camps in Poland. But I consider these stories as the most important project of my professional life.
The three “War Stories” volumes can be ordered at www.mnlegion.org.
The American Legion’s Department of Texas celebrates the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s 10th Anniversary June 23 through Aug. 16 by welcoming a multi-media exhibit honoring the organization’s most impactful legislative accomplishment at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
The display documents the story of the “greatest legislation,” which The American Legion originally drafted and pushed to passage in 1943 and 1944. It features illustrated panels, video kiosks and artifacts that show the dramatic story of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the massive effects it had on U.S. society and the ongoing effort to continue improving it for new generations, through to the passage last August of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 – the “Forever GI Bill.”
The exhibit has been touring the country since its debut in June 2017 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. It has also been presented at the 10th Student Veterans of America National Convention in San Antonio, Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles, the Montana Military Museum in Helena, Mont., and the Iowa Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge, Iowa.
Originally drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery in the winter of 1943, the GI Bill transformed the U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century. Often characterized as America’s most significant social legislation of the last 100 years, it is credited for averting economic disaster after World War II, educating millions, making college and home ownership a reasonable expectation for average Americans, leading to the all-volunteer military and advancing civil rights.
Following its presentation in Texas, the “Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” exhibit will move to Minneapolis for the 100th American Legion National Convention.
June 14 is the birthday of the U.S. Army. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s website – at history.army.mil – it was on June 14, 1775, that “the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.”
The site also includes information about the specific birthdays of the Army's basic and special branches. Those are interesting factoids in themselves, but here are some other things you might not know about the institution.
1. Before World War II, 45th Infantry Division members wore a swastika patch on their left shoulder in honor of Native Americans. It was changed to a thunderbird in the 1930s. (via USO)
2. The Army was tasked with mapping America, including the Lewis & Clark expedition. Army officers were some of the first American citizens to see Pikes Peak and the Grand Canyon. (via USO)
3. The Army was the last service branch to adopt an official song. On Veterans Day 1956, “The Army Goes Rolling Along” was so declared. (via USO)
4. Twenty-four U.S. presidents served in the Army, including in state militias that supported it during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (via Mental Floss)
5. And two of them are connected: in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, the man holding the flag alongside future president George Washington is future president James Monroe. (via Mental Floss)
6. There are Army astronauts, who wear astronaut wings. One is retired Col. Douglas Wheelock, who logged 178 days in space after serving as the first active-duty soldier to command the International Space Station. (via Mental Floss)
7. If the Army was a city, it would be the 10th-largest in the United States. (via We Are the Mighty)
8. And it owns so much land that if it was a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined. (via We Are the Mighty)
9. In 2011, each soldier required 22 gallons of fuel per day on average; a soldier during World War II only required 1 gallon of fuel per day on average. (via Fact Retriever)
10. The oldest active-duty infantry unit is the famous 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Old Guard." Stood up in 1784, the 3rd is an official ceremonial unit and escort to the president of the United States, and is also in charge of the "Changing of the Guard Ceremony" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Old Guard received The American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2016. (via Fact Retriever)
The American flag Jonathan Leatherman Clason brought to Oklahoma Boys State had a lot of miles on it.
It’s the last few feet, up and back down the flagpole at NEO A&M College, site of Oklahoma Boys State, that meant so much to Clason.
“I knew carrying (that flag) around on all those missions, all those years, all those flight hours, that I always wanted it to fly over Boys State. I never knew when it would, but I’m glad that it did this year,” said Clason, a former Oklahoma Boys State delegate and a senior counselor now at the program.
A pilot in the Air Force, Clason was given the flag by a student who challenged him to take it around the world with him. So Clason did — “it has a permanent spot in my suitcase” — taking the flag to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Laos and more, 36 countries in all.
The American flag itself has meant a lot to Clason for a long time. He remembers being profoundly moved when, as a Boys State delegate in 1999, he noticed the veterans who would stop and salute the flag whenever they walked on or off the stage.
“I think about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. I think of my gratitude to being able to serve in the uniform and wear the cloth of the nation just like those who have gone before me and served under the same flag,” he said.
And while a dual member of the Legion and the Sons of The American Legion, Clason wore his SAL cap during his week at Boys State, a tribute to his grandfather.
“His stories just gave me more meaning and more gratitude for my service to my country,” Clason said.
Those thoughts — of the flag, the veterans who came before him, those who sacrificed their lives for freedom — struck Clason as he watched his flag rise above Oklahoma Boys State.
“As it was raised up the flagpole in the morning, I thought, man, that’s my flag. All the places that it’s been. And then I carried on throughout the day, but I found myself thinking about it throughout the day, as I would drive by, I would look up on the flagpole. I knew that was my flag. I know where that flag’s been. And then it hit home in the evening, when I stood in formation and they were bringing down the flag, and I stood with 400-plus boys saluting that flag, other veterans who had fought in war, other veterans who have retired, thinking of those who I had known before who had passed on.
“This is where I learned about patriotism, this is where I learned about government, and that flag was kind of a culmination. … I had gratitude that I could pass it on, I could share it and talk about it to my city, with my county, with other young men, and share my pride, share my patriotism, share some stories that I have that they can take and pass on, they can learn from, they can grow and they’ll know more about our great country and The American Legion program which got me to where I am today. And I couldn’t be more thankful for.”
Nearly 9,800 veterans from across the nation are now members of The American Legion thanks to the recruiting efforts of 178 Legionnaires.
For the 2017-2018 American Legion membership year, 107 Legionnaires earned the Gold Brigade award and 71 earned the Silver Brigade award. See a list of the Gold Brigade recipients here and the Silver Brigade recipients here.
The 2018 National Recruiter of the Year is David Witucki of Post 490 in Houston; he recruited 578 new members. A Legionnaire for only three years, this is Witucki's second consecutive Gold Brigade award. Last year he recruited 70 new members by asking Post 490 visitors from Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base to join. Witucki's recruiting success for the 2017-2018 membership year was mostly due to acquiring a permanent pass onto Ellington base.
"When I became first vice commander last year, I told post members that I'll make sure everybody in the country knows who Post 490 is. And it turned out to be true," Witucki said. "I never thought that I would make National Recuiter of the Year, just maybe in the top five. It's outstanding. I was excited when (National Headquarters) told me I won the award."
As the National Recruiter of the Year, Witucki will receive an all-expense paid trip to the 100th National Convention in Minneapolis in August, and tickets to the National Commander's Banquet for Distinguished Guests.
Legionnaires who recruit 50 or more new members (transfers do not count as new members) into The American Legion by the May target date qualify for enrollment in The American Legion’s elite Gold Brigade. And a Legionnaire who recruits 25-49 new members (transfers do not count) into the Legion by the May target date qualifies for the Silver Brigade award.