Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban
Summer is winding down and even though the temperature outside is still warm, you will definitely want to do a few things to get your home ready for the cooler months before fall hits. These four maintenance tips will ultimately help you save money and can even help prevent damage to your home in the case of a real emergency. Keep your home in prime condition, and you will be able to enjoy it for years to come.
Get Your Furnace Ready
Ensure you call your furnace or HVAC repair person to perform annual maintenance on your unit long before you plan to turn it on. Once the cooler temperatures hit, these professionals will be quite busy helping those who waited too long to discover that their furnaces do not work properly. A simple checkup could cost as little as $100 and can give you peace of mind for the upcoming season. While you are at it, change your furnace and A/C filters as well.
Seal Your Doors and Windows
A tube of caulk and a roll of weather-stripping can keep your home toasty during the colder months and can save money on heating bills. Go around the outside of your home and caulk up any cracks you see, such as those around wires and pipes that lead into the home and between siding and trim. Replace cracked or cheap weather-stripping on windows and doors.
Turn Off Outdoor Water Systems
You will want to remove hoses and sprayers from your outdoor spigots as well as turn off the water supply to outdoor faucets. Hoses can swell and burst, sprayers can crack and pipes leading outdoors can freeze and crack, which can lead to costly repairs and plenty of flooding in the spring. In addition, be sure to have your sprinkler systems turned off and blown out by a professional, particularly if you live where temperatures go below freezing.
Check the Roof
Whether by you or a professional, have your roof checked for missing or broken shingles. These should be replaced immediately. You will also want to check for moss buildup that can lead to decay and for any sagging in your roof. Snow can cause additional weight and moisture that could cause your roof to buckle.
Be sure not to neglect these items simply because you do not want to put any time or effort into fall home maintenance. While it may be tempting to hope that everything will work fine throughout the fall and winter, you may find yourself with costly repairs on your hands should you fail to prep your home and yard for colder temperatures. Instead, after a few simple jobs, you can enjoy a warm and worry-free cold-weather season.
A multitude of awards are given out at each American Legion national convention, and the 100th convention in Minneapolis in August was no exception. Below is a list of 2018 awards and their recipients, whether given onstage or off.
Distinguished Service Medal
Hon. Elizabeth Dole
National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year
National Firefighter of the Year
Ralph T. O’Neil Education Trophy
For greatest activity in use of American Legion School Medal awards
Department of New Mexico
Daniel J. O’Connor Americanism Trophy
For best all-around Americanism activities
Department of Virginia
National Recruiter of the Year
David L. Witucki, Houston
Race to the Top winners
Given to district commanders who attain at least 100 percent of the district’s assigned membership objective by March 31
Ronald F. Bradstreet, Hoover, Ala.
Holly Lewis, Colliers, W.Va.
Jimmy L. Mitchell, Fresno, Texas
Gregory A. Spight, Detroit
Consolidated Post Report winners
Departments of West Virginia, Alaska, Colorado, Vermont, Connecticut, Kentucky, Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio and Maryland
Frank N. Belgrano Trophy
For support of Boy Scouts of America
Department of Missouri
Garland D. Murphy Jr. Award
Based on actual contributions received during the 2017-2018 American Legion Child Welfare Foundation (CWF) year
Department of Florida
U.S. “Udie” Grant Legacy Award
Based on total combined donations of American Legion Family to the Child Welfare Foundation
Department of Florida
Child Welfare Foundation Meritorious Achievement Award
Given for the highest increase in per-capita giving to the CWF
Department of Kansas
William F. Lenker National Service Trophy
For best supporting and implementing programs to benefit veterans and their families
Department of Montana
Fourth Estate Awards
Broadcast: KARE-TV, Minneapolis, “Disconnects, Delays and a Pattern of Denial”
Print: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Mexico Blackouts”
New Media: The War Horse, “Marines United”
O.L. Bodenhamer Trophy
No. 1 in membership at June report
Department of West Virginia
Employer of the Year
For companies and businesses dedicated to hiring veterans
Small: Allied Universal Security Services (Raytheon Account), Rowlett, Texas
Mid-Sized: Gallery Furniture, Houston
Large: Southwest Airlines, Dallas
Employer of Older Workers Award
ESW Inc., Crown Point, Ind.
Michael Guty Homeless Veterans Outreach Award
Department of New Jersey American Legion Family
Employment Service Local Office Award
IDES Sterling, Peoria, Ill.
Local Veterans Employment Representative of the Year
Spencer Horton, Georgia
Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist of the Year
Samuel L. Denson, Pensacola, Fla.
Color Guard Contests
Military: Fountain Hills (Ariz.) Post 58
Military Open: Harrisburg Post 472, Houston
Open: Shooting Stars Unit 14, Flora, Ill.
Advancing/Retiring Colors: SAL Detachment of California District 12
American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, Tonawanda, N.Y.
Spirit of Service
Air Force: Staff Sgt. Robert P. Andrews
Coast Guard: Machinery Technician 2nd Class Brian Gogo
Marine Corps: Sgt. Molly Hampton
Army: Sgt. Drew Hunnicutt
Air National Guard: Staff Sgt. Heather J. Hyon
Navy: Petty Officer 2nd Class Sha’nae Wilson
Each May since 2014, officers of The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC) have traveled to Ohio’s Hamvention – America’s largest amateur radio convention, with an annual attendance between 20,000 and 25,000 – in order to both take in what’s new and exciting in the ham world, and reach out to operators via their own information booth to join TALARC and even the American Legion Family.
TALARC Vice President Bill Sloan considers the 2018 convention “very successful in getting our name out … we signed up 25 new TALARC members and a handful of new Legion and SAL members as well.” Club members attending on their own took shifts staffing the booth to pass out TALARC pamphlets, “Why You Should Belong” membership pamphlets and copies of The American Legion Magazine.
In this fifth year of appearance, the club’s efforts to tap in to the deep connection between veterans and ham radio continued to bear fruit – Sloan reports seeing several attendees wearing American Legion Amateur Radio shirts from Emblem Sales. Appreciation for the national club, and its national nets, was expressed by booth visitors, many of whom joined the Legion through TALARC at previous conventions and do not have clubs near their homes.
As with any convention/trade show, the newest technology and products were on display. The trend in 2018 seems to be portability, with handheld digital radios, “go boxes” that contain station equipment in a briefcase, and microcomputers that can incorporate multiple connections to do lots of things in very small spaces – a popular and inexpensive example is the Raspberry Pi.
Sloan attended forums conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA – which are placing a new focus on emergency preparedness at the local level – and got up to date on the latter’s Incident Command System (ICS) system. FEMA’s website describes ICS as “a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures and communications operating within a common organizational structure.” Its main purpose is to enable those involved in response to an incident to focus on necessary details/problems while not losing sight of overall operations. Sloan characterizes the system as “a huge opportunity for our posts whether they form radio clubs or not, particularly in the Gulf Coast states and within Tornado Alley from Oklahoma to Ohio.
“If it sounds like a return to Civil Defense days, well, it is. Only with federal resources that many posts will be able to take advantage of. We have our thousands of posts across the United States. That is attractive to FEMA.”
For 27 years, Jim Chapman has been a member of The American Legion. After years in the Department of Virginia, where he served as department commander from 2015-2016, he moved back to his former home of Pennsylvania and transferred his membership to Post 911 in Shanksville.
Chapman believes it’s fate that brought him back to Pennsylvania, to a post that in 1946 was chartered with a number that carries much more significance today than it did prior to Sept. 11, 2001. To a post that is located in the borough where hijacked United Flight 93 was brought down by a passenger revolt before it could hit its target: the U.S. Capitol. And to his current project: helping establish a memorial less than three miles from Flight 93 National Memorial to honor all those killed in the wars that resulted from the terrorist attacks.
Chapman and other Post 911 Legionnaires are part of a group working to create Patriot Park, which would provide a place for visitors to both honor and learn about military personnel killed during the Global War on Terror just west of the entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial.
“I think we have to have a place to honor the Global War on Terror guys who have lost their lives,” said Chapman, who lives within the park boundaries of the Flight 93 National Memorial. “That’s why I got involved. I’m one of these guys that thinks you’re meant to be somewhere for a certain reason. We moved up (to Pennsylvania) out of the clear blue. I got to thinking that everybody is meant to do something. Maybe this is what I’m meant to do: help get this off the ground.”
Chapman heard about the project through his brother Carl, who is a close friend of Randy Musser, the man behind the idea for Patriot Park. The owner and president of Musser Engineering in nearby Central City, Musser owns the 15 acres upon which the memorial would be built.
Musser’s father was a Korean War veteran, while his son-in-law did two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
“I grew up right at the end of that Vietnam era but never served,” Musser said. “I had a draft number when I graduated from high school … but never got drafted. Through the end of the ‘60s when I was in high school and as I got out of college, I always felt terrible about Vietnam veterans … and how the vets got treated. That always bothered me.”
After purchasing the land within the Flight 93 memorial boundaries, Musser started pondering ways to develop the area. “I got to thinking about what we can do with the property … and how can we use this to honor folks who have served in the Global War on Terror,” he said. “And the fact that it’s in the Flight 93 memorial where we have a memorial for the 40 people that died on Flight 93 – who are often referred to as the first combatants in the Global War on Terror – that seems to tie into the military actions that our country has undertaken since that date. It seemed like a fitting place to maybe honor our Global War on Terror veterans and those who have died for our country since 9/11.”
Musser began reaching out to local veterans and said he “got a sense they’d love to see something like that happen.” Musser has set up a non-profit foundation, Patriot Park Foundation, and now is part of a group pursuing funding options for the memorial. The goal is to raise $25,000 by November and $100,000 by April to do “all the legwork.”
Members of Post 911 already have contributed money to the cause, while Bob Munhall, Post 911’s membership chairman and immediate Past District 24 commander 1, spread the word through American Legion posts throughout the district. “This is one of the Four Pillars of The American Legion: Americanism,” Munhall said. “Americanism encompasses patriotism.”
Through its website, Patriot Park has the mission of honoring “our Global War on Terror Armed Forces and their families for their sacrifice to preserve and protect our freedom; to share with Patriot Park visitors, through stories and displays, the actions our military personnel so courageously carry out; and to raise awareness of their continued need for our support.”
The park will feature Gold Star pavers inscribed with names, hometowns and dates of those who have died during the Global War on Terror. Displays and storyboards surrounding the memorial and in the site’s education center will honor those killed and their families. A battle cross and statue of a kneeling soldier also will be a part of the memorial. Musser said he’s already received the blessing of those in charge of the Flight 93 memorial.
“It’s hard for me to believe that someone could walk over those names and not be humbled by what they see and really not get a sense of the loss that this country, those individuals and their families have experienced,” Musser said. “And I think there’s the opportunity for organizations to add memorials, tributes, whatever to this park.”
Musser said Patriot Park also will be designed to not be a static memorial. The storyboards around the memorial will “tell the story of people who have served. The stories of their families,” he said. “And the other purpose of Patriot Park is … raise awareness of the needs of both the families of those who have lost loved ones, and then also the needs of those who have served and come back with injuries, whether they be physical or mental.”
The park is a cause in which Chapman strongly believes. “I’m dedicated to it,” he said. “I believe in what (Musser) started. I think it will be memorable place for people to come and honor those guys and gals that lost their lives.”
For more information on Patriot Park, click here.
Adam Gonzales has firsthand experience with the challenges that come with transitioning back to civilian life.
An Army infantryman from 2000-04, Gonzales became a private military contractor after leaving the service. In 2012, he decided “enough was enough,” but it hit him that “the only network that I really have in this world is overseas in the wars.”
“When you’re at home and you come back from the wars, you’re trying to figure out what am I going to do now, what’s the next step, and your entire connection and network base is overseas, it kind of hits you pretty hard,” Gonzales said. “It turned into, for me, a pretty big low in my life.”
After a stint at a Chicago-based electrical company — “ I remember times before work sitting in my truck and I’m just in tears because I can’t figure out how I went from being a professional in the private military space with all this responsibility to going even lower than an apprentice” — Gonzales went to work for a small security company in Texas that specialized in hostage rescues. His success there earned him a promotion to director of operations, which gave him a chance to employ friends from his time as a private military contractor.
“It gave me a lot of personal satisfaction in that I knew how hard that transition is, so if I could make it easier for even just a few of my friends, I could go to sleep at night a happy man,” he said.
But there weren’t many positions to fill, and none of them were full-time. So Gonzales and his wife, Susan — herself a former Army intelligence officer and Afghanistan veteran with a background in search engine optimization, internet marketing and data analytics — came up with a plan.
“We put our heads together and we said, how do we help all the veterans out there transition home, at least maybe transition into jobs here in America or overseas in the private military sector that utilize their skills of combat veterans or combat arms or special forces?” Gonzales said.
The result is Silent Professionals, a company and online job board which helps veterans find employment opportunities in the defense and private security industry. Gonzales said the company has helped over 1,200 veterans find work since going live in October 2017.
Gonzales said Silent Professionals works closely with employers to gather as much information on the job as possible, which helps identify the right candidates for the right jobs.
Job seekers fill out a standard indoctrination form and submit their DD-214 and resume, and specific questionnaires are created for each job. If the candidate meets all the needs of the employer, then the employer receives a ranked and segmented report.
“We get feedback from the candidates, where the candidates will say, ‘Well, I’ve applied for this job in the past through a different company and I got rejected directly from the employer. Yet ,you guys were able to get me into this job,’” Gonzales said. “It shows how strong our process is, how strong our relationship is.”
Images of U.S. flags being ripped from high winds caused by Hurricane Florence on the East Coast spread throughout social media and online. Jill Druskis, The American Legion's director of Americanism and Children & Youth, spoke with The Weather Channel on Sept. 18 about U.S. flag etiquette during extreme inclement weather, such as a hurricane or powerful storm.
Watch the interview here.
Druskis, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, said that when a U.S. flag is identified as unserviceable (tattered, ripped, torn or faded), it should be replaced as soon as possible. However, "we do certainly understand that during extreme inclement weather such as a hurricane, personal safety definitely needs to come first. As soon as it is safe to do so, we request that it would be replaced with a serviceable flag."
The question of do you take the U.S. flag down or leave it up during a hurricane because it can sometimes give people hope or pride when "going through a really hard time" was also addressed.
"The U.S. Flag Code does say that during inclement weather that the U.S. flag should be removed from display unless it's an all-weather type material of a flag. However, it's been our experience that in the most extreme of inclement weather, even an all-weather flag will have difficulty being durable enough to withstand high winds," Druskis said.
She also shared that unserviceable U.S. flags can be taken to a local American Legion post "for proper and dignified disposal befitting our nation’s honored symbol of pride and liberty."
A century after Alvin York took on a machine gun nest and almost singlehandedly captured 132 Germans in the Argonne Forest, American Legion Nashville Post 5 will host a state and national celebration of the life of Tennessee’s most decorated World War I soldier.
The Oct. 27 event is open to the public and starts at 11 a.m. on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol, at the York statue on the corner of Charlotte Avenue and 6th Avenue North.
“Our program is not only a celebration of Sgt. York and what he did, but an opportunity to educate young people on the sacrifices made in that war,” says Charles Harrison, chairman of the Sergeant York Planning Committee and past commander of Post 5. “There are some people who have never heard of him, even in Tennessee. A hundred years is a long time.”
On Oct. 8, 1918, York – then a corporal – was part of a patrol ordered to take out a German machine-gun emplacement preventing his regiment’s advance. When half the men were killed, York took command, advancing alone as the survivors stood guard over a handful of prisoners. He drew on his hunting skills to pick off at least 20 German gunners, prompting others to surrender; by the time they made it back to the American lines, they had 128 men and four officers in tow. For his actions, York received the Medal of Honor. Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, called him the “greatest civilian soldier” of World War I. By an act of the Tennessee General Assembly, a statue was erected in York’s honor and dedicated in 1968.
When Tennessee State Rep. Sam Whitson approached Post 5 about hosting a York centennial event last spring, Harrison and the post’s executive committee immediately accepted the challenge. In four months, they’ve raised nearly $20,000, largely through the efforts of former businessman and Post 5 member Henry Davis, who spent hours calling contacts from coast to coast. Other contributors include Brentwood Post 156, Columbia Post 19 and Jamestown Post 137, near York’s hometown of Pall Mall.
The program will include music from the 129th Army Band, a reading of York’s Medal of Honor citation and “In Flanders Fields,” and a wreath-laying by local Eagle Scouts. Soldiers from the Southeast Area Medical Support Group Headquarters Nashville, Army Reserve Medical Command, will present the colors.
Special guests will include at least 20 members of the York family, including his two living children, Andrew Jackson York and Betsy Ross York Lowrey. Retired Army Col. Gerald York, York’s grandson, will be keynote speaker. Deborah York, York’s great-granddaughter and executive director of the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation, will also deliver remarks.
Harrison says Post 5 is honored to organize the event, which will pay tribute not just to York’s military exploits but his determination to bring education to the Upper Cumberland area where he grew up. In the decade after the war, York was tireless in raising money to build an agricultural institute, which operates today as a public high school in Jamestown.
“It’s what he did when he came back from serving that really distinguishes him from lots of other veterans who received medals and other recognition,” Harrison says.
Norman Nuismer, a past commander of Tennessee's 6th District and Nashville Post 5, agrees. "For Sgt. York to do what he did on the battlefield is one thing, but what he did afterward is even more special," he says. "There are some folks who think heroes come from the big cities, but they don't. For Sgt. York and other veterans in our state to give so much, coming from little spots on the road, is amazing."
York was present in Paris when The American Legion was founded in 1919 and was one of the organization’s charter members. In 1925, he was the honored guest at the Department of Tennessee’s convention, which convened in Nashville’s brand-new War Memorial Building. Local Legionnaires were given a 100-year lease for offices there, which they still occupy. Four posts merged to form Nashville Post 5, which was chartered April 21, 1926.
Deborah York says it is fitting that The American Legion is hosting the York commemoration.
"He said in his writings that it was very timely that the group was formed -- that the doughboys left America as strangers and through the trials of war ended up as brothers who loved one another," she says. "Alvin said, 'It was right smart that they have a way to stay in contact after returning home.' T"This is the perfect time to honor Sgt. York for his bravery on the battlefield in France and his lifelong pursuits for public service, education and supporting our military. Oftentimes we are told that people either became a Christian or went into the military because of Sgt. York’s story and his movie, which is honestly the best tribute of all. Our veterans are the backbone of this wonderful nation, and we are blessed to celebrate our freedoms and honor some who made that possible on Oct. 27 with Nashville American Legion Post 5."
Today, The American Legion joined with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America in sending a letter to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, urging the Senate to pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, before the 115th Congress convenes. The letter states that, "With our aging Blue Water Navy veterans continuing to suffer and die from illnesses that have already been legally and scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure, Congress must finally provide them long-delayed justice by voting to pass H.R. 299 this year."
The complete letter follows.
Dear Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester:
On behalf of the millions of veterans we represent, we urge you to take every action necessary to ensure that a vote is held by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and then the full Senate, on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, as soon as possible before the 115th Congress concludes. This bipartisan legislation was passed by the House earlier this year by a 382 to 0 vote. It is now time for the Senate to follow suit by swiftly passing H.R. 299.
This legislation would reverse an erroneous decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2002 that made thousands of Vietnam veterans – commonly called “Blue Water Navy veterans” – ineligible for health care and benefits connected to illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange. VA’s decision to issue new administrative rules requiring that a veteran, “…must have actually served on land within the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) to qualify for the presumption of exposure to herbicides” (M21-1, Adjudication Procedures Manual, Part III, Paragraph 4.24(e)(1)) was not based on any new scientific evidence or changes in law, and should therefore be reversed.
Despite statements and inferences made in a recent VA letter to the Committee, the National Academy of Medicine –– formerly called the Institute of Medicine (IOM) –– has not concluded that there is any scientific basis to treat Blue Water Navy veterans differently in regards to Agent Orange exposure compared to their peers who served on the land or inland waters in Vietnam. In fact, the most recent IOM report on Agent Orange published in 2016 found that, “…it is generally acknowledged that estuarine waters became contaminated with Herbicides and dioxin as a result of shoreline spraying and runoff from spraying on land, particularly in heavily sprayed areas that experienced frequent flooding.” Further, the 2016 IOM report found that, “…the observed distributions of these most reliable measures of exposure [to TCCD] make it clear that they cannot be used as a standard for partitioning veterans into discrete exposure groups, such as service on Vietnamese soil, service in the Blue Water Navy, and service elsewhere in Southeast Asia.” In other words, looking at the most current observations and findings of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam veterans, the IOM found that there is not a scientific basis to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans based solely on the fact that their service was in the offshore waters.
In addition, a review of the legal history of the definition of “service in Vietnam” supports restoration of eligibility for Blue Water Navy veterans. In 1990, prior to enactment of the “Agent Orange Act of 1991,” a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that Vietnam veterans who served in the waters offshore were 50 percent more likely to develop Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than other veterans. Subsequently, VA promulgated 38 CFR 3.313, which specifically defined “service in Vietnam” to include, “service in the waters offshore”; which remained in effect following enactment of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Later that year, in November 1991, VA issued M21-1, part III, paragraph 4.08(k)(1)-(2). which noted, “In the absence of contradictory evidence, ‘service in Vietnam’ will be conceded if the records shows [sic] that the veteran received the Vietnam Service Medal,” which was awarded to veterans who served in Vietnam, including those on ships in the waters offshore.
Finally, the undersigned veterans organizations do not support imposing fees on service connected disabled veterans to receive VA home loan guaranties for new jumbo loans authorized by the legislation. VA’s existing home loan guaranty program currently exempts all disabled veterans from paying fees in deference to the price they have already paid with their service, and we therefore urge the Committee to strike this provision from H.R. 299 before passing the legislation.
The brave men and women who proudly wear our nation’s uniform are often asked to serve in the roughest and most dangerous environments on Earth. When they are injured or made ill as a result of their service, a grateful nation must provide them with all of the care and benefits they need and deserve. With our aging Blue Water Navy veterans continuing to suffer and die from illnesses that have already been legally and scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure, Congress must finally provide them long-delayed justice by voting to pass H.R. 299 this year.
A.D. Carter III had never met Gregory Williams or his father, Korean War Army veteran Agrippa Correlli Williams – whose remains were unclaimed and was scheduled to be buried with full military honors Sept. 17 at Quantico National Cemetery in Triangle, Va.
But Carter, assistant adjutant of The American Legion Department of Washington, D.C., was determined to help provide Williams’ father the proper send-off – and, if necessary, provide Williams transportation to the funeral.
Earlier this month, Washington, D.C., Medical Examiner Jennifer Love reached out to American Legion Post 139 in Arlington, Va., to let the members know that Williams would be unable to arrange transportation to his father’s funeral.
Post 139 Commander Bob Romano reached out to his friend, fellow Virginia Legionnaire Bob Sussan, who then reached out to Carter. Despite living nearly 80 miles away in Front Royal, Va., Carter was determined to help Williams.
“I live in Front Royal, Va., and he’s in (Suitland, Md.) which is 85 miles away from me,” Carter said. “But my point to (Williams) was, ‘If I have to, I will come to D.C. and get you and take you to Quantico.”
It turned out that Williams was able to get transportation to the funeral via his aunt and a handful of other family members. But that didn’t stop Carter from making the trip.
“I told him I was glad he got a ride and that I would talk to him later, knowing full well that I was going to be (at the cemetery) when he got there to ensure that everything was in order,” Carter said. “(Williams) was so overwhelmed that I showed up. He was like ‘Mr. Carter, I don’t believe it.’ He was just blown away that I showed up.”
Carter said that helping honor a veteran he’d never met before felt natural. “If anybody stepped up to the plate, especially during the Korean War, it is incumbent upon somebody to be there and say, ‘Goodbye. We appreciate your service.’ What would America had been if he had not stepped up to the plate?
“There isn’t anything worse than someone going out of here unnoticed. That’s not the way it should be. That’s not America. We can do better than that.”
In July, American Legion Riders Chapter 442 Director Joseph Sullivan was trying to conduct a monthly ALR meeting when he started getting messages on his phone. Sullivan had his phone on silent and tried to ignore them until getting a phone call from his son, a U.S. Marine stationed in California – a call his fellow Legion Riders in Horsehead, N.Y., knew he had to take.
His son was calling because one of his friends had sent him a picture from a motorcycle accident two blocks from Sullivan’s house in Horsehead that had taken the life of two local residents. Sullivan assured his son he was OK and then started checking the messages. All were the same, checking to see if Sullivan was OK.
Sullivan and the rest of the Riders eventually found out that the victims of the accident were Matthew and Harolyn Matteson. The pair had two children together, a 5- and a 7-year-old, while Matthew had an 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
Sullivan said Matthew and Harolyn had come to a few of 442’s smaller events and at the last one had brought their son, 5-year-old Lucas. Sullivan was handing out balsa wood airplanes to children and found Lucas staring at him.
“I had two left,” Sullivan said. “I looked at his father, and he said, ‘I told him he could have anything he wanted here, and he wanted one of those airplanes.’ So I gave him those last two airplanes.”
For nine years Chapter 442 has conducted a Benefit Dice Run to raise funds for various local charities but had never done so for a specific family. After reflecting, however, Sullivan said picking the Matteson children as recipients of this year’s August fundraiser was pretty easy, especially after seeing pictures of the children and parents.
“I looked at the daughter and the mother, and I looked at the son and the father, and it was like they were spitting images,” Sullivan said. “I just thought the boy’s never going to know his parents. And the daughter might have faint memories. I said, ‘I wonder if we ought to do this benefit for them?’”
Other people began messaging Sullivan asking the same question. During an emergency Riders meeting a few days later the decision was made to donate the funds raised to the Mattesons. Sullivan created a flyer and posted it on Facebook at 7:05 p.m. that night. By 7 a.m. the following morning it had been viewed and shared more than 16,000 times.
Members of Chapter 442 reached into their own pockets to help the children, as did Post 442’s American Legion Family, while area businesses, organizations and individuals stepped up to donate to the cause. And Sullivan said that probably “every other” motorcycle organization or club in the area also presented a check to the cause.
Despite rain, more than 138 motorcyclists took part in the dice run. Between that and raffling off more than 200 items, the event raised nearly $30,000 for the Matteson children. And a local quilters group that meets at the post made a quilt for each of the three children in a matter of days.
Pulling the benefit together for children they really didn’t know was an easy choice for Chapter 442’s Legion Riders. “It’s part of Americanism, and it’s part of Children & Youth,” Sullivan said. “It’s what we do. We take care of children in our community, and these children need all the help we can give them.”
But even prior to the benefit, Sullivan had helped one of the surviving children. He said he found out that the oldest daughter, Ashley, had never rode on the back of her father’s motorcycle, despite his asking her multiple times. On the day of the Matteson’s funeral, Sullivan approached Ashley with an offer.
“I have five daughters, and I have two daughters that have never ridden with me,” Sullivan said. “I know how much that would bother them … if something were to happen to me and they never rode with me.”
Sullivan offered to let Ashley ride on the back of his motorcycle with him from the funeral home to the church. “The day of the funeral she came up to me, gave me a great big hug, and she goes ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to ride,’” she said. “I’ve been riding my whole life, and I’ve never been more nervous. Her family came up to me, and I told them ‘the amount of trust of faith you put in me at this time to take (Ashley) on a motorcycle when they were killed on a motorcycle, it’s just unbelievable.'
“Her mother approached me with tears in her eyes and said ‘Joe, I’m a grief counselor, and that’s what I do for a living.' She said that with all of her training that she has ever had, she could never do for her daughter what I did that day. She said I made her daughter smile on the worst day of her life.”