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New Jersey post damaged by hurricane stages ‘joyful’ grand reopening

After Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey in September of 2021, it flooded American Legion Post 306 in Middlesex. The site of the damage to the post was jarring to 20-year member and Post Commander Matt Adams.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Adams of the first time he saw the damage.

But that wasn’t enough to deter Adams and the rest of the membership, which was determined to make the most of the difficult situation. The result of that resolve, and community support, was on full display May 15 during the post’s grand reopening.

“We knew we would rebuild,” Adams said. “I knew we were going to rebuild and … take this tragedy and turn it around and use this as an opportunity to make the post even better than it was. This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revamp the entire post, and we jumped on it.”

Adams said there was a bit of irony in that Post 306 was damaged by Ida. “Our post sits, literally, in the shadow of a massive flood-protection wall, but it’s not (completed),” Adams said. “It ends right in front of our parking lot. It’s been going on for 10 years, and it’s scheduled to be completed within the next five or six. But until it’s completed, we’re at risk.

“But in a way, the rebuild is a little easier to take because there’s hope that it will not happen again. It’s just will the flood wall get finished before the next floodwater surge. We’re hopeful that it will be done.”

Insurance covered $200,000 of the repairs needed, leaving the post $50,000. The rest of the money came through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and various donations from other post members and other individuals, from other civic organizations, as well as through The American Legion National Emergency Fund.

“It cannot go unsaid that the national American Legion awarded us $10,000 after we applied,” Adams said. “And that helped.”

Adams also said that many local contractors “cut us a break.” And he praised two Legion Family members for their efforts during the rebuild. “We had a team of Legionnaires that came together,” he said. “I have a house manager, our third vice (commander), Frank McGuire. Man, he acted as the general contractor, bringing everyone together. Frank and I spoke every single day, at least once, over the past eight months about the project. It brought us together as a leadership team.

“And a member of (Sons of The American Legion Squadron 306), Randy McConnell, he was there every single day as a representative of the post to be present while the contractors are there.”

The outside support during the rebuild, Adams, said showed how the community and Middlesex Borough officials view Post 306. Two members of the Middlesex Borough Council, Jeremiah Carnes and Martin Quinn, are members of the post.

“We are a steadfast, mainstay, beacon of community service and importance to Middlesex Borough and even the surrounding community,” Adams said. “We have a great relationship with the town governing body. We entered into a space-sharing agreement with the town that allowed us to use town property for our meetings during the (rebuild). Meanwhile, the town – when they have issues with facilities – can use our post. It’s a really symbiotic relationship we have with the town. We are really a lynchpin here in the community, and we are proud of it.”

The post closed for business for around five months before a gradual reopening as construction was completed in stages leading up to the grand reopening. Town council members attended the May 15 event, as did American Legion Department of New Jersey Commander Daniel Dunn.

Adams said during the ceremony “I welled up a couple of time. It was joyful. I don’t use that word lightly. It was joyful.”

American Legion calls PACT Act agreement ‘historically impactful’ for generations of vets

The head of the nation’s largest veterans organization is calling the bipartisan agreement by Senate leaders to assist veterans who have been exposed to environmental toxins “historically impactful.”

“The work is still not yet complete, but the agreement between Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., is proof that Democrats and Republicans can achieve great things for veterans when they work to put country ahead of partisanship,” American Legion National Commander Paul E. Dillard said. “The Honoring Our PACT Act would deliver needed benefits for up to 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to the poisons of war due to the prevalence of burn pits, radiation, contaminated water, Agent Orange and other toxicants during deployments and military assignments. The House of Representatives deserves great credit for passing this legislation, and I am confident that with the continued support of The American Legion, the Senate will now follow suit. This is an historic opportunity for the 117th Congress to pass the most meaningful veterans legislation in a generation. I am asking all Americans to tell their senators to vote for the Honoring Our PACT Act.”

Contact your senators directly through The American Legion’s Legislative Action Center here and ask them to support the PACT Act. 

Wisconsin Auxiliary units to raise funds, awareness for suicide prevention efforts

An avid runner, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 355 member Amy Luft would use the route between Post 355 in Grafton, Wis., and Post 288 in nearby Cedarburg for daily runs.

The scenery along the way planted an idea in Luft, one that now has raised more than $60,000 since 2016 for veteran assistance efforts. Sweats4Vets, a collaboration between Units 355 and 288, is a 2.5-mile walk that debuted in 2016 and will continue this weekend, departing Post 288 and finishing at Post 355.

“It’s a very scenic area (along the route),” said Luft, Wisconsin’s 2nd District Auxiliary president and 2022 American Legion Auxiliary National Convention chairman. “I thought to myself, ‘Gosh, they talk so much about the American Legion Family and doing things together. We should really do something between these two vibrant posts. That’s kind of how the thing started. I pitched the idea to a friend over at Cedarburg that we should host some kind of walk.”

The first Sweats4Vets walk took place on Armed Forces Day in 2016 and on the same day the next three years.

“Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect the first year,” Luft said. “We put our goals really low and were like, ‘We will get 50 people to take part in this. Well, we had over 100 walkers the first year, and it just keeps going.”

But then came COVID-19. “2020 for sure was cancelled,” Luft said. “We thought about having something last year. We had it scheduled, but then things were still up in the air … so we thought we’d cancel May and move it to September. As we got close to December, we felt … we utilize a lot of our local businesses for support and donations. And so many of them were struggling from the devastating year before. And we just thought, ‘Man, we can’t hit them up right now’ because we wanted to keep the small businesses going. And to have them make a donation at this time to help our cause – though I’m sure many of them would – we just didn’t want to tap them out. So we just decided collectively as a group to hold on for one more year.”

But this year’s event is back on, again on Armed Forces Day. “I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to again be able to do a community event that, No. 1, the community so much looks forward to,” Luft said. “But to be able to give back to our veterans in a way we were not able to do in the last years is very, very meaningful.”

Sweats4Vets charges a registration fee of $35 in advance and $40 on the day of the walk. Funds also are raised through pledges; those who raise the highest amounts are awarded prizes. Walkers can bring leashed dogs, scooters, wheelchairs, wagons and strollers.

Post 355 will host an after-party following the walk that will include a brat fry and live entertainment.

Funds raised each year go to a different in-state nonprofit or agency that assists veterans. Past recipients have been the Department of Wisconsin’s Camp American Legion, Stars and Stripes Honor Flights, Healing Patriots and Patriot K9s of Wisconsin.

This year’s funds will benefit suicide prevention outreach efforts at the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee.

“To be able to bring awareness and support to a cause that so badly needs it right now, coming off this devastating pandemic … to enlighten people and support a cause that very needed right now, I can’t tell you how great it is to get back doing things right now,” Luft said.

Johnson 3rd fastest, Kanaan 9th during first Indy 500 practice

Opening Day for the 106th Indianapolis 500 proved to be a great day for The American Legion drivers at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Jimmie Johnson, who is the centerpiece of The American Legion’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES program and carries the major associate sponsorship on his No. 48 Carvana Honda all season long, was the third-fastest driver in Tuesday’s opening day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Johnson mastered the art of running in “Happy Hour” – when the shadows of the massive grandstands cover the frontstretch, in recording his fastest lap of the day at 227.722 miles per hour.

“Well, that certainly doesn’t suck,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t suck at all.”

Tony Kanaan, who carries full sponsorship from The American Legion on his No. 1 “Be The One” Honda at Chip Ganassi Racing, was ninth fastest at 226.922 mph.

“Obviously, a lot of drafting and stuff, but we worked on race stuff and I’m happy,” Kanaan said. “Andy Brown, my engineer, is sick so we have Chris Simmons today. We worked together a long time ago at Andretti and he was my engineer here my first year at Ganassi. It felt good. The team is strong.

“Chris is just filling in until Andy gets back.”

Kanaan said he was not 100 percent happy with his car, but it’s just opening day.

“We have a lot of work to do, and this is just day one,” he said. “We have three more days before qualifying so we have plenty of time.

“This is a big deal to be back with The American Legion because of the cause. Be the One and try to save lives with the veterans fighting mental health, this gave me a different meaning to come back to the Indianapolis 500. This is very special.”

Takuma Sato of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR was the fastest driver of the day, knocking off 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon at the very end of the session. Sato’s fast lap was 228.939 miles per hour. Dixon’s best lap at 227.768 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Our goal is to have all five Chip Ganassi Racing cars in Sunday’s Fast Six,” Kanaan said. “We had our annual kickoff dinner last night. That would be a dream. Let’s see if we can do that.”

Kanaan is back for his 21st Indianapolis 500. He won the Indy 500 in 2013.

By contrast, this is Johnson’s first, although he won four Brickyard 400 NASCAR Cup Series races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That was in a stock car, a much different racing machine than what Johnson is in now in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

“Everything here is new for me, and we are working through the big picture things,” Johnson said. “We aren’t sure if we will get on track tomorrow (possible bad weather) and we wanted to close the loop on a few touching items we had from the open test in April.  We’re doing it with the shotgun spray right now, trying to narrow it down to what works for me.

“All in all, a really good day. Where we ended in this session now gives me a lot of confidence moving forward. It was nice to be out there on my own in my own environment, then we put some stickers (new tires) on the car and spent the last 20-25 minutes running in the pack.”

Johnson loves the experience, but realizes he has 13 days of track time left building up to the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29. “I’m loving it, enjoying it, a great group of people,” he said. “I’m savoring every lap I run around this place getting ready for the race.”

Discounted Detroit Grand Prix tickets available to Legion Family members

American Legion Family members are invited to take advantage of two discount options for tickets to the NTT INDYCAR Series Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 3-5.

Legion Family members have two options for discounted ticket purchases:

· Save $10 on either reserved or general admission tickets. Youth ages 15 and younger will be admitted free to general admission areas when accompanied by an adult (limit two youth per adult admittance). To purchase tickets with the discount, click here and use the promo code AMERICAN.

· The Fan Pack special price of $120, which included two single-day general admission FLEX tickets with paddock access, as well as two $15 concession cash vouchers. Visit here to purchase tickets. The offer ends May 28.

The offer ends May 28. Click here for more info. 

‘A Republic, if you can keep it’

Dear American Legion Family and Friends,

If you ever want to feel reassured about the future of our country, I highly recommend volunteering for an American Legion youth program.

The alumni list of our programs reads like a “who’s who” of people shaping America. It includes a former president, at least two vice presidents, senators, governors, supreme court justices, professional athletes, entertainment icons, military leaders and corporate CEOs.

After exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin famously replied to a curious onlooker that the delegates drafted, “A Republic, if you can keep it!”

If you worry about our nation’s future, I recommend you watch the final round of The American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program that occurred in Indianapolis April 24.

Emma Noble, a junior from Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, placed first and earned a $25,000 college scholarship. High school seniors Ashley Tuell and Jackson Boone finished second and third respectively. All have extensive knowledge of the Constitution, outstanding communication skills and extremely bright futures.

We also see thousands of other bright lights excel in Boys & Girls State, Junior Shooting Sports, American Legion Baseball, Junior ROTC and Legion-sponsored Scout troops.

Nearly every time I walk the halls of Congress or tour a military installation, one or more impressive leaders will mention to me about their experience as a participant in one of our great programs.

This is no coincidence. The young men and women who participate in our programs are the best that America offers. On top of proven skill, they have exhibited values such as patriotism, good citizenship and a solid work ethic.

Every mainstream newscast seems to focus on the many problems and challenges that our nation faces. Fair enough, but this is also a nation that endured the Civil War, Jim Crow, a Great Depression, two world wars, terrorism and massive natural disasters. Yet we continue to recover and prosper.

So, in response to Mr. Franklin, I believe we will keep this Republic, and that Emma, Ashley, Jackson and thousands of American Legion youth alumni will be a major reason why.

For God and Country,

Paul E. Dillard

National Commander

 

Be one of the 2,600 posts enrolled in the Flag Rewards program

With Memorial Day and Flag Day upon us, the purchase of gravesite flags and other American, military, POW/MIA and state flags can be made through American Legion Emblem Sales at americanlegionflags.com. Emblem Sales is a leading seller of American-made U.S. flags, and your purchase helps support American Legion programs for veterans, their families and youth.

The American Legion has a Flag Rewards program that 2,262 posts are currently enrolled in. The free Flag Rewards program allows posts to earn a 10-cent credit for each dollar spent on the purchase of American flags from Emblem Sales. For example, if $100 is spent on the purchase of flags then the post receives $10 in flag rewards credit.

Click here for details on how to get started in the Flag Rewards program. Post adjutants will first have to register their post online at emblem.legion.org/flag_rewards_registration.asp.

Flag purchases from Emblem Sales include those made by the post, as well as by the post’s members, friends, neighbors, local schools and businesses that choose to sponsor the post by buying their flags from The American Legion. Over 30,000 schools, businesses, organizations and individuals have signed up to sponsor a post.

If a sponsor purchases an American flag from Emblem Sales, they will need to request that their purchase benefits their local post and provide the post number. Flyers are available to help promote the program within your community. And a fillable appreciation certificate also is available for posts to recognize their sponsors.

Credit earned from participating in the Flag Rewards program is good toward the purchase of any item from the Emblem Sales catalog or website.

Share how you are observing Armed Forces Day

On Aug. 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson – under the leadership of President Harry Truman – announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration was a result of the unification of the U.S. Armed Forces under the Department of Defense and provided a day for citizens to come together and thank the nation’s military members for their service in support of the nation.

On the third Saturday of May, Americans will find ways to honor current military personnel; American Legion Family members will lead many of these events.

If your American Legion post, district or department is coordinating or hosting an Armed Forces Day event, please remember to share your photo and story at www.legiontown.org. Also, please email sbrooks@legion.org with details from your event, in case we want to follow up with you for additional coverage next week.

Three is their magic number

Idaho Falls, Idaho, Post 56 will pursue an unprecedented achievement this American Legion Baseball season.

Post 56 won the American Legion World Series in 2019 and after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season, repeated as champions in 2021. The 2019 title was the state’s first ALWS championship and Post 56 joined Oakland, Calif. (1949-50), Cincinnati (1957-58), West Covina, Calif. (1970-71), Rio Piedras, P.R. (1973-74) and Brooklawn, N.J. (2013-14) as the only teams to win consecutive titles.

And Post 56 head coach Ryan Alexander thinks none of it would’ve happened without some heartbreak five summers ago.

Idaho Falls was two innings away from beating Lewiston in the 2017 Idaho state tournament championship game. But Lewiston rallied to win 3-2 in 10 innings to win the state title.

Lewiston would go on to win the Northwest Regional and become the first Idaho team to advance to the ALWS since 2001.

“That year, the games were nine innings and we actually had the lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning,” said Alexander, who was an Idaho Falls assistant in 2017 before becoming Post 56’s head coach in 2018. “So if it had been under today’s rules, we get that game.

“But we were so close and saw the team that beat us made it to Shelby and knew how close we were to getting there ourselves. That gave us a pretty good indicator that we could get there.”

Since no team has ever won three straight ALWS titles, Alexander and his team will be pursuing that goal this season.

“Our expectation is definitely to get to Shelby,” Alexander said. “Years before in ‘17 and ‘18, it was a nice idea and kids competed and wanted to get to Shelby. But now that we’ve been there and experienced it, we look at getting to Shelby as a standard for our program to seek out every season.

“Obviously there’s a lot of great teams out there, but going to Shelby is what we strive to do. Our guys and the experience at the American Legion World Series is special and motivates us.”

Post 56 will have eight returnees from the 2021 championship team looking to three-peat, among them 2021 George Rulon Player of the Year Nate Rose and 2021 all-tournament pitcher Merit Jones.

Other returning players are Ryan Horvath, Eliot Jones, Davin Luce, Jacob Perez, Chandler Robinson and Robert “R.J.” Woods.

The team nicknamed “Bandits” will begin its season in late May with hopes of advancing to the Idaho state tournament in July.

“Now, the returnees know what to expect, (assistant coach) Mike (Webster) and I have more experience, so we all have a pretty good idea of what it takes to get there,” Alexander said of the ALWS. “And I think that 2017 game was really a tipping point for us. It made us realize that we could get this done and Shelby wasn’t just an idea but something we could accomplish.”

 

Post office near Legion post where Ritchie Valens got his started renamed for rock star

A post office near an American Legion post where Ritchie Valens was discovered has been renamed in honor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member.

The Ritchie Valens Post Office in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacoima was renamed May 13 after legislation was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas. It is located less than two miles from American Legion Post 176 in San Fernando, which is where Valens was discovered.

According to various online sources, Valens was part of a band, the Silhouettes, that developed a big following in San Fernando and, particularly, the neighborhood of Pacoima. During a packed concert at Post 176 in 1958, the band was taped by a part-time talent scout working for Bob Keene (also known as Bob Keane), who owned Keen Records. Upon hearing the tape, Keane became interested in Valens and eventually signed him to Keene’s newly formed Del-Fi Records.

Valens went on to fame for songs such as “Donna” and “La Bamba” before dying tragically in a plane crash in late January 1959 that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper.”

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