Covid Operations Book 2021

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COVID OPERATI ONS COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC

The American Legion Family’s Response to the Global Pandemic

The American Legion VETERANS STRENGTHENING AMERICA

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC

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FOR GOD AND COUNTRY WE ASSOCIATE OURSELVES TOGETHER FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES: To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; To maintain law and order; To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in all wars; To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation; To combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; To make right the master of might; To promote peace and goodwill on earth; To safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.


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COMMUNITY, STATE & NATION Legionnaires uniquely poised to help others in the early, confusing days of pandemic.

SAFETY FIRST Youth programs, events put aside for the health and safety of participants.

BUDDY CHECKS No community program was as tailor-made to help isolated veterans.

SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE Winter Garden, Fla. Post 63, marches safely to stem suicide among veterans.

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THE NEED FOR PPE American Legion Family makes, obtains and delivers safety items during COVID-19.

SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE American Legion responds to high infection rates at state veterans homes.

THE FOOD CHAIN Millions of meals served by American Legion Family nationwide.

BLOOD WANTED Red Cross turned to longtime ally when blood supplies ran low nationwide.

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COVID-19 SURVEY American Legion learned how best to serve by asking veterans about their needs.

VIRTUAL REALITY Pandemic pushes advances in online video meeting and socializing.

PAYING RESPECTS COVID-19 changes ways Legionnaires celebrate, commemorate and honor the fallen.

SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE Travis L. Williams Post 65 in Phoenix takes up call for COVID-19 relief.

100 MILES OF HOPE Registrants walked, ran, swam, paddled and pedaled for health and a worthy cause.

VETERANS STRENGTHENING AMERICA American Legion action lives up to newly adopted motto.

This publication is a group effort by American Legion Media & Communications Division staff. Most reporting was conducted by Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks and Deputy Director Henry Howard. Division Director Jeff Stoffer assembled and wrote chapter text from their journalism. Visual Arts Manager Holly K. Soria designed the publication, and American Legion Magazine Managing Editor Matt Grills and Laura Edwards edited final layouts. Moreover, this publication is a profound illustration of how The American Legion strengthens our nation, in good times and bad. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

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COMMUNITY, STATE & NATION As COVID-19 became a global pandemic, American Legion Family members mobilized at every level to safely confront it.

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Ben MIkesell/The American Legion

“We have faced down enemies, foreign and domestic, throughout our nation’s history. While this threat is ominous, we will once again work together to overcome it.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford

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undreds of American Legion members from across the country were in Washington, D.C., the second week of March 2020 to present the organization’s legislative priorities to Congress. On March 11, American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford told a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs that “the process of caring for our nation’s veterans and strengthening the U.S. A rmed Forces is fluid and always has been. We have, as they say, ‘a target-rich environment.’ The American Legion is firing on these targets at the community, state and national levels.” That same day, COVID-19, the fast-moving coronavirus infection, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The number of known cases stood at 118,000, with 4,291 deaths, in 114  countries. Within six months, those numbers would soar to more than 32 million infections and 1 million deaths worldwide. In the weeks and months

that followed the congressional testimony and declaration of pandemic, the nation’s largest organization of wartime veterans demonstrated at every level a fearless commitment to step up, adapt and safely overcome a situation more fluid than anyone could have expected. The environment would also prove more target-rich than the national commander envisioned when he testified before Congress. Two days after his appearance before the lawmakers – wrapping up The American Legion’s 60th Annual Washington Conference, where Department of Veterans Affairs officials told Legionnaires that new precautions were coming to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at VA nursing homes – Oxford delivered the first of what would become many messages in response to the fast-emerging crisis. “The coronavirus situation will be changing rapidly, so we have to be nimble in our approach to serving

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Protective face coverings became a common sight in 2020. Lee McDaniel and other masked volunteers at American Legion Post 401 in Troutman, N.C., organized a blood drive with the American Red Cross during the first weeks of the pandemic.

Logan Cyrus/The American Legion

our communities, states and nation,” he told Legionnaires on March 13. “Let’s also keep our thoughts and prayers with our servicemembers, especially those overseas, our National Guardsmen, first responders and others who will be taxed in coming months. They need our support now more than ever. We have faced down enemies, foreign and domestic, throughout our nation’s history. While this threat is ominous, we will once again work

together to overcome it.” From that moment forward, The American Legion launched response operations large and small across the map, unflinchingly living up to the fifth line of its constitutional preamble: to “inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation.” As local, state and federal restrictions were imposed, American Legion posts closed their doors for regular business.

Elderly Legionnaires and their families suddenly found themselves restricted to shelter-at-home rules. Veterans and their spouses lost jobs; some lost businesses. School years were suspended, sending children and teachers home. First responders, National Guard personnel and health-care providers began logging long, tense hours as beds filled, infections and deaths rising around them, from one hot spot to the next. Concern grew about long-term care facilities for veterans as nursing homes across the country confronted outbreak spikes among residents and staff. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, was suddenly in high demand and short supply, an urgent need to be filled. Local communities began requiring face masks for anyone inside buildings and social distancing of

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Glenn Osmundson/The American Legion

no less than 6 feet between two non-family members. Birthday parties, Easter events, senior proms, graduation ceremonies and Memorial Day observances were canceled or turned into virtual experiences, shared only through computer screens and from safe distances. Annual summertime

events were also canceled, postponed or dramatically changed as Americans improvised to celebrate Flag Day, the Fourth of July, V-J Day, Patriot Day, Veterans Day and other moments on their patriotic calendars. Against all these unexpected phenomena, The American Legion

Legion web platform provides pandemic guidance In late March, The American Legion introduced a dedicated web platform – legion.org/coronavirus – to list resources for veterans dealing with COVID-19, links to Buddy Check toolkits, updates from the national commander and information about reunion cancellations. The site would later add information about how revenuestrapped posts could apply for $1,000 grants from National Headquarters to cover essential costs during the crisis.

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performed its many missions in ways no other organization could. Military training, teamwork and an inherent resolve to stabilize and establish security amid chaos made wartime veterans naturally wellsuited to confront the pandemic and its consequences. Legionnaires set up hamburger stands alongside highways to feed longhaul truckers whose usual stops were suddenly closed. American Legion posts raised money and collected food and toiletries for free distribution from pantries. In some communities, posts became pantries. The American Legion’s year-old Buddy Check program was reconfigured to provide outreach and personal assistance for elderly veterans and their families, who were at risk of infection and could not go to stores or pharmacies for their needs. Most important to them, during this time of self-

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


After a COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass., in April, members of American Legion Post 266 in nearby Granby collected and donated goods for residents and National Guardsmen who were deployed to assist.

isolation, was hearing from their comrades; more than 40 percent of veterans who responded to an American Legion survey on how they were coping with the pandemic said that “communication with friends and family” was the most important treatment for their emotional well-being, 38 percent of whom said stay-at-home orders had adversely affected them. American Legion Family members made protective masks, fed first responders, gave blood, celebrated birthdays with drive-by ceremonies,

“In this era of uncertainty, one thing remains absolute: no community-service organization responds more effectively in times of despair than The American Legion.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford delivered medical supplies, conducted virtual job fairs and meetings, administered COVID-19 tests, raised money to assist young people and more as the months passed. “In this era of uncertainty, one thing remains absolute: no community-service organization responds more effectively in times of despair than The American Legion,” Oxford wrote in a message to the membership on June 3. “The coronavirus has placed barricades around nearly every facet of our way of life in America. It has halted social gatherings, closed our schools and many

businesses, and threatened our nation’s blood supply. But American Legion Family members have admirably served our communities, states and nation through this turbulent time.” At the time of that message, a full summer’s worth of American Legion COVID-relief and communitysupport missions had yet to unfold. In many places, the course of the battle against the pandemic would dictate action by the wartime veterans, who perhaps stood better prepared than anyone to fire accurately on such a target-rich environment, no matter how fluid and dangerous the situation.

George P. Vanderveer American Legion Post 129 in Toms River, N.J., provided hot meals, non-perishable food and other critical supplies to veterans in need. Lines of cars wound through the parking lot on a weekly basis in the early months of the pandemic.

Thomas P. Costello/The American Legion

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“We must be smart about how we approach this. We have many national youth programs, meetings and other events scheduled for the weeks and months ahead. Some will likely be canceled or postponed. These decisions will not be easy to make but will be thought out with safety being the No. 1 priority.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, in a March 16, 2020, statement to the membership

SAFETY FIRST

Youth programs, championships, meetings and – for the first ever – the American Legion national convention were called off.

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Chet Strange/The American Legion

“And while it is distressing to think of all those youth across the nation who are disappointed to learn of the cancellation of American Legion programs this year, it would be a much, much greater tragedy if even just one of those youth were to fall ill during a program.” American Legion Americanism Chairman Richard Anderson

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n the weeks following the declaration of the pandemic, difficult decisions indeed were made. The American Legion National Oratorical Contest would be canceled after 48 department champions had been crowned, ordinarily qualifying them to compete for more than $188,000 in scholarship funds at the national competition just a month away. National American Legion Americanism Chairman Richard Anderson sent a memo March 22 urging all American Legion Baseball programs to hold off on tryouts, practices, meetings or other team activities until local restrictions were lifted. Important at the time was a lack of practice fields and facilities available due to the closure of schools and recreation centers in communities nationwide. “We realize this pandemic results in all of us taking concerted steps and making important decisions regarding the 2020 baseball season,” Anderson wrote. “For now, we ask you to review the guidelines, restrictions and regulations established by local, state and federal governments to ensure doing whatever is required for the safety and well-being of everyone involved. The more prepared we are moving into this 2020 program season, the better we are in the face of all possible contingencies.” By the end of March, the American Legion National Junior Shooting Sports Championships, the Spring National Executive Committee meetings and American Legion Boys Nation were canceled for 2020. Most department conventions were called off, postponed or revised to be conducted through

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


virtual platforms. On April 7, the decision was made to cancel the American Legion Baseball World Series and regional tournaments heading into it. “These times are unparalleled,” Anderson said when making the announcement. “And while it is distressing to think of all those youth across the nation who are disappointed to learn of the cancellation of American Legion programs this year, it would be a much, much greater tragedy if even just one of those youth were to fall ill during a program. The Americanism Commission feels this is the right thing to do.” The following day, the 102nd American Legion National Convention was canceled “due to publichealth concerns, ongoing restrictions and uncertainties related to the global coronavirus-COVID-19 pandemic.” A gathering of nearly 10,000 American Legion Family members and guests scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2020, in Louisville, Ky., not only seemed risky from a public-health standpoint, it was uncertain then whether or not Kentucky or any other state would allow summer travel. “The safety of our members and compliance with state and federal public-health restrictions and guidelines made this decision not only prudent but necessary,” Oxford said. “The commonwealth of Kentucky has taken emergency actions to prevent the spread of infections and to follow federal guidance that restrict public gatherings and urge social distancing. No one can say with any certainty when these measures will be lifted or in what manner.” That decision also stalled the engine on plans for the 15th American Legion Legacy Run, the annual motorcycle trek to the national convention city – usually over 1,000 miles, involving more than 400 participants and multiple states – to raise and deliver funds for American Legion Legacy scholarships that assist children of U.S. military personnel who lost their lives or became over 50 percent disabled while on active duty since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

AN EARLY WARNING FROM VA

“The safety of our members and compliance with state and federal public-health restrictions and guidelines made this decision not only prudent but necessary.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, announcing the cancellation of the 102nd American Legion National Convention

The American Legion summer calendar of national events and activities was, for the first time in history, erased. Posts were closed to members and visitors. Ceremonies and special events were put off or greatly altered. Starting in mid-March, American Legion staff members at the national, state and local levels began working at home as posts and headquarters buildings were closed to all but the most essential employees who needed files, equipment and other materials accessible only from their pre-pandemic workstations. Attention in The American Legion naturally shifted to local relief efforts across the country. The organization’s impact on that front could not have been more profound in the months ahead.

Two days before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Richard Stone warned the American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission at the 2020 Washington Conference what

was in store. “Stay home if you’re sick,” he told the commission on March 9. “If you do come, make sure you’re following all the directions you’ve been given. Those include wearing gloves, masks ... whatever they tell you to do.”

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“Posts are closed by government order, but they are doing Buddy Checks and other post activities as far as community service, food pantries and things that don’t require direct contact.” American Legion Department of Maryland Adjutant Russell Myers, in a March 25 video conference with National Headquarters

BUDDY CHECKS Veteran-to-veteran outreach proved to be the best medicine during periods of self isolation and travel restrictions.

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he American Legion’s Buddy Check program was launched in March 2019 as what then-National Commander Brett Reistad described as a “comradeship campaign.” The initiative, which encouraged vigorous and coordinated outreach to members and non-members alike in local communities, proved prescient, after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I would like to see posts, districts, counties and departments streamline efforts to reach out to former American Legion members simply to see how they are doing,” Reistad said in a March 5, 2019, message announcing the launch of the Buddy Check program. “When you reach out, ask what The American Legion can do for them. Perhaps one of our talented service officers could help with a claim. Or perhaps the veteran’s family has fallen on hard times, and we can provide the assistance they need. Others may just want to talk with a fellow veteran.” Buck-Dubiel American Legion Post 101 Public Affairs Director Sherri Marquis said members in

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American Legion Department of Indiana Southern Vice Commander Steve Barnett makes a Buddy Check call at Post 500 in Speedway, Ind., in the program’s first year, 2019.

Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

Somers, Conn., jumped at the opportunity to conduct Buddy Checks in 2019. “There is nothing much better than connecting with others and letting them know that you care,” she said. “We learned of members who were in poor health, needed assistance with VA benefits, wanted to attend meetings but had no means of transportation, and were homebound and lonely and could use a visit or camaraderie.” As it became clear the pandemic

would alter many American Legion plans for the year, National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler called a March 25, 2020, teleconference of all department adjutants in the organization. Department by department, the majority of adjutants listed the steps they had taken – and were taking – in the face of an uncertain future. District conventions had been canceled. Posts were temporarily closing everywhere. American Legion service officers were deemed essential and continued working long hours to help veterans with their disability benefits and health-care concerns. American Legion Boys State programs were

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Members of South Gate American Legion Post 335 checked in not just with veterans, but with all seniors in their southern California community during lockdowns. The post assembled care packages and worked with the South Gate mayor’s office to identify those in need of assistance, and then made weekly deliveries.

Jeric Wilhelmsen/The American Legion

in doubt, as were Youth Cadet Law Enforcement and baseball programs scheduled for the summer. Most departments were learning fast how to meet online through Zoom or other video platforms as local and state restrictions limited the number of people who could personally gather in one place. One program nearly all department adjutants said they were not changing but accelerating: Buddy Checks. “Posts are closed by government order, but they are doing Buddy Checks and other post activities as far as community service, food pantries and things that don’t require direct contact,” Department of Maryland Adjutant Russell Myers told the group. Buddy Checks with COVID-19 emphasis were also already underway or planned in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio,

Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, adjutants reported. Department of North Carolina Adjutant Randy Cash explained that in addition to telephone Buddy Checks, 30,000 e-mails had gone out to at-risk Legionnaires. “Individuals are very pleased that we are asking how they are,” he told the group. Soon, posts in all American Legion departments were calling on members and non-members alike to find out how they could help. In late March 2020, a national Buddy Check Toolkit – a document containing guidance, best practices, scripts and purposes of the initiative – was reframed, emphasizing outreach to veterans at risk for infection. “Some people won’t ask for help,” the toolkit noted. “Encourage members of your post to reach out and offer assistance to other veterans in your area. Please be particularly attentive to seniors, a population that is especially vulnerable to the

harmful effects of this virus. The important part is to let the veterans in your community know you care and can provide assistance. It’s what we do for our battle buddies.” In less than a month, Linglestown, Pa., Post 272 Legionnaire Leroy Lippi Jr. completed no fewer than 438 Buddy Checks in his community. His post commander, Rod O’Connor, recorded 162 in that time. Woodland Hills, Calif., Legionnaires delivered groceries and over-the-counter medicine to socially distanced veterans found through Buddy Checks. American Legion Post 43 in Tullahoma, Tenn., worked with Boy Scouts and Junior ROTC to bring food and supplies to veterans contacted through Buddy Checks. “Our veterans and their spouses are very appreciative knowing that someone cares about their well-being and needs,” Post 43 Commander Alan Harris said. “It is, after all, why we, as an organization, exist.”

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“Our veterans and their spouses are very appreciative knowing that someone cares about their well-being and needs. It is, after all, why we, as an organization, exist.” Tullahoma, Tenn. American Legion Post 43 Commander Alan Harris “One 84-year-old Legion member told us that he was having a difficult time getting to the grocery store,” reported Len Crosby, finance and legislative officer for American Legion Post 154 in Rathdrum, Idaho. “We arranged for other Legion members to pick up a shopping list, do his shopping and return the groceries to his home. Additionally, our Legion has offered this service for both groceries and medications to other members and have also offered rides to medical appointments, if that was needed.” Post 154 had conducted more than 130 Buddy Checks by mid-April. Country music star Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts produced a video in early April from his home to raise awareness of American Legion Buddy Checks during the pandemic. “Veterans need to know that we are thinking of them, that we care ... just to brighten up their day,” LeVox said in the video, which he shared on the band’s Facebook page.

American Legion Post 109 member Jennifer Havlick of Two Harbors, Minn., began leading nightly sessions on Zoom as her post developed an “enhanced Buddy Check” program that mobilized teams to help sheltering veterans in the community. “I thought, ‘Who would be more well-equipped to know and deal with our veterans who can’t leave home?’” she said. “I thought that some of these guys or girls are going to get to a point where they can’t leave home. What should we do to make sure – especially if they don’t have family – that we’re taking care of them? We want to make sure they have food ... (doing) something as easy as going to the pharmacy picking up meds for them, just so they don’t have to come out in the middle of this.” Havlick added that military personnel in and around her town of 3,900, where more than 250 people are members of Post 109,

needed outreach, too. “We need to help our active-duty, reservists and National Guard because ... they’re being deployed,” Havlick said. “Who’s going to take care of their families while they’re gone? That’s supposed to be our job.” “If ever a veterans-service program was built for pandemic relief, it’s the Buddy Check,” Oxford said at the height of stay-at-home requirements nationwide. “In communities large and small everywhere on the map, Buddy Checks are making big differences for veterans, their spouses and families. Hundreds of posts are reaching out in their local communities, especially to veterans whose age puts them at risk for infection. Legionnaires are using the phone, email and social media to safely find out how these veterans are doing and what we can do to help them. They might need something from the store or pharmacy. Sometimes, for a veteran

“Who would be more well-equipped to know and deal with our veterans who can’t leave home?” American Legion Post 109 member Jennifer Havlick of Two Harbors, Minn., who developed an “Enhanced Buddy Check” program to assist members sheltering at home

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COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Weehawken Post 18 photo

“We’re making sure we’re checking in with our most vulnerable veterans, and trying to make sure they’re OK ... we want to make sure that our more vulnerable veterans aren’t being left too alone. We need to make sure they’re doing well both mentally and physically.” Hudson County Vice Commander Chris Page, past commander of American Legion Post 18 in Weehawken, N.J.

who is alone and on orders to stay home, the most important thing is a phone call.” “The importance of checking in hasn’t been lost on our members,” Weehawken, N.J., past Post 18 Commander Chris Page said as he and his fellow veterans were making Buddy Checks daily in May through phone calls, emails, text messages and socially distanced visits. “We’ll all be up in age one day, and all of us find comfort in knowing that someone will be calling us, checking in on us then.” “Our most sacred responsibility is to look out for each other and

our fellow veterans,” wrote Darren Dahlke, membership chairman for Post 6 in Stuttgart, Germany, in a Facebook message to his fellow Legionnaires. “As a way to reach out to members and former members, I am sending out this message asking if we can check up on our fellow comrades. Please take the time to reach out ... reaching out, just to say ‘Hello’ can make the difference.” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced a bill on May 22, 2019, inspired by the American Legion program, directing VA to “designate one week each year as ‘Buddy Check Week’ for the

purpose of outreach and education concerning peer wellness checks for veterans and other purposes.” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of Unionville, Iowa, American Legion Post 407, introduced identical legislation in the Senate on Sept. 23, 2020, and The American Legion’s national Legislative Division sent an action alert to members of the organization, urging them to contact their congressional delegations to join in support and call for co-sponsors. “Our most sacred responsibility as a nation is to care for our fellow men and women who have served this nation with honor,” the alert stated. “Only with servant leadership and direct contact with our fellow veterans can we uncover the true needs of our warriors and avert potential crisis ... The American Legion proudly supports this legislation.” An Army Reserve and Iowa National Guard officer who led

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Original Design,

Media kits helped American Legion members set up Buddy Check programs in their posts.

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O RM A H O W TO PE RF

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troops in Kuwait and Iraq, Ernst said Buddy Check legislation could be an effective tool in the fight to prevent veteran suicide. Activeduty suicide rates were reportedly up 20 percent from 2019 in the summer of 2020, and mental-health referrals for veterans had increased most of the year. “As a combat veteran, I know the challenges our servicemembers face after returning to civilian life,” Ernst said after introducing the Senate bill. “In the Senate, I’ve continued to work across the aisle to support these heroes by expanding access to mental health services. This bipartisan bill will build on these efforts by helping our veterans recognize signs of suicide risk so they can check in with their fellow veterans and help get them the care and support they need.” The 2019 American Legion resolution that formalized the Buddy Check program suggested that Legionnaires make dedicated

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efforts to call on their veteran comrades at least twice a year. The American Legion birthday in mid-March and Veterans Day in mid-November were suggested as particularly good opportunities. In 2020, however, Buddy Checks became a year-round proposition – specifically to check on older veterans at risk for infection, later to see if anyone needed assistance voting in the general election, which changed dramatically in many states due to the pandemic. In November, as the holidays approached, Buddy Checks focused on mental well-being. On Veterans Day, Buddy Check legislation co-sponsors in Congress released videos on YouTube expressing their support for the American Legion-born initiative. “I’m mindful of the strong community of veterans who – throughout military service and beyond – have strived to lift up those around them,” U.S. Rep.

Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., an Air Force veteran, said in support of the measure. “I’m proud to be part of the effort to promote Buddy Check Week, especially during these very tough times of COVID-19. It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to ask your buddy for help.” The 116th Congress, however, ended without a vote on the measure. The American Legion Legislative Commission and staff in Washington were pushing for reintroduction of the Buddy Check Week bill early in the 117th Congress. Regardless of legislative action and VA adoption of the concept, the program had already taken root throughout the country in the face of the pandemic. No fewer than 3,683 posts conducted Buddy Check activities in the 2019-2020 membership year, according to the Consolidated Post Report, with 71 percent of posts reporting.

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


“As a combat veteran, I know the challenges our servicemembers face after returning to civilian life. This bipartisan bill will build on these efforts by helping our veterans recognize signs of suicide risk so they can check in with their fellow veterans and help get them the care and support they need.” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, after introducing legislation in September calling on VA to designate a National Buddy Check Week

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

Veterans Day video message from lawmakers On Nov. 11, 2020, five members of Congress produced and distributed videos of support for Buddy Check legislation that would require VA to conduct a national week of calling modeled after the American Legion program.

Presenting videos, which were posted on legion.org and shared through American Legion social media, were Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.; Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa.; and Don Bacon, R-Neb.

The measure focused on veterans looking after the mental well-being of other veterans during the pandemic.

The Buddy Check Week bill did not reach the floor for a vote in 2020, but it remains a legislative priority for the 117th Congress.

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[SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE]

Florida post adapts to keep COVID-19 from stalling Challenge 22 In late August 2016, Winter Garden, Fla., American Legion Post 63 Chaplain Kurt Gies received an email that would both challenge him and change his life. “I got an email saying, ‘September is Suicide Awareness Month,” the retired Navy officer said. “We’ve got 22 vets a day committing suicide. Get a group of people together and go out for a walk to raise some awareness.’ My first reaction was, as a retired naval officer after 25 years, we have how many people committing suicide? Twenty-two a month? No, it was 22 a day.” That year, he walked the West Orange Trail through Winter Garden alone and contemplated that number. Something bigger, he thought, could really drive home the staggering statistic – “22 a day ... I thought it was some kind of misprint.” A young Marine who had joined Gies’ post that year said she had been part of a group that did a 22-kilometer walk in combat boots, each participant carrying a 22-kilogram pack, to raise awareness about the issue. That distance – about 13.6 miles – was a bit much to engage the community at large, he determined. That’s when he landed on Challenge 22, an idea earlier executed by American Legion Post 69 in Avon Park, Fla., that could be tailored to fit the Winter Garden community. The Post 63 version would be a ruck march of 2.2 miles, beginning and ending with ceremonies involving local veterans, post-supported Sea Cadets, other area Legionnaires, families, community members and organizations that help veterans dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder. “Challenge 22 ... is anything that engages your community that raises awareness about the fact that we have 22 veterans a day committing suicide,” said Gies, who later served as post commander.

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“It could be a golf tournament. It could be a run. It could be a walk. It could be a poker night. Could be whatever it may be – wherever you, as a post, take ownership of the problem and raise some awareness.” The first year of Challenge 22 in Winter Garden, Post 63 attracted about 150 walkers and raised over $31,000. The second year, joining forces with a local brewery, the Post 63 Challenge 22 drew some 700 participants, about 400 of whom walked the 2.2 miles through the heart of Winter Garden’s restaurant and shopping district. In 2019, the number of participants climbed to more than 1,000, and the event raised $85,000. Live music, food and beverages, ceremonies, presentations on treatment programs and other activities turned the suicideprevention walk into a celebration of patriotic responsibility. Five other posts in Florida were organizing their own Challenge 22 events by 2019, including Port Charlotte Post 110, where 30-year Legionnaire and Navy veteran Jessica Moore is District 13 commander. “To me, 22 veterans a day is unacceptable,” she explained. “It needs to be zero. There shouldn’t be any veteran committing suicide right now ... It’s not just us raising money and raising awareness – it’s getting to the right people who can help veterans who need it right now.” In January 2020, Post 63 was planning its biggest Challenge 22 event ever, with commitments from rock musician Robbie Merrill of Godsmack and Nashville recording artist Sean Holcomb scheduled to perform for the second straight year. Post 63 hoped to raise $100,000 to distribute among suicide-prevention groups that help veterans. As the pandemic dominated 2020, plans for the fourth annual Winter Garden Challenge 22 grew

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Jeff Stoffer/The American Legion

dicey. Large community gatherings in the city were suspended. Even the annual holiday lighting of the downtown district – a beloved tradition – was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The city asked the post to call off the Challenge 22 event. “We worked through it,” Gies told the crowd at Veterans Memorial Park on Nov. 14 before the fourth annual challenge began. Strict conditions had to be met. Capacity would be limited to no more than 500. No beer could be served. And, emphatically, all in attendance were required to wear protective face masks. After the post agreed to the conditions, the event was not only authorized, but the city also provided a stage, port-a-potties, fencing and, Gies told the crowd, “they’re writing a check for $2,500 for Challenge 22.” Before participants began their 2.2-mile trek, the Lady Lake American Legion Post 347 Honor Guard presented the colors, and the Sea Cadets conducted a flag-retirement ceremony. Speakers

included American Legion National Judge Advocate Kevin J. Bartlett, who posed a challenge of his own. “I would like you to call at least 22 people and say, ‘How are you doing today? I’m just doing a Buddy Check and making sure my buddy is good today.’ We have a duty to check on our buddies ... People are taking their lives because of a variety of reasons, but if you check on them, maybe you will stop them. Maybe you will help them.” Nearly 300 masked marchers hiked the 2.2 miles past outdoor diners following the speeches and ceremonies that nearly did not happen due to the pandemic. The post – which has grown from about 170 to 245 members in the past four years – put its heart and soul into a cause the community, including city officials, could firmly support. “People want to be part of something,” Gies said. “The number of younger members we are generating because we show we care is huge. It’s amazing to see what has happened with what started out as a little walk in Winter Garden. Fla.”

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THE AMERICAN LEGION

COVID-19 SURVEY More than 24,000 responded to questions about how the pandemic was affecting them and what The American Legion could do to help.

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n mid-April, The American Legion Veterans Employment & Education Division began a COVID-19 survey of veterans and their families to assess their well-being on a number of levels: financial, occupational, physical, mental and emotional. Extended to mid-June, the survey was completed by nearly 24,000 respondents. It included a field where veterans could request direct, immediate assistance from American Legion service officers, and more than 1,000 did. Foremost, respondents confirmed

that The American Legion was taking well-targeted steps during the pandemic. Buddy Checks were fulfilling the most common response to a question asking what works best to improve emotional well-being. “Communication with friends and family” was the top choice from 40.58% of respondents. “Physical exercise” was second at 25.26%. In the months ahead, physical exercise through the 100 Miles for Hope initiative would address that response, among thousands of veterans across the country.

The majority of survey respondents were Vietnam War veterans. And although that age group is not as affected by job loss as younger veterans, over 25% responded that they were somewhat or very concerned about job security in the pandemic. Thirty-seven percent said they were worried about their ability to pay bills, and nearly the same percentage reported they were “very concerned” about their ability to buy groceries. As the spring wore on, items such as toilet paper, paper towels and disinfectants

Legion initiatives help communities cope A section of the survey addressed specific American Legion initiatives to confront the crisis, and respondents generally gave positive marks. That section was presented with a question:

ORGANIZE COMMUNITY BUDDY CHECKS Somewhat helpful 49.28%

American Legion posts in many communities have stepped up to help in many ways. How helpful do you think the following initiatives are during this time?

Very helpful 43.08% Not helpful 7.64%

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COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


“VA has tackled this difficult situation as well or better than any other health-care providers. And we are not surprised. We all share in the challenge to deliver the best care anywhere and know that VA is working hard to set a standard for all health-care operations. As we deal with this historic time, The American Legion stands in support of all who provide care for our nation’s veterans and citizens.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, after 32.84% of survey respondents said they were “fully confident” and 57.79% were “somewhat confident” with VA’s response to the COVID-19 crisis

disappeared from store shelves. Links were broken in the supply chain for many essential goods as workers and drivers were idled or forced to change their schedules. American Legion posts across the country began working their connections and purchasing or obtaining through donations necessary items to distribute free of charge in communities where supplies were limited and the need was significant. The survey revealed that over 80% of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about

ORGANIZE BLOOD DRIVES Very helpful 45.12%

contracting COVID-19. The majority of veterans who completed the American Legion survey fit into the high-risk age group for infection. Over 50% reported they believed the pandemic posed a “large threat” to the entire U.S. population. More than 1,800 responded that they were suddenly working from home. Nearly 1,000 said their hours had been reduced. Another 512 revealed that they had been laid off because of the pandemic, and 584 reported they were furloughed, at least for the time being. Sixhundred thirty-nine respondents

ORGANIZE DONATION DRIVES FOR HEALTH-CARE WORKERS Somewhat helpful 47.07%

Somewhat helpful 44.03% Not helpful 10.85%

Not helpful 10.45%

said they were suddenly out of work because their employers were forced to shut down. Respondents were closely following the news about the coronavirus, largely trusting in VA and concerned what all this would mean to the U.S. economy. “We really don’t know when the situation will improve so that we can return to the activities we cherish,” Oxford said during the first phase of the survey. Data from the research, he explained, would guide The American Legion “to best serve veterans in this crisis.”

ORGANIZE DONATIONS FOR FAMILIES IN NEED OF EMERGENCY FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE Somewhat helpful 39.23%

Very helpful 53.62%

Very helpful 42.48%

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC

Not helpful 7.15%

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THE NEED FOR

PPE

Ash Ponders/The American Legion

Face masks, gloves, gowns and more became a vital national need, and the American Legion Family stepped up to provide.

P

ersonal protective “This gift of masks equipment – or PPE – will save lives.” became a household term in 2020. Face American Legion National Commander masks, gloves, gowns and James W. “Bill” Oxford after accepting sanitizers were needed 250,000 protective face masks from the like never before for nation of Taiwan on July 28 health-care providers, essential workers, military personnel, food servers and others. Conn., was deeply concerned about the lack of PPE in his area. At a Most American communities post meeting March 20, he floated made the wearing of protective the idea of a communitywide face masks a requirement callout for masks that might be before entering any place of in the possession of painters, business, government, worship or woodworkers and carpenters in entertainment. And, as with many the area. The post announced its supplies necessary to face the request on Facebook that evening, pandemic, PPE was immediately in and donations began rolling in short supply. at 8:30 the following morning. In posts across the country, Members were able to assemble American Legion Family members kits of face masks and gloves in began collecting, purchasing the hundreds and deliver them to and sewing protective masks for health-care workers whose facilities distribution wherever needed. American Legion Post 146 service had run low. Nurses who came to the post to pick up the kits told officer Dave Butkus of Bethlehem,

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Butkus they were nervous about their own dwindling supplies of PPE and thanked the Legionnaires. “We should be the ones thanking them,” Butkus said. “We have that duty and obligation to continue to serve, as veterans. That’s kind of what we’re here for, right?” Uniquely positioned to obtain PPE at factory cost was China Post 1, which has been operating “in exile” since 1948. More than 1,265 veterans are members of the post that originated in Shanghai, China, and now has a somewhat mysterious worldwide presence, without a specific post home. In mid-April, China Post 1 Commander Scott Riebel reported to National Headquarters the massive PPE collection effort members had made. “So far, we have distributed more than 10,000 latex gloves, 1,500 face shields, gallons of hand

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


veterans and others in sanitizer, N95 and KN95 “We have that duty and the community in May. masks, and surgical gowns obligation to continue to serve, The American Legion to our military men and as veterans. That’s kind of Department of Minnesota’s women, fire departments, what we’re here for, right?” long relationship with police departments, sheriff Quilts of Valor brought in departments, ER and Bethlehem, Conn., American Legion more than 5,400 masks ICU doctors and nurses, Post 146 service officer Dave Butkus for residents of state senior nursing homes, Red veterans homes and Cross, Project C.U.R.E., urgent nationwide need. Past Post VA facilities across the state in etc.” The post’s connections to 587 Commander Lianne GringJuly. American Legion Post 49 in manufacturers around the world – Albuquerque, N.M., spent weeks specifically and somewhat ironically Whitaker of Toledo, Ohio, and her Army veteran husband Shane – making protective face coverings China, where the coronavirus owners of Sideline Embroidery & for local businesses, hospitals, originated – gave members the Sewing – spent their 20th wedding a children’s home, schools and cost-saving ability to purchase PPE anniversary on April 8 stitching individuals. In a little more than directly from manufacturers. together masks. “I raised my hand,” three weeks, members of Vincent American Legion Post 110 in Gring‑Whitaker said. “I took an oath F. Picard American Legion Post 234 Mount Pleasant, Mich., teamed to do everything I can ... when you in Northborough, Mass., assembled up with the local Veterans of serve so many years in the military, and distributed 400 face shields Foreign Wars Auxiliary to make that part doesn’t leave you. Your for health-care workers and and distribute protective masks for first responders. St. Peter, Minn., health-care providers and veterans; oath never dies. So, taking care of your community and all that ... that American Legion Auxiliary Unit 37 donations from local businesses comes first.” members led a project to supply funded Protective Masks 2020, a Post 213 American Legion face masks and hand sanitizer to joint program that delivered more Family members in Buda, Texas, aged veterans. In Milesburg, Pa., than 2,000 face coverings in its worked with other groups to more than 200 protective masks first two weeks. Post 201 inside the produce 10,000 masks for healthwere sewn by American Legion Idaho State Correctional Center, care workers, first responders, Auxiliary members and shipped meanwhile, took up a massive mask-making project for prisoners and staff there in April; the 34-member post and 25-member Sons of The American Legion squadron also volunteered to lead sanitization efforts inside the walls. Two companies owned by members of the American Legion Business Task Force – Global Procurement Solutions and Aldevra – worked around the clock to manufacture and deliver needed PPE to healthcare facilities as the supply chain continued to weaken in April. Legionnaire-owned companies in California and Ohio also swiftly transformed their businesses to manufacture masks and meet the

“It makes you feel like a citizen of this world, because we all want to come together and help out. That’s redeeming in here.” Idaho Post 201 Commander Albert Ciccone, on members making masks at the state correctional facility there

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC

Post 201

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from Mumper-Shawley Post 893 before 500 more were made and sent to personnel serving aboard Navy hospital ships deployed to the waters just outside urban COVID hot spots. Wisconsin’s Camo Quilt Project, which includes members of the American Legion Family, made and distributed more than 2,000 protective masks, and American Legion Past National Commander Denise Rohan and her husband, Mike, took 214 to activated members of the Wisconsin National Guard; 1,000 others were destined for the state’s three veterans homes. The American Legion Family of Post 11 in Florence, Ala., handsewed more than 900 masks for health-care workers and at-risk veterans. American Legion Auxiliary Unit 23 in Spirit Lake, Iowa, spent more than 10 weeks making more than 10,000 face masks for children and adults, sending them all over the state. American Legion Auxiliary members in Utah sewed and sent 1,000 face masks to servicemembers on board USS

Ronald Reagan. In early November, Enrique Romero Nieves American Legion Post 102 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, obtained and donated more than 1,300 disposable face masks to the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged, a facility the post adopted several years ago. Many more American Legion posts and departments produced, obtained and delivered PPE where needed. In April, American Legion Post 23 in Sanger, Calif., helped purchase materials for Career Technical Education Charter (CTEC) School to 3D print 500 VA-approved masks with face shields for the VA Central California Health Care System in Fresno. Post 23 Commander James Bennett took the idea to CTEC Director John Delano, who gladly welcomed it. “When (Bennett) came to me with the idea, I was all for it,” Delano said in a VA press release. “American Legion Post 23 assisted with the funding for the materials, and our supplier was able to deliver. And the staff were all for it. It was a perfect match and a great way for

our new high school to support our community.” Arizona American Legion District 1 members joined with Free Mask Makers of Yuma to make and distribute more than 1,000 face coverings in Navajo Nation, and American Legion Riders Chapter 19 there handled shipping costs. Post 594 Legionnaires in Middletown, Pa., gave away special blue face masks, each with a gold “M” for Class of 2020 graduating seniors, during their drive-up graduation ceremony in May. American Legion Emblem Sales soon began to market and sell branded American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary face masks as the ubiquitous coverings became more and more creative across the country, an opportunity not only to protect against transmission but to express one’s support for an organization working tirelessly to strengthen the nation in the face of crisis. By late November, the number of American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary,

“Today, we have brought 250,000 medical masks from Taiwan to donate to The American Legion, in part to thank them for their service to veterans and many communities here in the United States but also as a symbol of friendship to jointly work to keep our communities and our veterans safe and healthy.” Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States, in a July 28 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Mike Kepka/The American Legion

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Legion grant buys smart TVs at Brooke

Brooke Army Medical Center

Servicemembers recovering in warrior transition units were not exempt from social distancing orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a result, 166 men and women recovering at the Warrior Transition Battalion Liberty Barracks Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, were forced to quarantine

Sons of The American Legion and American Legion Riders masks purchases exceeded 16,300. The biggest moment in American Legion PPE provision came July 28 in Washington, D.C. There, National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford accepted a donation of 250,000 masks from Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States. A ceremony celebrating the gesture of goodwill took place at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. “Even before COVID-19, it was not unusual to see people – mostly in the Far East – wear face masks out of consideration for others,” Oxford said at the ceremony. “It truly is

in their personal rooms and maintain social distance, with no televisions to help them pass the time. A $42,000 grant from the American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program in May changed that when 43-inch Samsung smart televisions were delivered to all 166 rooms.

a selfless act. We will ensure that veterans across the country receive these masks.” Hsiao said the gesture was about more than masks. It was also an expression of gratitude for U.S. military service. “Today, we have brought 250,000 medical masks from Taiwan to donate to The American Legion, in part to thank them for their service to veterans and many communities here in the United States but also as a symbol of friendship to jointly work to keep our communities and our veterans safe and healthy.” The American Legion quickly committed 10,000 of the donated masks from Taiwan to the Soldiers’

Home in Holyoke, Mass., where no fewer than 76 veterans residing in the 250-bed, state-run facility had died since March after being sickened by the coronavirus. “Legion posts in Massachusetts have already risen to the occasion by providing care packages to the home,” Oxford wrote in a letter read by Cindy Lacoste, sergeantat-arms for the American Legion Department of Massachusetts and member of the Soldiers’ Home board of trustees. “This mask donation is yet another example of our dedication to Holyoke and to keeping America’s veterans and their communities safe during this unprecedented pandemic.”

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[SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE]

State veterans homes hit hard with COVID-19, Legion responds American Legion National Executive Committee member David Carlson of Hawaii reported during the mid-October virtual NEC meeting that another state veterans home was seriously struggling with COVID-19. “It’s a sad situation,” Carlson later told the American Legion Media & Communications Division. “If they had followed the procedures right off the bat – and gotten testing right away – they might have been able to contain it.” Carlson also faulted the state for not taking a strong enough interest in the veterans home until COVID-19 took hold. “The state, VA and the company never did anything until it was too late.” An outbreak that struck Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo in late August infected a majority of the residents and led to the deaths of at least 27 veterans and spouses, a stark reminder that the pandemic was still proving devastating at longterm care centers. State and federal inspectors raised questions about the veterans home’s pandemic response prior to the August outbreak. “There was very little evidence of proactive preparation/planning for COVID,” a VA assessment team reported Sept. 12. “Many practices observed seemed as if they were the result of recent changes. Even though these are improvements, these are things that should have been in place from the pandemic onset and a major contributing factor toward the rapid spread.” VA also provided a 19-person team to help deal with COVID-19 from Sept. 17 to Oct. 12, including nurses and specialists in infection control, industrial hygiene, housekeeping, logistics and emergency management. The Avalon Health Care Group has run the veterans home under contract with the State of

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Hawaii since 2007. The Utah-based company manages 50 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in six western states, including four state veterans homes in Utah and one in Nevada. Avalon had been fined nearly $30,000 for issues at the Yukio Okutsu veterans home since 2017, according to inspection records from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The federal agency cited the company for failing to supervise a veteran patient with dementia who wandered three miles from the facility. Other incidents include a resident falling out of bed and fracturing his hip while a certified nursing assistant was changing his clothing, and a certified nursing assistant leaving a resident alone in the shower for 15 to 20 minutes. The company says it took early “robust action” to protect the residents of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home from COVID-19, including restricting visitors. “The facility has implemented all the guidelines of the CDC and CMS since the start of the pandemic in March and have modified its processes as those guidelines have changed,” says Peter Cooke, a retired Army Reserve major general who serves on Avalon’s board. “Unfortunately, extensive independent research shows that once the virus begins circulating at a high rate in a community, as it did in Hawaii this summer, it is all but certain to infect long-term care facilities. In the face of this threat, our staff has continued to perform heroic work to protect the veterans in their care, and we are working closely with VA and our other partners to ensure we are doing everything possible to save lives.” The first signs of COVID-19 infections surfaced Aug. 20 when the Hilo Medical Center asked the state veterans home to participate in the hospital’s random COVID-19 testing program, according to a

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Hilo Medical Center photo

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency inspection report. Two veterans home staff members went home that same day – one whose daughter was COVID-19 positive and another who reported feeling sick. A few residents of the state veterans home also may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus at an off-site dialysis center, according to the state report. Once inside the veterans home, the virus spread rapidly. By Sept. 6, when U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called for VA to help stop the outbreak, 46 residents and 18 staff members had contracted COVID-19, and five residents had died. As of midOctober, 71 of the original 89 residents and 35 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Forty-four residents later recovered. Other state veterans homes, particularly on the East Coast, also struggled to protect their residents from the novel coronavirus. In late September, Massachusetts charged the former superintendent and former chief medical officer from the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke with abuse and neglect in connection with the deaths of 76 veterans from COVID-19. And on Oct. 16, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy fired the chief executives at the Paramus and Menlo Park state veterans homes after it was

reported that a total of 193 residents likely died from COVID-19 at the two facilities – 47 more than had been previously acknowledged. Murphy also replaced the two top leaders at the state Military and Veterans Affairs Department. California, on the other hand, continued to have one of the best track records. Just eight of the 2,100 residents of its state veterans homes had contracted COVID-19, and only two died. In addition, 82 of the approximately 2,300 employees at CalVet’s eight veterans homes tested positive for COVID-19, and one died. CalVet took steps to prevent COVID-19 infections beginning as early as February. Overall, nursing homes were blamed for about 40 percent of all known COVID-19 deaths in the United States by the fall. Veterans homes were especially hard hit. But a lack of comprehensive data about COVID-19 infections in federal, state and private nursing homes made it difficult to compare how each was handling the infections. Carlson said it’s critical for state veterans homes to learn from successful operations in the country and take urgent steps to save lives. “All we can do is look at it and see what happened and try to keep it from happening to anybody else.”

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As access to food and other supplies became a major challenge, the American Legion Family went to work. Thomas P. Costello/The American Legion

THE FOOD CHAIN

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he American Legion’s training, experience, facilities and enthusiasm to feed large groups of people were almost instantly deployed after the pandemic began. American Legion Family members prepared and gave away meals, collected and delivered groceries, set up pantries, supported local food banks, joined forces with restaurants, wrote checks to purchase provisions, and shipped goods to and from various distribution centers. They provided

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safe, easy-to-obtain meals for veterans, first responders, healthcare workers, troops, students, community members in need and, quite often, anyone else who showed up hungry. Rosedale-Laurelton Post 483 in Queens, N.Y., had for more than 10 years fed local veterans and community members with a soup kitchen and four food pantries in the area, one of which was housed inside the post home. Normally, the services were provided to people in

financial need. The pandemic added a new dimension of demand, one that called for personal deliveries to at-risk seniors, homebound veterans and others who could no longer safely go anywhere. In May, the Queens delivery service was providing hundreds of meals a day in the New York City area. “During the time of this pandemic, a lot of people are afraid to come out of their houses,” Post 483 Commander Lee Blackmon said. He described the volunteer deliverers as local heroes.

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


“During the time of this pandemic, a lot of people are afraid to come out of their houses.” Queens, N.Y., Post 483 Commander Lee Blackmon

Todd Maisel/The American Legion

“When you find a few committed to serve the community like this, I call them warriors. It’s a very courageous thing they’re doing.” Before the end of March, George P. Vanderveer American Legion Post 129 in Toms River, N.J., was already teaming up with another local nonprofit group to provide hot meals and critical household supplies for hundreds of veterans and others whose income streams were drying up. “Knowing that unemployment (benefits) were going to be held up for some individuals (and) the stimulus checks were going to be held up, I knew that our veterans would be without funds,” Post 129 Finance Officer Ralph Wolff said. “We started this a little bit ahead of the curve. We did not want our veterans to experience food insecurity. We

wanted them to come to a place where if they had to ask for food, they could do it with honor and dignity. We all know each other.” Post 129 worked with A Need We Feed, a group that arranged to purchase meals from local restaurants whose dining rooms were closed due to the pandemic and had to rely on curbside pickup for any business. The meals were brought to the post for distribution, and the post, in turn, donated funds to A Need We Feed to pay the restaurants. The post also worked with a local food bank to fill hundreds of what they called “crisis boxes” containing nonperishable foods that could sustain someone for three or four days, if necessary. Fresh fruit was collected and distributed as well, on a twiceweekly basis. Any leftover food,

Wolff explained in May, “we send off to the fire department or the police department. Anything left doesn’t go to waste.” Members of Joseph L. Davis American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace, Md., placed a white cabinet at the entry of its building and opened what became known as the “Pantry on the Porch.” Community members affected by the pandemic or anyone else in need were invited to take what they wanted anytime, around the clock. Donations from members and others, including a local café and a radio station, kept the Pantry on the Porch continuously stocked with non-perishable food and toiletries. “Anybody can come in here and get food,” explained Alma Orive, Post 47 adjutant and Hartford County vice commander. “We don’t want anybody to go hungry during this coronavirus pandemic. People have sent a lot of thank you notes saying, ‘We really appreciate having a food pantry here since we are short of cash right now.’” For more than three decades, the American Legion Farmers Market of Post 15 in Sumter, S.C., was a fixture in the community before a lack of vendors forced its closing

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a few years ago. But in December 2019, the market reopened to again serve the community with locally produced vegetables, bread, meat, eggs, fruit, honey and other items year-round. The timing could not have been better. The pandemic at first threatened to short-circuit the market’s revival, but Legionnaires simply changed the formula and turned it into a drive-through operation, providing the community a trusted source of nutrition as area supermarkets were understocked due to delays in the supply chain and surges in demand. “We immediately knew we didn’t want to shut down this market because of the essential foods they were serving: the produce, the meat, the bread,” said Sumter County Commander Peter St. Onge, who provides American Legion oversight of the market. “These were all items that were instantly in short supply in supermarkets. Our local vendors had the ability to produce it and get it out. So, we never really considered shutting it down. We just tried to figure out

how we could modify it to meet the constraints of (federal and state health guidelines) ... social distancing and stuff like that.” Sumter County customers lined up in their cars to pick up food they could not otherwise easily or safely purchase. In a little over a month, vendors at the market sold 542 pounds of pork products, 42 pounds of cheese, 62 dozen eggs, 72 pints of honey and 200 gallons of strawberries. A vendor who sells jellies, jams and baked goods served more than 250 customers. Nearly 1,400 farm-share boxes were sold at the market. Some 34,000 pounds of produce in all were moved. Beyond commodities, the American Legion Farmers Market in South Carolina offered an added benefit during the uncertain time. “I think it definitely keeps a bit of normalcy for everybody,” market manager Brittany Newman said. “I have a lot of regulars that come through and say, ‘Thank you for keeping open and helping us get out of the house for a couple hours.’” American Legion posts, districts

and departments in every state made a point to combat hunger and ease accessibility to food as the pandemic spread into summer. The American Legion Department of Michigan, for example, teamed up with Gleaners Community Food Bank to distribute more than 7,000 pounds of non-perishables to veterans, seniors and needy families in June and July alone; Michigan Legionnaires became no-contact distributors and loaders of the 40-pound food boxes. “We’re The American Legion,” Department of Michigan Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Committee Chairman Don Howard said of the mobilization. “We have 400 posts throughout the state ... we can help.” American Legion Post 162 in Lowville, N.Y., took its food-support program to the intersection of N.Y. State Routes 177 and 12 and set up a welcome sight for long-haul drivers transporting goods at a time when truck stops were shut down to indoor dining. “TRUCKERS STOP HERE,” read one sign. “THANK YOU, TRUCKERS/FREE FOOD,” announced

Toshia St. Onge packs bags of fruits and vegetables at the American Legion Farmers Market in Sumter, S.C.

Jeff Blake/The American Legion

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COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


“We don’t want anybody to go hungry during this coronavirus pandemic.” Havre de Grace, Md., Post 47 Adjutant Alma Orive

Matt Roth/The American Legion

another. Hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks and chips were handed out free of charge to the drivers who Post 162 Commander Lee Hinkleman called “silent heroes. You really don’t see those guys. They’re behind the Walmart, behind the grocery store, doing their thing and just going about their business.” Opportunities for truck drivers to stop and eat along their routes were nearly non-existent at the time. “Here in New York, they’ve actually shut down a lot of the rest stops where truckers in the past could

take a rest and (eat) something they picked up somewhere,” Hinkleman said. “So, the accessibility they used to have they simply don’t have now.” Post 162 later expanded the free service to feed law-enforcement officers, other first responders and supermarket employees. In Bowling Green, Ky., Post 23 Legionnaires served free sausage biscuits, coffee and doughnuts on a drive-through basis weekly in the early stages of the pandemic. Post 10 in Albany, Ore., teamed up with Southpaw’s Pizza to send meals for

staff and residents of the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home in Lebanon; the post’s Legion Family later prepared turkey dinners with all the trimmings for the home. Spartanburg, S.C., Post 28 established a food pantry primarily to assist residents who had recently lost their jobs due to pandemic shutdowns. Riverside, Calif., Post 289 Commander Mike “Irish” Buchner and his team found that a small taste of safe socialization was nearly as important as free meals. “Some members that are having a hard time coping with the isolation and/or PTSD are welcome to come to the post and have a meal or just to talk to someone,” Buchner said, adding that 95 percent of the facility’s chairs were removed to ensure safe social distancing. In Ellicott City, Md., Post 156 worked with Howard County General Hospital and restaurants still operating in the area to deliver upwards of 900 meals a day for health-care workers. Post 209 in Dover, Mass., launched a food drive to benefit local agencies and support a pantry, indefinitely. American Legion Post 164 in Grove City, Ohio, coordinated

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Post 28 in Millsboro, with M.A.S.H. Pantry and Del., served up 100 free Resource Center of Central “This is like a combat mission. bagged lunches a day, Ohio to distribute fresh We get the job done.” Monday through Friday, produce to veterans in need. Maine American Legion Post 1 member for veterans, seniors and Wrightsville, Pa., Post 469 Russell Wolfertz Jr. children in the area. Post handed out free lunches 10 in South El Monte, on weekends, with support Calif., which had been from local businesses. at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. chartered less than a year, handed American Legion Riders Chapter Post 186 in Chesterfield, Va., out grocery store gift cards to 328 in Riley, Ind., had a free driveopened its doors to a group called residents who had lost their jobs through barbecue dinner and Feed Our First Responders that or had their hours reduced due to invited anyone who was hungry to the pandemic. More than 1,040 swing by and pick up any number of prepared more than 350 meals a day for emergency medical staff veterans and active-duty personnel meals they wanted, free of charge. at area hospitals. Anyone needing received fresh vegetables, fruit and “This was for the veterans,” free lunch in Brazil, Ind., could get other food from American Legion Chapter 328 Director Brandy it on Fridays, thanks to Post 2 there. Post 760 in Oceanside, Calif., which Jackson said. “This was for the Post 72 in Ada, Okla., was asked to teamed up with the Veterans EMTs, the first responders, the distribute free KFC meal boxes for Association of North County and police, firefighters and shut-ins. We people in need. District 1 American the San Diego Food Bank in a nohad a lot of people come that said Legion Riders in Kenosha, Wis., contact distribution program. it wasn’t for them, but they were “This is like a combat mission,” delivering the meals to people who donated money and got additional help from local restaurants to Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt Post 1 were shut in. That was great for us.” provide 100 sandwiches to healthmember Russell Wolfertz Jr. said The list goes on. Jack Henry care workers. Colorado’s Estes Park after his American Legion Family Post 1 in Anchorage, Alaska, American Legion Post 119 and Estes team in Maine drove four pickup delivered food to local veterans Park Nonprofit Resource Center loads of food from the Department after discovering their needs teamed up to provide thousands of of Agriculture in Augusta to the through Buddy Checks and free meals for two, every Tuesday Area Interfaith Outreach food later took snacks to active-duty and Thursday, for anyone in need. pantry on April 23. “We get the job personnel quarantined to barracks

American Legion Post 162 Commander Lee Hinkleman and member David Schulz deliver meals to show appreciation to postal workers in Lowville, N.Y.

Zachary Krahmer/The American Legion

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done.” Nine-year-old Dominic Baker, a Sons of the American Legion Squadron 420 member in Pennsylvania, was so concerned about the pandemic’s impact on hunger, he organized his own food drive in Steelton and Swatara Township, pulling in 100 pounds of edible items that were distributed to people in need, through the local police department. “I think it’s absolutely amazing that he did this ... that’s what we are all about, what we try to push at the Legion with our junior members,” American Legion Auxiliary Unit 420 President Lisa Iskric said of the third-grader’s project. “When they are out there doing this, we try to teach them their philanthropy does a lot for the community, the veterans community. It’s a good stepping stone to see in a future leader.” The 40 posts of the American Legion Department of Arizona’s 11th and 12th districts joined forces with Harvest Compassion Center in Phoenix to help supply four food-distribution programs for veterans in need. The initiative, called Food for Vets, filled bags with frozen, refrigerated and non-perishable food, along with hygiene products, available in a drive-through setting at the center. Incoming District 11 Commander Bobbie Kimelton said a dozen such distributions were scheduled in Arizona. “I think the thing that was most exciting for me is that this has become not an American Legion thing,” Kimelton said. “It is a Legion Family thing. We have (American Legion) Riders delivering food to the (Northern Arizona VA Health Care System) in Prescott. They’ve been delivering food bags to the

Dominic Baker, 9, of Steelton Sons of The American Legion Squadron 420 in Harrisburg, Pa., organized a food drive to help his community in the early days of the pandemic.

Hopi Reservation and the Navajo Reservation. It’s just blown up into a huge, huge thing.” In Watertown, N.Y., Post 61 delivered 50 spaghetti and meatball lunches to health-care workers at Samaritan Medical Center. American Legion Auxiliary Unit 28 in Millsboro, Del., teamed up with the community-based Local Ladies of Long Neck to distribute 5,000 brown-bag lunches to anyone who needed them, over a period of 10 weeks. The American Legion Department of Rhode Island donated $1,000 to the Emanuel Lutheran Church food pantry via the department’s Children & Youth Committee. American Legion Riders Chapter 153 in Wagoner, Okla., and Twin Oaks Baptist Church distributed food boxes to needy residents every Friday. American Legion Montgomery-Plant-Dudley Post 10 in Wausau, Wis., and Bunkers Restaurant produced more

than 1,000 meals in 11 weeks for area veterans. The Post 5 American Legion Family of Seward, Alaska, served up free nightly dinners for members and others in need, and free morning breakfasts for frontline workers. Henry K. Burtner Post 53 in Greensboro, N.C., filled two trucks with food and other supplies for the Servant Center there, which works to transition homeless and disabled veterans into independent members of the community through housing, health care and restorative services. Montoursville, Pa., American Legion Post 104 gave $5,000 to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to purchase meals for those financially affected by the coronavirus. In late September, Plymouth, Mass., Post 40 converted a onetime mobile summer food pantry that fed more than 100 in a day into a permanent resource inside the post home. Member Jim Kelley, who previously ran a church pantry, worked with Post 40 Commander Richie Holbrook and 46-year American Legion Auxiliary Unit 40 member Beth Lynch to make the new venture a long-term benefit to the community. “It’s very important,” Kelley said. “A lot of the places that have food banks are not servicing like they normally do

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because of the pandemic. When this idea came, I jumped right on with Beth. It was a go within two months. We’ll wear our masks and do whatever we need to do. The need is out there, and we’re going to try to fill it.” American Legion providence during the pandemic matches up with a pillar value of the organization, dating back to its 1919 founding: children and youth. When the coronavirus closed schools and day-care operations, children went home where their parents, perhaps suddenly out of work or otherwise distressed, were hard-pressed to fix meals on the kinds of schedules kids had at school. Dennis T. Williams American Legion Post 310, which had been distributing food in the San Diego area for over a decade, teamed up with the SD Hip Hop 5K & Festival and the San Diego Strike Force indoor football team to deliver

more than 5,000 meals a week after June 1 to youth 18 and younger. Pre-packaged hot and cold meals were handed out at Post 310 three days a week, and any leftovers went to the homeless community. American Legion Auxiliary Unit 192 in Canton, Kan., prepared sack lunches for children up to 12th grade; each lunch included a sandwich, fruit, vegetable, snack and water. “We seek to be proactive and not wait and listen as folks wonder how to provide for their children,” Unit 192 President Debbie Evans said. Individual donations and revenue from the post’s baked-potato bar helped pay for the lunches. Weimer-Widder American Legion Post 549 in Beach City, Ohio, opened its facility and parking lot to the local school district for use as a lunch-distribution station to feed children who needed regular meals after their schools closed. In Georgia, Sylvester Post 335 assisted

the Worth County School District and area churches in distributing breakfasts and lunches to local children. “Many of the families in our area are in low-income homes,” Post 335 Commander Ray Humphrey said. “Being out of school due to the pandemic puts these children at risk of going hungry. During the week, we help to distribute 1,000 meal packages a day.” Post 245 in State College, Pa., served free hot meals for children on weekdays as the pandemic continued. In Central Square, N.Y., Post 915’s American Legion Family learned about a shortage in the school district, which was feeding around 1,600 children who qualified for free or reduced meals; the post presented Superintendent Tom Colabufo with a check for $2,500 to purchase more food. Post 3 in Lincoln, Neb., had to cancel its Boys State program, so members decided to use that money to pay off outstanding

American Legion Post 1980 in Woodland Park, Colo. split its Veterans Day dinner into two sessions and restricted attendance in order to allow veterans and servicemembers to safely take part in the annual tradition.

Chet Strange/The American Legion

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lunch balances of local schoolchildren. “We thought it was important to take care of those that might need a little extra help,” Post 3 member Bruce Gubser said. “This will allow these students to start the next school year with a zero balance. We were just trying to do our part in making sure our community members’ needs were being met, even in some small way.” As the fall of 2020 drew nearer to winter, and COVID-19 cases increased, American Legion posts had to modify traditional holiday meals for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Eric V. Dickson Post 1980 in Woodland Park, Colo., had hosted a Veterans Day dinner for Teller County veterans, activeduty military, National Guardsmen and reservists, and their family members for 30 years. Post 1980 Commander Dan Williams said the post could not cancel the 2020 dinner because the event serves important other social purposes in the area. “This county’s probably got about 6,000 (veterans) in it, which is pretty high for a small county,” Williams said. “It’s around 20 percent. (The Veterans Day dinner) is the one time of the year folks come out of the hills that you never see, that aren’t really super involved in anything. The widows come out, the Gold Star (families) and all that.” The post improvised. Instead of having one big dinner, members set up two – one at 2 p.m. and another at 5 p.m. – to keep the tradition going, safely. The dinner was moved to Shining Mountain Golf Club, where tables were spaced

““We’ll wear our masks and do whatever we need to do. The need is out there, and we’re going to try to fill it.” Plymouth, Mass., Post 40 member Jim Kelley

apart for proper social distancing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines were strictly followed. Williams said that while the post’s American Legion Family traditionally prepares the barbecue meal, this year’s Veterans Day dinner was catered. “We have a vulnerable population,” he said. “We’re right there with our Vietnam vets being 75 and 80 now. So, we wore the masks ... and followed all the guidelines.” More than 250  – about half the normal turnout – enjoyed the tradition on Nov. 11. Thanksgiving is also a time when hundreds of American Legion posts traditionally prepare meals and serve them free of charge in communities, specifically to help the needy or individual veterans with no family nearby. That tradition had to change in 2020 in most locations, but it was not canceled where posts and units were able to find different ways to provide. Brainerd, Minn., Post 255 converted its traditional sit-down dinner that draws over 800 a year into a free delivery and pickup service for Thanksgiving. William McKinley Post 231 in Chicago delivered Thanksgiving food baskets to needy families, as did Capt. Lester S. Wass Post 3 in Gloucester, Mass., for homebound residents there, as well as Rockport, Manchester, Essex and Ipswich.

Post 4 in Billings, Mont., teamed up with Montana Veterans Meat Locker to offer drive-through Thanksgiving dinners for pickup. Wildwood, N.J., Post 184 donated Thanksgiving dinners to needy families. Monroe, N.Y., Post 488 American Legion Family members collaborated with other local groups to deliver and provide pickup holiday feasts. The American Legion Family of Post 29 in Sherman, Texas, and VFW Post 2772 worked together to offer free traditional Thanksgiving dinners to anyone in need or wanting companionship, abiding by proper social distancing protocols, with take-out options available. Some posts altered their traditional Thanksgiving plans to help other organizations feed their communities. In Summit, N.J., Post 322 helped sponsor the Other Fellow First Foundation’s 13th annual frozen turkey drive on Nov. 22 – an effort that benefits the Community Food Bank of New Jersey – which has raised $99,000 and collected 33.5 tons of turkey and 19.5 tons of bagged groceries over the last 12 years. BroomeWood Post 292 in New London, Ohio, worked with the Catholic Church and the Huron County Veterans Service to distribute food baskets to veterans in need, just before Thanksgiving. Gilbert, Pa., Post 927 replaced its annual community Thanksgiving dinner with a canned-goods and nonperishable food drive to help families during the holiday. “Food,” explained Seward, Alaska, Post 5 Commander Clare Sullivan, “is our forte.”

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Logan Cyrus/The American Legion

BLOOD WANTED

When blood-collection services were curtailed amid high demand in the early months of the pandemic, the American Red Cross turned to a longtime ally. 32

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he American Legion’s Blood Donor Program was born in 1942 to supply U.S. hospitals and military units with the plasma they needed – and would need – as the United States fought through World War II. An existing alliance at the time with the American Red Cross, which took shape during flood-relief efforts in the 1920s and 1930s, was leveraged to ultimately make The American Legion the nation’s No. 1 bloodgiving organization. That distinction stood for decades, and when the pandemic triggered a nationwide blood shortage in the spring of 2020 – and reduced the ability to collect through usual means – The American Legion stepped up. By March 18, more than 4,500 Red Cross blood drives were canceled due to the coronavirus. “You served your country admirably,” American Red Cross National Partnerships Director Donna M. Morrissey told Legionnaires in late March. “We need your help again during this crisis.” National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, who had donated more than eight gallons of his own blood over the years, was quick to respond with a plea to the membership. “As our nation faces the coronavirus emergency, the Red Cross is experiencing a severe blood shortage,” he said soon after the need arose. “The coronavirus pandemic could affect millions of Americans, meaning fewer people are eligible to donate. At the same time, the Red Cross is noticing an uptick in the number of cancellations of blood drives. There

is an urgent need for blood now.” While no evidence existed to suggest the coronavirus could be transmitted through blood, donations were – and are – only accepted from healthy individuals. Those even at risk for COVID-19 infection were asked to delay their blood-giving plans by at least 28 days. The Red Cross needed healthy donors and suitable locations that could accommodate social distancing and other precautions – both of which The American Legion could supply. By April 1, the word was out.

American Legion posts throughout the country responded to a call for locations and volunteers from the Red Cross and began making plans. Newly remodeled Hollywood, Calif., Post 43 transformed into a blood-donation center, operating according to CDC guidelines, with assistance from UCLA Health and the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center. Posts in Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina were among those to urgently schedule and conduct safe Red Cross blood drives as the number of other blood-drive cancellations soared to

Logan Cyrus/The American Legion

“The Red Cross staffers who were there were amazed at how well our first blood drive went.” Troutman, N.C., American Legion Post 401  Sergeant-at-Arms Lee McDaniel

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“The coronavirus pandemic could affect millions of Americans, meaning fewer people are eligible to donate. At the same time, the Red Cross is noticing an uptick in the number of cancellations of blood drives. There is an urgent need for blood now.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford more than 14,000 by April 6. “We think it is critical for our post to play a role in whatever crisis faces our community, state or nation,” said Blair Moran, a life member of Post 114 in Sikeston, Mo., where 20 units of blood were collected on April 3. “Through the years, we have answered the call, and this is just another example of our post wanting to help our nation as it faces one of the most serious crises in history ... We did not hesitate when the Red Cross asked

our post for assistance in helping supply the nation with blood.” By the end of April, American Legion posts had produced no fewer than 881 units through 26 blood drives with another 27 planned in May. Through the summer and into the fall, posts nationwide were having blood drives, some weekly. Post 401 in Troutman, N.C., reported an “amazingly successful” April 4 blood drive, filling all 36 donor slots and producing 34 units.

10,000+

Logan Cyrus/The American Legion

Number by which units of blood donated by The American Legion increased between 2019 and 2020, according to the latest Consolidated Post Report, with 71 percent of posts reporting. The number of units reported in 2020 was 79,477.

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“Just being able to organize it and bring people together who are able to donate to complete the mission was very rewarding and satisfying to me,” said Lee McDaniel, Post 401 sergeant-at-arms, who served as coordinator for the drive. “The Red Cross staffers who were there were amazed at how well our first blood drive went.” Amid the pandemic, the Red Cross instituted new safety procedures for donors, volunteers and the blood collected. All donors were checked for fevers before they entered the post home in Troutman, and none were detected. “We had a pretty good system going to ensure safety,” said McDaniel, who explained that once past the temperature check, the next stop was the post foyer, which served as a waiting room for up to two people at a time. From there, donors proceeded to the main hall, one by one, to check in, where they waited and each completed a health history form. The donor was then led to a couch, sleeves were rolled up, and the draw began. American Legion members, Red Cross volunteers and others all wore face masks and gloves throughout the 5½-hour blood drive at Post 401. Gloves were changed frequently, and any donor-contacted surfaces or equipment were disinfected and sanitized before each collection. In preparation for its April 3 blood drive at Post 114 in Sikeston, Mo., members repainted certain

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Jeric Wilhelmsen/The American Legion

areas inside, deep-cleaned the floors, thoroughly sanitized every space that would be used, such as bathrooms, and replaced all the ceiling tiles. The American Legion Department of Ohio made blood drives a statewide crusade, with nearly 30 planned throughout the year across the state following the urgent call for donations last spring. And nearly every drive throughout the country exceeded expectations, including 75 units in Coldwater, Ohio, and more than 40 donors in Benton, Ill. The goal for Battle Creek, Mich., Michael A. Dickinson Post 257 was 31 units on April 29, and 39 were drawn. Seventy-two donors at the Monett, Mo., HobbsAnderson Post 91 was considered a major success. “I was surprised to see how many turned out for our blood

“There’s an urgent need for blood, and so I’m happy to do my part and donate a pint. And each pint can save up to three lives.” Hollywood Post 43 member Jennifer Brofer, who coordinated a blood donation at her post in April 2020

drive,” Michigan Post 257 blood drive chairwoman Donna Beckett said. “It was a record number for the last several years, and I appreciate everyone realizing the need. I also appreciate my regular donors who are so patient when we have a wait time. I saw donors who hadn’t donated in several years, and I appreciate all of them taking the time to donate.” “The American Red Cross thanks The American Legion from the bottom of our hearts for the ongoing support,” Morrissey said.

“We applaud your courage and strength to give blood during this worldwide health crisis. In times of crisis, the Red Cross is fortunate to witness the best of humanity as people roll up a sleeve to help those in need.” Demand and urgency remained high as The American Legion entered into its annual holiday season blood drive period, Nov. 26 through Dec. 31. By that time, the number of confirmed infections in the United States stood at more than 12 million, more than 255,000 of which resulted in death.

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“There’s a lot of anxiety during all of this social distancing that we’re having. It helps to express that, when you’re in a chat with other veterans.” Louis Cavaliere, Philadelphia American Legion Post 405

VIRTUAL REALITY Legionnaires quickly advance their capabilities in online video conferencing as the pandemic halts in-person gatherings.

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ecessity, the pandemic proved to The American Legion, was once again the mother of invention. The volunteer-led organization had relied for over a century on large, group meetings and conventions to consider resolutions, establish policies, develop programs, interview Boys State candidates, hear young orators deliver speeches on the Constitution, sort out finances, review contracts,

train service officers, evaluate grant applications and figure out who would be available to march or ride in the next Memorial Day parade. Post, district, department and national American Legion meetings and at least one youth program, Texas Boys State, would be conducted virtually, via online video platforms, during 2020. Later would come a virtual Legacy Run, veteran job fairs, national

service-officer school and the National Executive Committee’s Fall Meetings, all through digital media. The American Legion National Headquarters had just installed Microsoft Teams as an online communications platform, and divisions began conducting weekly planning sessions using its videoconferencing feature. Some posts and departments had already begun applying such technology

“In some cases, the veterans are dying and this (iPad) provides a way for them to reach and talk with families. Without these iPads, we would not be able to facilitate the same level of social support that our veterans get because of the work of The American Legion. So, we are incredibly grateful.” Minneapolis VA Medical Center Director Pat Kelly Stephen Geff re/The American Legion

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“I’m almost moved to tears of the volunteers who give their time to do this because they want to, because it’s an American Legion program that actually impacts lives.” Texas American Legion Boys State Chairman Casey Thomas

for post and executive committee meetings, extremely important as they considered pandemic-forced program and event changes or cancellations in the spring of 2020. Jonathon Ralph, commander of American Legion Post 269 in Patchogue, N.Y., said in March that his members were communicating through FreeConferenceCall.com to reduce personal exposure to one another after the pandemic struck. “Even though we have not had a large amount of usage, I am still a firm believer that we need to make this type of video conferencing available,” he said at the time. The number of American Legion Family members who would use remote meeting technology was destined to skyrocket in the months ahead. The pandemic quickly gave rise to psychological concerns among veterans. More than 34,000 appointments were completed by mental-health providers in March using VA Video Connect, up by 14,000 from the previous month. VA telehealth group therapy

increased 200 percent that month. Mental health consultations over the phone soared from approximately 40,000 in February 2020 to more than 154,000 in March. VA Vet Centers saw a 200 percent increase in virtual peer-topeer sessions. When the pandemic caused VA health-care facilities to close the doors to visitors for the safety of hospitalized veterans and staff, the Minneapolis VA Health Care System set in motion plans to offer virtual visitations. Those plans were boosted by an $18,000 Operation Comfort Warriors grant from The American Legion that bought 50 iPads for patients to use in video visits with their loved ones. “This is just one more example, a continued example, of the incredible support we get from all of our service organizations, but I really want to distinguish the work we have been doing and the help we have been getting from The American Legion,” Minneapolis VA Medical Center Director Pat Kelly said. “In some

cases, the veterans are dying and this (iPad) provides a way for them to reach and talk with families. Without these iPads, we would not be able to facilitate the same level of social support that our veterans get ... So, we are incredibly grateful.” The era of video VA care vaulted ahead in September when American Legion Post 176 in Springfield, Va., joined with VA and Philips North America for a new telehealth initiative called Project ATLAS. Post 176 was the first of many planned American Legion locations to house video pods where veterans can have private appointments online with distant VA providers. The program was designed to reduce travel, inconvenience and waiting time. COVID-19 added urgency to the need. “The events of the past few months have reinforced the value of telehealth and the relationship between VA, The American Legion and Philips,” Oxford said. “Not all veterans live close to a VA medical center. Travel

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can be expensive, frustrating and time-consuming. With COVID-19 in the mix, it can also be dangerous. Atlas sites will make health-care delivery safer and more efficient for those veterans, in particular.” Months before the pandemic struck, American Legion Post 207 in Spencer, Tenn., had designed into the renovation of its 40-yearold post home a telehealth space for veterans living in the rural area. Those plans began to stall in the spring of 2020, but Post 207 Commander Hansel Moore, an Air Force veteran with 30 years of experience in nursing, concluded that the post’s Telehealth Access Portal (TAP) was needed more urgently than ever. “I started talking to the team that was putting it together and I said, ‘You know what? This is actually the time when we need it the most.’ We stepped on the gas pedal and got everything done.” A rural development grant and a donated 5G broadband connection were among the benefits of community relationships for the post, which has grown from nine members to more than 60 over the year. “It is all about relationships,” Moore said. “And we already have three other posts lined up in middle Tennessee

to get the equipment for TAP installations. I believe we’ll have four other posts online by the end of the year.” American Legion officials joined rural development leaders, Ben Lomand Connect (which installed the broadband) and the cosponsoring local bank for a ribboncutting at the TAP, advertised as a “virtual living room” that puts veterans into contact with healthcare providers, no matter how distant, regardless of the system of care they use. “For me as a nurse, medically and clinically, it’s going to be a great asset,” Moore said. “It is my observation and belief that telehealth services are the future of health care, and we are proud to be a part of that future.” As The American Legion and VA ramped up telehealth programs to put veterans in touch virtually with doctors, counselors and nurses, Undersecretary for VA Benefits Paul Lawrence rolled out a nationwide series of more than 80 virtual town hall meetings to communicate with veterans across the country about

their benefits. The American Legion co-hosted one of the sessions Aug. 12. Thousands logged into the American Legion virtual town hall to learn about VA’s changes in benefits eligibility for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, claims processing in the time of COVID and developments in the use of service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The session indisputably reached more veterans throughout the country than if it had been conducted in person at a single location. “These types of town halls are the events that can and do make a difference in the lives of veterans,” American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission Chairman Ralph Bozella said during the virtual session. The American Legion, VA, the Chapel of the Four Chaplains and the nonprofit group Thank A Vet in Philadelphia launched a Military Veterans Social Distancing Coffee Chat Room in April to discuss how the coronavirus was affecting veterans, advocacy work and VA

The era of video VA care vaulted ahead in September when American Legion Post 176 in Springfield, Va., joined with VA and Philips North America for a new telehealth initiative called Project ATLAS.

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“The benefit I get out of this is just talking to these guys, making sure they’re all right ... and giving them an outlet to tell us how they’re doing.” Post 405 member Louis Cavaliere, who helped transition his Philadelphia post’s coffee club to a virtual platform

care. Louis Cavaliere, a member of Post 405 in Philadelphia and a board member for the Four Chaplains Foundation, said social distancing and other restrictions had curbed Thank A Vet’s efforts to provide socks, wheelchairs, scooters and coats to veterans in need; the situation also idled in-person veteran coffee club gatherings. “When we went to the quarantine and social distancing, that obviously went by the wayside,” Cavaliere said. “We sort of came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t we just do it using Zoom? It’s the same thing.’ That’s basically how it happened. I found that once a week just talking to people like this is helpful. Nothing planned – just sharing what’s going on in life.” The Zoom sessions were not recorded, so participants could feel free to speak openly. “There were several veterans on (a recent chat) who are Vietnam vets who

are dealing with issues like posttraumatic stress,” Cavaliere said. “There’s a lot of anxiety during all of this social distancing that we’re having. It helps to express that, when you’re in a chat with other veterans. The benefit I get out of this is just talking to these guys, making sure they’re all right ... and giving them an outlet to tell us how they’re doing.” Many American Legion posts and departments had been using online meeting services and conference calls in recent years, but restrictions on in-person gatherings sped the shift and made it more widespread. American Legion Post 488 in Riverside, Ill., had begun monthly meetings and weekly commander calls through Zoom even before the pandemic began. “Being virtual, we can sit here and take 45 minutes, we can put our microphone on mute, we can still hear what’s going

on, we can talk when we need to, and that keeps us engaged,” explained Marla Marie Curran, a volunteer community outreach coordinator for Post 488. “The pandemic just kind of pushed us to do what we were already trying to implement.” Virtual Poppy Day and Memorial Day observances were conducted nationwide on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by American Legion posts and departments. The American Legion Media & Communications Division developed and promoted a “virtual poppy garden” on Instagram, where photos showcased the official flower of military sacrifice. American Legion leaders handled the organization’s business and delivered messages using Skype, Teams, Zoom, Webex and other platforms. National Commander Oxford gave video messages to members and staff while sheltering at home in North Carolina as his term was for the first time in American Legion history extended to a second year, due to cancellation of the national convention where the organization’s top leader is normally elected. All other national officers had their one-year terms extended, as well. Resolutions and decisions necessary to change, cancel or postpone national programs were also discussed and completed through video conferences and email in advance of what would have been the National Executive Committee’s Spring Meetings. Virtual platforms were not only used for business meetings. Palm Valley Post 233 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., expanded its use of Zoom to add a “virtual lounge”

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where members could safely socialize with one another from their personal computer screens or smartphones. “This is a pretty tight community,” Post 233 Commander Caroline Merillat said. “With all the people asking, ‘When are you going to open?’ and the interest in the Zoom meetings that we’ve had, we thought it might be a good way for people to at least be able to still connect from their homes.” The virtual lounge sessions typically drew 15 to 20 members early on. “For the people that really feel isolated, this is a really great opportunity not just to talk to someone, but to see their face. It’s as personal as it can be without being in person. I think that means a lot to quite a few of those people.” “I keep telling people it’s not so much where your building is, but where you build your community,” Riverside, Ill., Post 488 Commander Joseph Topinka explained. “If our community can be virtual, it’s still a giving community. It’s still people doing good things. You can be somewhere else, and you can still do something in the name of the post and in the

name of The American Legion.” The American Legion Department of Texas Boys State program, originally scheduled for June 6-12 on the University of Texas campus, went virtual by using Webex. The annual youth government program drew 659 participants, a little more than half the usual count of an in-person Texas Boys State. Even though the teens were not in each other’s physical company, they developed a different type of connection, virtually. Sean Varghese, sponsored by Post 178 in Frisco, Texas, wrote in an email that “the camaraderie aspect of Boys State, once again in spite of the lack of physical proximity, managed to creep its way into our conversations, and we would stay in calls for up to an hour just talking and getting to know each other. We made the most of what we were given and as a result, we were able to make unique and lasting friendships. I hope that one day we might run into each other and reminisce about the crazy experience that was Boys State 2020.”

The digital format may, in fact, have made for more civil discourse among Texas Boys State participants. “The juice of being there (in person) is immense, but because they’re home and having more sleep than they otherwise would, may have contributed in a way to an actual more hearty virtual experience,” Texas Boys State Chairman Casey Thomas observed. “I think we were pleasantly surprised at how more thoughtful and, frankly, more moderate a lot of positions were ... a lot of the bills were. There wasn’t this kind of knee-jerk response to clown or try to rile people up because they’re not physically present. There’s no cheering and giggles. I think because of that, people put more thought into what they were actually saying, so it was sort of an unexpected benefit.” Unusual as it was, the Department of Texas virtual Boys State fulfilled its mission, teaching young men how democracy works at the state level, giving them opportunities to debate issues, introduce legislation, run for office and conduct elections. Thomas said it took a team

After the May NEC meetings and national convention were cancelled, American Legion officers had to find new ways to continue to conduct business. The Fall Meetings were conducted virtually from Indianapolis. Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

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COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


American Legion posts effort – from the long“We can’t say, ‘Well, this to still hold professional term counselors of the year we can’t help you out meetings and complete program to “our younger because of COVID.’ We have to our business even folks that are savvy in the continue pushing forward and while adhering to social skills of social media and doing the best we can.” distancing.” technology” – to make it all Many departments had work. “What I appreciate South Carolina Past American Legion to revisit and revise their is we were allowed to take Riders Director L.Z. Harrison constitutions and bylaws this extraordinary team of to ensure that resolutions people, put our helmets suicides were reportedly climbing and other action – such as officer on, get in this mission, and give it fast in the time of COVID. The elections and postponements – the best shot possible,” Thomas national Americanism Conference made online were permissible. said. “I’m almost moved to tears of on Sept. 26 was also conducted Different states have different the volunteers who give their time virtually, attracting more than 850 rules, and National Judge Advocate to do this because they want to, online visits, as chairpersons of Kevin Bartlett recommended because it’s an American Legion other national commissions were consultation with department judge program that actually impacts pre-recording their remarks for the advocates to ensure laws in their lives.” NEC’s virtual Fall Meetings, using states allowed changes adopted American Legion department the audio app Ringr, to be shared through online or virtual methods; and national training programs through Zoom. if they didn’t have such provisions, also took advantage of videoSome Ohio Legionnaires were he recommended that changes conference technology. prepared for the organization’s to constitutional documents be Between Aug. 5 and Aug. 31, new virtual reality, but adjustments urgently considered. Nearly 100 national department service had to be made after it became members attended a Department officer training was conducted standard practice. “We have been of California webinar April 19 to virtually. In all, 238 American using Uberconference for the past discuss the amendment process Legion service officers, who few years to allow those who want for post bylaws and, according provide free representation for to dial in to our meetings to do so,” to an article in The American veterans applying for benefits, explained Holly Lewis, adjutant of Legion Dispatch, “illustrated the participated in the online Post 557 in Wintersville, Ohio, who importance of utilizing digital tools program. The American Legion’s researched various platforms for to conduct business in this time of National Membership Workshop different American Legion uses. social distancing.” in August successfully used “This was perfectly usable at the “Once we’re past the current the Microsoft Teams platform. time because we always had fewer pandemic situation, we will take The American Legion Media than 10 people dialing in. Now what we learned for all our efforts Alliance – a consortium of post, that everyone is going to have to and start preparing for when this district and department media dial in, we had to find a different may occur again,” explained Mark producers – kicked off an ongoing technology to meet our needs while Rice, chairman of the Department series of monthly virtual training still being cost effective – meaning of California Constitution & Bylaws sessions in June. The American free.” Her post ultimately chose Commission. “We also wanted the Legion’s TBI/PTSD Committee had Webex, but different posts have posts and districts to understand its first virtual meeting Sept. 21 different numbers of participants that department is working hard and heard from the White House and different needs and should to provide support so that we will action officer of the President’s review all available options, Lewis grow and prosper no matter what is Roadmap to Empower Veterans said, adding that the development thrown at us. This is how we Legion and End a National Tragedy of has been essential during the in California.” Suicide (PREVENTS) Task Force as pandemic. “This technology allows The American Legion’s Veterans the number of military and veteran

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Employment & Education Division also found ways to adapt to the pandemic, which derailed its massive annual veteran career fair normally conducted during the national convention. On Sept. 15, nearly 800 veteran and military family jobseekers from across the nation participated in a free virtual employment event with more than 220 hiring companies, presented by the national Veterans Employment & Education Commission, the American Legion Department of Texas, the Texas Veterans Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission. National Commander Oxford welcomed jobhunters with a video message, as did Veterans Employment & Education Commission Chairman Daniel Seehafer, from their homes in North Carolina and Wisconsin, respectively. Earlier in the summer, the VE&E Commission organized an online workshop featuring the leader of military and veteran services for LinkedIn, Sarah Roberts, who offered tips to set up effective professional profiles on the social media platform; The American Legion’s national LinkedIn page saw a surge in followers, to nearly 20,000, by the end of the summer, as social media connections grew in importance during the time of self-isolation. The American Legion Department of North Carolina scheduled its own virtual veterans career fair for Nov. 17, which drew 176 jobseekers from 19 different states, the District of Columbia and Japan. Other virtual veteran career events soon followed in early 2021. The new virtual reality also evolved at the local level. When the

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Merced County Fair in California was canceled due to the pandemic, hundreds of 4-H and Future Farmers of America participants were certain their opportunity to show and sell their animals was lost. Members of the community, led by American Legion Post 83 in Merced, gave the young exhibitors an alternative – a virtual livestock show. “The FFA and 4-H groups were concerned about their kids not being able to show their animals ... and not get their awards,” said District 12 Commander Gene Hamill, who was contacted to see if Post 83 had any programs that could help. “I told her that we do Children and Youth, and we also have an agricultural program. This is all about children, so this would be great for us.” The livestock show was streamed online with exhibitors creating videos of themselves with their animals, as if it were the actual fair. Post 83 helped raise money for awards and belt buckles for exhibitors, some of which were purchased with money raised from pick-up dinners sold by the Legionnaires. Hamill said the virtual livestock show was a “huge opportunity for our local post to get exposure, but also (to show) The American Legion overall as an (organization) that helps our communities. We’re here to be able to assist them in these tough times.” Teens for Veterans, a group of high school students that volunteers in support of Rayson Miller American Legion Post 899 in Pittsford, N.Y., performed a 40-minute virtual concert and posted it on YouTube in honor of those who have served in uniform.

“We Are Thinking of You” featured 11 teen musicians playing their instruments from home, while socially distancing. “These tough times are a reminder to reflect back on the sacrifices you have made to improve our country,” the concert’s YouTube description explained. “We are wishing you all to remain safe, to be happy and to stay healthy.” Isabella He, who founded Teens for Veterans in 2017, played Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major on her violin during the April concert, which was shown at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and shared through national American Legion social media channels. “Even though the world was – and is – in a dark place, I wanted to focus on an uplifting melody and spread happiness through music,” she said. “It was great to know that even though we are self-isolating, we are connecting with music. I just wanted them to know we were thinking of them.” A potentially serious casualty of the national convention’s cancellation was the annual Legacy Run, which had raised more than $11 million for the organization’s Legacy Scholarship Fund in a decade and a half. More than $3.2 million in scholarships had been awarded to the children of U.S. military personnel and veterans who either lost their lives or had been rated over 50% disabled by VA since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Legacy Run, which normally departs from a specified city and rumbles more than 1,000 miles on motorcycles and three-wheelers, winding up at the national convention city, is the marquee fundraising event for American Legion Legacy

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“Even though the world was – and is – in a dark place, I wanted to focus on an uplifting melody and spread happiness through music. It was great to know that even though we are self-isolating, we are connecting with music. I just wanted them to know we were thinking of them.” Isabella He, founder of Teens for Veterans, attached to Pittsford, N.Y., American Legion Post 899

Scholarships. The pandemic did not cancel the mission the American Legion Riders had fulfilled since 2006; it simply changed the way it would roll. “We can’t say, ‘Well, this year we can’t help you out because of COVID,’” South Carolina Past American Legion Riders Director L.Z. Harrison explained. “We have to continue pushing forward and doing the best we can ... It’s important to us to ensure that we donate money so these children will have a chance at a higher education. These families have paid a sacrifice, whether it’s the ultimate sacrifice or whether a parent is

disabled from their military service. They paid a sacrifice to their nation, so we can’t forget their children.” The Legacy Run donation window, which normally closes when funds are delivered onstage at the national convention, was extended to the end of 2020 so chapters across the country could conduct in-state rides that were scuttled in the spring due to the pandemic. “To see our Riders committed to raising funds for the kids, even through the many hurdles they have to face due to COVID-19, is inspiring,” national American Legion Riders Advisory Committee Chairman Mark Clark said. “What

impressed me the most is the level of coordination and organization that went into each ride, making sure that proper safety protocols were followed to keep the participants safe. One of the things I have always admired about ALR members is that no matter the challenge, they find a way to overcome it and always do so safely and professionally.” Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia had in-state Legacy Runs in July. Other departments, districts and chapters scheduled theirs for the months ahead while Legion Riders raised funds from local sources that had supported the scholarship in

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Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

“While COVID-19 has certainly impacted our ability to hold mass gatherings, it is not stopping our support for the children of those who died or were seriously disabled while serving our country since 9/11.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, in a message promoting the 2020 Virtual Legacy Run

previous years. “I went out to all our normal donors and said, ‘Look, we can’t do a ride right now, but that doesn’t take into account that these children still need help with their education,’” said Harrison, now director of American Legion Riders Chapter 6 in Richland County, S.C. “Our chapter alone, we collected $19,000. That is only through donations – members donating themselves and our corporate donors that we have.” A multi-tiered online giving platform for the 2020 Legacy Run was developed by the national Internal Affairs Division. Commemorative coins, shirts and an illustrated souvenir book recounting all 15 years of the run – with voices of gratitude from

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Legacy Scholarship recipients – were among the gifts donors could receive for contributing online. Chapters and departments across the land found ways to keep the event’s momentum going, regardless of the situation. “The Riders never gave up,” said Randy Gunn, the Virginia American Legion Riders East Regional assistant director, who had ridden in 12 national Legacy Runs. “Everyone kept saying, ‘We want to do it. We want to do it.’” On the way to raising a department record $32,000 for the scholarship fund, Virginia riders also enjoyed renewed camaraderie as the pandemic pressed into its fourth month. “This year, to me, it almost seemed like the ride was

also for everybody in the ride,” Gunn said. “I felt like the guys and girls who depend on me to organize this, there was more of a connection of, ‘Oh my God, thank you. We can do something together.’ Maybe that’s why we ended up with more money this year than we ever have.” “If there is one thing that we learned in 2020, it’s that great things can still be accomplished virtually,” Oxford wrote in an Aug. 18 Commander’s Update message on legion.org, promoting the virtual Legacy Run. “While COVID-19 has certainly impacted our ability to hold mass gatherings, it is not stopping our support for the children of those who died or were seriously disabled while serving our country since 9/11.” On Oct. 6, a contingent of American Legion Riders departed Hollywood Post 43 in California for a 2,300-mile journey called the Pony Express Ride. It concluded Oct. 13 at American Legion National Headquarters where participants gathered at a safe distance for a ceremony on the sidewalk and presented a collection of $83,562.67 for the Legacy Scholarship Fund to the national commander. Following the ceremony, Oxford returned to his office and prepared to lead the National Executive Committee’s Fall Meetings using Zoom. Among the resolutions adopted was one that would chisel a single motto into the organization’s identity going forward – The American Legion: Veterans Strengthening America. In light of the 2020 pandemic response, no phrase seemed more perfectly chosen.

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[SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE]

Socially distant Scout camporee gets Michigan boys outdoors In 2019, the American Legion Department of Michigan hosted its first-ever camporee at Wilwin Lodge at Cygnet Cove, a 1,183-acre property owned by the department and used for veteran relaxation and rehabilitation, as well as to give youth an enjoyable outdoor experience. Nearly 200 Scouts and Scout leaders took part in the camporee, a regional Scouting gathering, setting the stage for what was going to be an annual event. Then things changed. With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down much of Michigan, a 2020 camporee seemed unlikely. But the department still wanted to have a plan to host another camporee if restrictions started to lift. Thanks to that planning, more than 200 Scouting participants were able to take part in three concurrent, socially distanced camporees Oct. 16-18 at Wilwin Lodge. Department Scouting Committee Chairman Clyde A. Sinclair said the decision to host the camporee didn’t come without serious consideration for how to do it safely. “This year we struggled with the decision to proceed with a second camporee due to COVID-19, but knowing that the Scouts had been shut in all summer, we felt they would benefit from being outside,” Sinclair said. “Planning

began early in 2020 for the camporee even though the state was under lockdown. If the opportunity came, we wanted to be ready, so we began planning two independent and separate camporees, each with less than 100 Scouts, leaders and Legion staff.” Scouts and leaders had their own tents, unless they were with family members. Wilwin Lodge via Facebook Participants maintained social distance, and a health officer certified as an emergency responder was on hand for the duration. Regular temperature checks were taken. Sinclair said that all three camporees had identical “Star Wars”-themed activities, such as “Staying Warm on the Ice Planet Hoth” for a fire-building station, and “Knocking on the Front Door of the Death Star,” where Scouts were challenged to build a tripod battering ram. A geocaching course was called “Searching for Han Solo.” Having a facility like Wilwin Lodge also helped. “It gave us the ability to spread the campers out so that there would be no interaction between them,” Sinclair said. “Since the camporee, I have received many encouraging words of appreciation for our efforts. Scoutmasters and department personnel alike observed the Scouts playing and joking with renewed energy and enthusiasm.”

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T.J. Kirkpatrick/The American Legion

SACRED DUTY

Adjustments had to be made for The American Legion to salute heroes, observe patriotic moments and more.

T

he spring of 2020 presented challenges for The American Legion and its constitutional preamble oath to “preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in all wars.” Poppy Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July were coming, as were special commemorations in the summer and fall for the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end, Patriot Day, POW/MIA Day and Veterans Day. Other celebrations and acts of respect – including graduations, birthdays, hospital visits, funerals, memorial

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dedications and flag-retirement services – were destined to be different due to COVID-19. They would not, however, be forgotten by the American Legion Family. “When you look back over the course of our nation’s history, we’ve faced tons of adversity in the past,” said Cardington, Ohio, Sons of the American Legion Squadron 97 Commander Wes Goodman, after residents in his community displayed wreaths, signs and banners honoring late veterans and followed the Post 97 Memorial Day parade and ceremony

on Facebook. “We’ve celebrated Memorial Day in the middle of wars. We celebrated Memorial Day during a pandemic 100 years ago. We just felt strongly ... that it was important to find a way to meaningfully honor Memorial Day and to involve our community.” American Legion National Commander Oxford agreed. In May, he called for a Candles of Honor nationwide tribute to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and are no longer among us, including prisoners of war and personnel who remain missing in action. He

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


suggested a red candle to “We don’t do it remember those who fell for fame and glory. fighting, a white candle “to We just do it because keep our POWs/MIAs ever it’s the right thing to do.” in our thoughts and prayers as we await their return American Legion Past National home” and a blue candle to Commander Harold L. “Butch” Miller salute veterans who made it home but had since passed. “Memorial Day, for most of us, will local officials’ directives on social be different this year,” he said when distancing.” announcing Candles of Honor. Alternative ideas included drive“The meaning, however, does by Poppy Day celebrations with not change ... We must adapt and balloons and patriotic-themed overcome the pandemic in order giveaways; offering families the to pay our respects to the true flowers when making Buddy Check meaning of Memorial Day.” calls; distributing poppies while At dusk on May 25, porches delivering food to sheltering across the nation solemnly glowed veterans; sharing the poems red, white and blue. Candles of “In Flanders Fields” and “We Honor participants posted images Shall Keep the Faith,” recited in of their tributes on Instagram, videos by American Past National Facebook and other social media, Commanders John P. “Jake” Comer using #candlesofhonor to unite the and Denise M. Rohan, respectively, messages under one label. on social media; posting images in On the previous Friday, National the virtual Poppy Day garden on Poppy Day, The American Legion Instagram; and joining a Facebook and American Legion Auxiliary watch party to see the film “The united to urge different approaches Poppy Lady” about Moina Michael, for the annual observance and who started the movement in the activity – normally in-person, public distributions of red poppies to raise funds for disabled veterans, military personnel and their families, in memory of all who have died in service. “We understand it’s difficult this year for American Legion Family volunteers to distribute poppies as they normally would at storefronts and special events,” American Legion Auxiliary National President Nicole Clapp and National Commander Oxford said in a joint statement. “It’s important to know that the Legion and Auxiliary national organizations encourage distributions, but at the same time, we also ask volunteers to heed

United States after World War I. “Now, more than ever, American Legion Family volunteers should continue being a strong, visible force in their communities during these potentially isolating times of COVID-19,” Clapp and Oxford wrote. “Let’s unite the public and show them how much our veterans and current servicemembers mean to us. And when someone asks you about the poppy’s meaning, tell them, ‘For over a century, the American Legion Family has asserted that those brave men and women who wear the uniform, especially those who died in battle, will not be forgotten.’” Videos and social media proved essential in hundreds of Memorial Day observances across the country in 2020. American Legion Post 1009 in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., recorded a virtual tour of veterans and military memorials and monuments in the area and posted it on YouTube. Post 560 in Garden Oaks, Texas, also used YouTube to present a five-minute tribute to the fallen for Memorial Day. Dexter Allen Post 90 in Statesboro, Ga., conducted its Memorial Day ceremony onstage inside the Averitt Center, with no audience in attendance, and

North Carolina American Legion Post 46 Adjutant Rebecca Sotirkys salutes the flag after placing a Memorial Day wreath in a remembrance ceremony at Bayview Cemetery in Morehead City.

Katie Bailey/The American Legion

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“We work around things. We adapt. We improvise. We overcome.” Sayville, N.Y., Post 651 Adjutant David Isaacs George Etheredge/The American Legion

shared a video recording through multiple media channels. Hundreds of posts nationwide solemnly placed U.S. flags at the graves of veterans across the country, while maintaining social distance. Post 488 in Riverside, Ill., offered the public a free Zoom program May 25 featuring a video rendition of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which he spoke words that would inspire generations of Americans to take seriously the nation’s obligation to veterans: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan ....” Post 257 in Battle Creek, Mich., closely followed social distancing guidelines when leading Harper Creek High School students in a Memorial Day flag-placing event at Floral Lawn Memorial Cemetery. Litchfield, Minn., Nelsan-Horton Post 104 recorded a Memorial Day

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program for radio station KLFD that included a fife-and-bugle opening and patriotic music, a reading of the Gettysburg Address, a 21-gun salute, the sounding of taps and “God Bless America.” American Legion Post 184 in Wildwood, N.J., teamed up with the local police and fire departments for a drive-through parade May 24. In Cazenovia, N.Y., Post 88 streamed its Memorial Day ceremony live online, which included the annual reading of local veterans’ names who lost their lives in the past year. American Legion Post 637 in Millersport, Ohio, led a community car parade at the local cemetery, where approximately 200 veteran graves were marked with white crosses and U.S. flags. “We’re asking anyone who wants to witness the little ceremony to do so from the parking lot while staying in their vehicles,” Parma, Ohio, Post 572 Commander Tony Kessler told Cleveland.com of his post’s COVID-altered Memorial Day observance. “With everything that’s going on, we didn’t want to see Memorial Day get swept under

the carpet. To us veterans, this is probably as important (a) day as any that we have all year. We certainly want to make sure we show our respect.” The 100th Annual Corvallis, Mont., Memorial Day Parade had none of its usual floats, horses or marching units – just the American Legion Post 91 honor guard, which made the event look eerily similar to the first one, in 1920. Ten masked members of American Legion Post 302 in Oconto Falls, Wis., stood six feet apart in front of a new veterans memorial there, and motorists passed by, saluting them, on the morning of Memorial Day. Facially protected residents of a senior living center in Lafayette, Ind., stepped outside to watch a parade organized by Post 492 of West Lafayette that featured a 105-year-old World War II veteran who came ashore in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day. American Legion Post 16 in Shelton, Conn., organized a ceremony that featured buglers sounding taps on the DerbyShelton bridge, overlooking the

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Housatonic River. American Legion Riders Chapter 9 of Spokane, Wash., led a drive-through ceremony in Fairmount Memorial Park, followed by a parade of cars; 3,800 U.S. flags lined the route. Roger L. Wood American Legion Post 355 in Massachusetts teamed up with the Mendon Police Association, the fire department and the Massachusetts State Police to organize a convoy of police cruisers, fire vehicles and civilian autos that rolled through nearly every street in town. In Billings, Mont., Yellowstone Legion Riders of Chapter 4 rumbled through three cemeteries, none of which had an official Memorial Day ceremony this year due to the pandemic; chapter members paused at each site for a moment of silence, prayer and brief words while observing social distancing. Problem solving during the pandemic had emerged as a consistent agenda item for SmithWever Post 651 in Sayville, N.Y. Meeting and organizing through Zoom, the post had accomplished food drives and deliveries of PPE to front-line health-care workers. Cancellation of the town’s annual Memorial Day parade, usually attended by thousands, was yet another problem to be solved. The

post and its American Legion Riders chapter opted to place hundreds of wreaths at the gravesites of local cemeteries and conduct a Main Street ride through Sayville to pay respects at various memorial sites; community members joined the procession of what would become nearly 100 cars and motorcycles. “We work around things,” said David Isaacs, Post 651 adjutant and Legion Riders chapter director. “We adapt. We improvise. We overcome.” “I know times are difficult, but let us always remember the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy, battled the freezing temperatures in Korea, fought in the jungles of Vietnam, ascended the mountains of Afghanistan and cleared the streets of Iraq,” Hellerton, Pa., Post 397 Commander Eric Medei said during a Memorial Day service streamed on Facebook. “Let us never forget their sacrifices and the difficult times they had to endure. It really puts things into perspective.” The toll taken by the pandemic itself – and those on the front lines in health-care facilities – were also acknowledged by The American Legion on Memorial Day. “Now during the coronavirus pandemic, the most visible heroes are the

health-care professionals who are saving others and risking their own lives while doing so,” American Legion Past National Commander Clarence Hill said in a socially distanced Memorial Day ceremony at Atlantic Beach, Fla. “These heroes have much in common with the people we honor today, America’s fallen veterans. They are men and women who have sacrificed their own lives so others could live. They are both elite and ordinary. They are elite in sense of character ... giving your life so others could live is the ultimate definition of selfless. They are ordinary in the fact they represent the diverse fabric of our country.” American Legion Family members paid their respects to patients, residents and care providers at VA facilities and state veterans homes, from safe distances. Two months had passed since Los Angeles County imposed stay-at-home orders when Southern California American Legion Riders fell in with law-enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders in a “Salute to Heroes” tribute outside the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in May. The riders rolled in formation with emergency vehicles “to honor those who help our

Mike Goodnough of American Legion Post 302 in Oconto Falls, Wis., salutes during a drive-by Memorial Day observance adapted for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Roemer/The American Legion

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Corey Perrine/The American Legion

fellow veterans here at the veterans hospital and the veterans home,” explained Lt. Ernie Bille, an officer in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and commander of LA Sheriff’s Star American Legion Post 309. The group stopped in the parking lot, dismounted, stood at attention and saluted as the Marine Corps Color Guard presented the colors and the national anthem was sung. Police helicopters flew over the scene, followed by vintage planes from the World War II Condor Squadron. Patients, residents and caregivers watched from their windows as riders remounted, others returned to their vehicles, and they all rode slowly through the sprawling VA campus. Pennsylvania’s District 12 American Legion Family had provided holiday parties and regularly visited patients and residents in palliative and hospice

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Pennsylvania American Legion District 12 Canteen Fund representative Nicole Guest, from Plains Township, leads other District 12 members in “God Bless the USA’” during a patriotic Fourth of July concert for patients and residents at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center in Wilkes Barre, Pa.

care at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center for seven years. When the pandemic cut off access, the visits did not end; they just moved outdoors. The district’s American Legion Family staged salutes and played music within eyesight and earshot – including Memorial Day and Father’s Day gatherings – and

displayed signs to show their appreciation to veterans watching from inside the facility. “My mind has been reeling since (the pandemic) happened: how are we going to see (the VAMC residents)?” said Nicole Guest, a Navy veteran and member of American Legion Post 350 in Nanticoke. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to start doing something to give them something to look forward to each month.’ And they just love it.” Individual milestones were not forgotten. Sixty-seven-year Legionnaire Jake Williams was shocked on April 12 when members of the Post 246 Legion Family of Betterton, Md., rolled past his home in a procession to wish the Korean War and Vietnam War career Marine a happy 90th birthday. The Post 246 group was joined by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the Betterton Volunteer Fire

COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC


Department, the Volunteer Fire Company of Millington and the Easter Bunny. American Legion Riders of Arizona were among those who participated in an April vehicle parade in Tucson in honor of World War II veteran Manuel Cady’s 95th birthday. Maryland Legionnaires certainly did not want Gerald Greenfield’s 100th birthday to pass without their respects, so they presented him a pin and played “The Army Song” outside his home while friends and family members drove by in honor of the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran. North Carolina Legionnaires paraded before the home of World War II veteran Alex Moskowitz in May for his 97th birthday. World War II veteran Frank Filous had more than 100 friends show up in the parking lot of American Legion Post 703 in Parma, Ohio, for a socially distanced surprise 99th birthday party. In White Township, Pa., World War II Navy veteran John Palys received a 100th birthday driveby parade led by Carl B. Archer Post 528 of Belvidere, N.J., and

two Army vehicles, plus dozens of emergency vehicles, fire trucks and private cars. In Calhoun County, Texas, Korean War Army veteran Liborio Benavides celebrated his 90th birthday when members of American Legion Post 167 and VFW Post 4408 had a drive-by parade that included a gathering in his driveway to sing “Happy Birthday.” In June, members of American Legion Post 342 in St. Charles, Ill., took part in a drive-by parade of more than 100 vehicles to honor the 95th birthday of World War II Navy veteran Al Centofante. And members of Cowle Post 151 in Conneaut, Ohio, visited World War II veteran Herb Hopkins at an assisted living center there, to present him a pin and certificate for 75 years of membership in The American Legion. “We should have done this a couple of months ago, but we couldn’t get him down to the post (because of the coronavirus),” Post 151 Adjutant Tom Udell explained. American Legion Riders of Newton, Iowa, joined others in helping former World War II POW Robert Clark celebrate his 104th birthday. Post 626 in Gladstone,

Mo., and the Northland Elks Lodge united for a socially distanced 100th birthday celebration for World War II veteran Jim Dallas. American Legion Riders from Chapter 55 of Clermont, Fla., joined more than 100 vehicles in a September birthday parade for 95-year-old former World War II paratrooper John Bellefontaine. And when Vietnam War veteran Craig Kelly’s plans were canceled to join an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials – including the wall that bears the names of his fallen comrades – the Midwest Honor Flight arranged an alternative ceremony at Freedom Park in Sioux City, Neb., where a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was displayed, and area Legionnaires paid their respects. “A lot of these guys never get to see the Wall, either place,” South Sioux City Post 307 Commander John Ludwick said. “To see the Wall here – and to know that they’re remembered – is what this park is about. I’m sure (Kelly’s) feeling a lot of gratitude right now. I don’t think he quite expected what was waiting for him.”

Area Legionnaires didn’t want 100-year-old veteran Gerald Greenfield to miss celebrating his birthday, so they presented the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veteran with an American Legion pin and played “The Army Song” for him while a parade of friends and family drove by his house to wish him a happy birthday. via Facebook

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Missoula, Mont., American Legion Post 27 member and fire marshal John Angwin lays a retired flag to rest in the flames during a Flag Day ceremony.

An unseasonably cool June 13 evening and the tree-lined La Place recreational area in rural Greenfield, Ind., was the backdrop for a patriotic ceremony two years in the making that wasn’t going to be denied by COVID-19. With social distancing protocol in place, members of three Greenfield veterans service organizations – including Dale E. Kuhn American Legion Post 119 – came together on the eve of Flag Day to properly dispose of nearly 3,000 U.S. flags that were no longer serviceable. The flag-retirement ceremony has been an annual event for years, said American Legion Past National Commander Butch Miller, a member of American Legion Post 364 in Virginia who became active with the Greenfield Legionnaires after moving to Indiana. The 2019 ceremony had to be canceled because of weather, but with a recent virtual Memorial Day service successfully accomplished during the pandemic, Post 119 was ready to resume its Flag Day tradition, with precautions. “Having had that experience, this was a piece of cake,” Post 119 Communications Officer Kurt Vetters said. “And ... it’s our responsibility.” Post 119 teamed up with 40&8

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Tommy Martino/The American Legion

Voiture Locale 1415, Brewer & Culley VFW Post 2693 and the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard to conduct the ceremony that, Miller explained, is “a way of educating the public. A lot of people ... they don’t understand the proper way that you dispose of a flag. A lot of people just think if you fold it up all nice and neat and put it in the trash, that’s fine. It’s not. So, we do it every year. It’s for the education of the general public.

And it’s another way of showing the local community the veterans are here, and we’re doing a lot of things behind the scenes. We don’t do it for fame and glory. We just do it because it’s the right thing to do.” About 50 area residents watched the ceremony from a safe distance. It was also streamed live on Facebook. Another annual patriotic observance with widespread American Legion involvement

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is Independence Day, “With the adversity and which in 2020 had to be the disappointment, there’s celebrated in different always opportunity.” ways. The Old Glory Boat South Haven, Mich., Post 49 member Bruce Hatcher Parade, which had gone on for 70 years at Newport Beach, Calif., Driving/Walking Parade” after the was not canceled after Post 291 coronavirus halted plans for the made a plea to continue the Fourth normal Union County celebration. of July tradition and negotiated Bantam, Conn., Post 44 honored city permits in time to pull it off. deceased veterans, POW/MIAs and The American Legion Yacht Club’s members of the Merchant Marines water procession, which usually who served during World War II draws hundreds of spectators to in its Fourth of July observance; the harbor for the holiday, required a flag was placed above the All social distancing and added to its Wars Memorial Building there on red, white and blue theme a salute to USNS Mercy ship personnel, Army Independence Day, to fly through Aug. 1, in honor of Michael A. Corps of Engineers personnel who Walker, who was killed in the built alternate care facilities for Vietnam War. Minburn, Iowa, Past COVID-19 patients and frontline Post 99 Commander Steve Luellen health-care providers. carried the flag on his own through “It was a long shot to get a town on the Fourth of July after permit, but knowing how much this many years leading Legionnaires parade means to the city and the community, as well as our American in a local parade, which had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Legion Post 291 family, we knew Plymouth, Mass., Post 40 member we had to make a special appeal to Jay Beauregard rigged up a flagpole the mayor,” said American Legion and strap and walked, with help Yacht Club Commodore Bruce from his family, the traditional Batcheller, a member of Post 291. parade route in his historic city. “We recognize the parade won’t Daniel R. Olsen Post 594 in Eagan, have quite the impact as in years Minn., sponsored an Independence past with the loaded boats and Day blood drive at the local packed restaurants and beaches, community center, where members but it can be a well-timed shot in assisted donors with temperature the arm for our city and local area checks; 46 units of blood were that really needs something to look collected. Harrison County, W.Va., forward to.” Legionnaires had a Fourth of July Post 543 in Southport, N.C., weekend giveaway of take-home developed a series of online lollipop assembly kits for kids, and “Salute to Veterans” videos snack bags for first responders. honoring all branches of the U.S. In 2019, Van Veen-Van Hemert Armed Forces after the local Fourth American Legion Post 89 in Pella, of July Festival there was canceled. Iowa, had its first annual Fourth Post 410 in Mifflinburg, Pa., of July Ruck to collect food for organized a “Support Our Veterans

the Pella Community Food Shelf. That cause rose in significance in 2020. “Here in Pella, the (Food Shelf) is just completely zapped almost every day,” Post Executive Committee Member David Robbins said. “Our town to our south, Knoxville, their (food bank) is responsible for almost 25 percent of all of the Iowa food banks’ donations. And that was last year when we didn’t have COVID. I’m sure a lot of places are getting hit. A lot of people just don’t know what this year is going to bring.” Supporters – even if they did not march – brought backpacks and ruck sacks filled with about 380 pounds of provisions for the Pella Community Food Shelf. “With all the recent events going on, I don’t think we could ask for much more,” said Robbins, a 32-yearold Army 101st Airborne Division veteran and current staff sergeant in the Iowa Army National Guard. “Ruck marching ... it’s so easy to be socially distant. And it’s a wonderful exercise where you can carry on a conversation.” On July 5, an Illinois 18-yearold who enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school got a socially distanced send-off to basic training, thanks to American Legion Post 1247 in Buffalo Grove. Steven Hart received the escort from four Vernon Hills police cars and a Countryside Fire Protection District engine as he and his family left for Marine Recruiting Substation Lake County in Waukegan. Post 1247’s color guard led the entourage to the end of Hart’s block, where friends and family members stood outside to wish him well. Post 1247

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American Legion Adjutant Craig “We know their families. posts across Warner organized They’ve just been brokenhearted the country the event and had they’ve not even been able to have and around the no problem finding a service for their family members. world commonly other supporters. The theme just kept hitting my head over observe V-J Day, to “I called the police and over: Angels Among Us.” remember victory department. We over Japan and called the fire Grass Valley, Calif., American Legion Post 130 the end of World department. Adjutant Mike Hauser War II. The 2020 Everybody said, commemoration ‘We’re on board.’ was expected to It was very easy to be bigger than usual, to recognize organize.” 113 put out the call to its sponsors the 75th anniversary of the war’s The young Marine recruit was and other groups to assist with given an American Legion challenge alternative support efforts. Hygiene end, but the pandemic forced posts to change traditional ceremonies. coin before he departed, Warner items, snacks and drinks were In Arma, Kan., where one of The said. “I introduced myself and said, collected and then taken to base American Legion’s most renowned ‘What you’re about to do is going to staff for distribution while troops define your life. It’s going to define were in pre-deployment quarantine. V-J Day celebrations has occurred since 1946 – ultimately becoming a you as a man and a citizen. We just “We didn’t take a break because three-day annual event – Post 182 want to let you know that you’re not those soldiers don’t get to break,” kept the tradition alive with a small alone. We’re here for you.’” Garrett said. “And another thing we ceremony, which was a big change Hardin Post 113 Legionnaires don’t miss out on is families. That in Elizabethtown, Ky., make it a stuff we pass out isn’t just for those from the summer celebration that normally brings former residents priority to ensure that Fort Knox soldiers. It’s for their families. Their back to town each year for a soldiers deploying overseas or families are taking the hit for those community homecoming. “They coming home always know they are soldiers being gone. The tempo of were disappointed we couldn’t have appreciated. The largest post in the these soldiers going overseas is it this year,” said Raymond Vail, Post commonwealth, with nearly 1,300 very fast now. It’s hard on a family, 182 adjutant and past Department members, Post 113 displays flags at and we realize that.” of Kansas commander. “But it’s Sadowski Field House, distributes Following the cancellation of an understandable why we can’t.” drinks and snacks to the soldiers official retirement ceremony at Fort Emerson Marshall Sherwood and personally thanks each one; Carson, Colo., for Maj. Theodore American Legion Post 213 in the post has hosted cookouts for Sager after 24 years of service, Maryland Heights, Mo., modeled soldiers and has struck a special American Legion Post 2 in Pueblo its 2020 V-J Day observance on coin to pass out to those coming joined with local law-enforcement ceremonies of the previous 14 home from deployments. “We have officers, the fire department, years, when members recited all a great reputation on Fort Knox,” ambulance service and others to the names of military personnel Post 113 Commander Joe Garrett conduct a drive-by parade in his killed, for instance, in the Pearl said. “We also have a lot of insight honor. “In all, there were about Harbor attack and those who have into Fort Knox. Most of our folks 70 vehicles and 20 motorcycles,” lost their lives since 9/11, no matter here retired out of Fort Knox, so we Post 2 Adjutant Jay O’Niel said. how long the readings might take. know what goes on there.” “Both the VFW Warriors and It’s an emotional experience, Post The pandemic, however, American Legion Riders were suspended access for Legionnaires involved. There were also a number 213 Finance Officer Mike LeBlanc explained – one that has “an who were unable to conduct their of horses from the Pueblo West effect on most of the guys ... and a usual send-off for more than 800 Horsemen’s Association.” profound effect on me.” The post soldiers who deployed in July. Post In August and September,

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Whitney Curtis/The American Legion

has done live readings of the names of Korean War and Vietnam War dead, as well as those who perished on D-Day. For the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end, the post planned its most ambitious endeavor by reading the names of every U.S. servicemember who died during World War II – nearly 407,000; it would take more than 75 hours and require 10 different reciting stations. Originally planned for Memorial Day, the event was moved to V-J Day due to the pandemic. COVID-19 continued to loom over the plan, which had to be altered, and post members scaled it back to read the names of the 9,873 from Missouri who lost their lives in World War II. From there, the post planned to publicly continue reciting 5,000 names a day until the original mission was completed, to “take it in bite-sized chunks,” LeBlanc said after the first round of recitations. “We’ve got 390,000 names left.”

Marine Corps veteran Charles Scott, right, rings a bell as Michael LeBlanc, a member of Emerson Marshall Sherwood American Legion Post 213, begins reading the names of 9,873 Missouri military servicemembers who died during World War II, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day at Sylvan Springs Park in St. Louis.

Oklahoma Legionnaires streamed live on YouTube their Victory over Japan event at the Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow on Aug. 13. Legionnaires in Moosup, Conn., also used social media to share their recognition of the war’s end. The eight-community Salute to Veterans event in South Haven, Mich., every August became an Aug. 15 tribute to first responders,

health-care providers, essential workers and business owners. Also recognized were 2020 high school and college graduates, whose commencement exercises were wiped away in the spring. “With all the disappointment and adversity, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do something for the community?’” explained 23-year Post 49 Legionnaire Bruce Thatcher, who co-organizes the annual salute. “With the adversity and the disappointment, there’s always opportunity.” A noon flyover of World War II vintage planes was especially well-received, Thatcher said, as the summer of pandemic drifted toward fall. “We’re lacking on fun, just plain fun,” he said. “If it’s just for a few seconds when airplanes are flying over and everyone can look up ... it was heart-warming.” American Legion Family members in many communities had done what they could to congratulate the Class of 2020 in the spring after

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J.M. Giordano/The American Legion

commencements and graduation parties were canceled. Byron American Legion Post 119 in Minnesota displayed more than 150 U.S. flags, decorated the lawn in front of the post home and painted in large letters on a plywood board “GO BEARS” to honor the grads, each of whom was presented a flag from the post. “They’re losing their senior prom and graduation,” Post 119 Finance Officer Gordon Bishop said. “We wanted to cheer (the seniors) up somehow. That was the basis for this: try to get the students and the school and the parents something to cheer them up a little bit.” Byron Public Schools Superintendent Joey Page thanked Post 119 on Twitter, sharing photos of the display, and later said the post’s effort was an example of The American Legion’s character. “This national emergency has caused us, and especially our seniors, to miss out on being here with their friends,” Page said. “They have missed out on competing and

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cheering at academic and athletic events, school plays, band concerts, and so much more of what they have worked hard and waited for over the school year. To have the Byron American Legion Post 119 acknowledge our students is very special and exemplifies their creed of honor and service.” Members of American Legion Post 139 in Milford, Pa., honored 400 seniors of Delaware Valley High School who did not have commencement exercises by displaying at downtown storefronts 12-by-18-foot vinyl banners featuring pictures of the graduates. “The seniors deserve this, and we need to support them,” Post 139 Commander Connie Harvey said. “We felt one way to give back to the community was to bring attention to the businesses in town and to the seniors as they need to be recognized; they are our future. A lot of families are struggling at this time, so it’s about coming together as one to make this happen. As veterans, we really need to step up

to the plate and give back to the community.” Like Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July and V-J Day, Patriot Day was remembered differently on Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that plunged the nation into war. As appreciation grew about the roles of first responders and emergency care providers in the pandemic, they became the focus of patriotism for American Legion posts across the country. The vibe was reminiscent of the surge in nationwide respect given to emergency personnel who responded to the terrorist attacks nearly two decades earlier. Ronald Reagan-Palisades Post 283 in California teamed up with the Veterans National Entertainment Workshop to salute emergency workers of the pandemic by producing an online Patriot Day concert featuring first responders and military veterans performing original and popular songs. Stars of the concert were nurses, doctors, paramedics,

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Visitors to Maryland American Legion Post 200 walk past a 9/11 memorial to those killed at the Pentagon, along a path illuminated by LED candles marked with the names of POWs/MIAs.

police, firefighters and veterans, as well as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Band, the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, composer Jimmy Dunne and singer/composer Annie Bosko. Comedian and American Legion Post 43 Legionnaire B.J. Lange emceed the event, which included messages from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Tribal President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians Rudy Ortega Jr., former “M.A .S.H.” actress Loretta Swit and famed actor/impressionist Rich Little. The Patriot Day dinner served by Palmer, Alaska, Post 15 specifically honored first responders of 9/11. In Pike County, Ga., Post 197’s American Legion Family had its Patriot Day event outside the county courthouse and cast a spotlight on a local 9/11 memorial that honors the nearly 3,000 victims who died in the attacks, along with the 343 firefighters, 60 law-enforcement officers, eight medics and 55 members of the Armed Forces; the post also registered voters during the event. American Legion Auxiliary Unit

233 in Oak Grove, Ky., presented freedom flags to three local fire departments. Vass, N.C., Post 296 Legionnaires delivered certificates of appreciation to local fire stations and police departments as part of its Patriot Day activities; a “Pony Express” of Legion Riders dispatched them, documenting their travels for the 100 Miles for Hope challenge to benefit the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation. First responders in Texas ate free cooked-to-order breakfast tacos on Patriot Day, thanks to Seguin’s H.U. Wood Post 245. In Spearfish, S.D., the Black Hills Chapter of the American Legion Riders spent Patriot Day honoring the victims of the 9/11 attacks and first responders, and finished its 100 Miles for Hope challenge in a celebration of life, in memory of one of their riders killed five years earlier in a motorcycle accident. The chapter kicked off the ride with a salute to the staff at Fort Meade VA Healthcare Center. American Legion posts, Auxiliary units and Sons of The American Legion squadrons across the country conducted candlelight vigils, placed and lit luminaries, heard and gave speeches, dedicated memorials, planted flags and sounded taps to remember the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since Dec. 7, 1941. “We should never forget the day we were attacked and lost so many lives, so we honor those who were lost,” New Palestine, Ind., Post 182 Vice Commander Mike Fowler told the Greenfield Daily Reporter after a Patriot Day ceremony at the Southern Hancock Veterans Memorial attended by more than 50 socially distancing spectators,

including several first responders. “There were (nearly 3,000) people 19 years ago who were eating their last meal last night but didn’t know it. And families who would be looking at an empty chair the next day. A lot of people don’t think of that. We need to remember that and remember the firemen and policemen who were rushing in to try to get those people out.” Victims of the virus were also remembered by The American Legion. At the Javits New York Medical Station in New York City, after a veteran died from COVID-19 there in mid-April, area Legionnaires made sure he and other local veteran victims of the pandemic had U.S. flags for their caskets and proper military honors by personnel of Unified Command/ Incident Command Javits during the transfer of remains. Regulations restricting group gatherings during the pandemic canceled or postponed funerals for thousands of families across the country. The ability to provide full military honors in services for veterans was hampered in most places, if not impossible. That reality weighed on Frank Gallino American Legion Post 130 Adjutant Mike Hauser of Grass Valley, Calif. The Vietnam War veteran said he had been trying to absorb the pandemic’s effects, globally, nationally and locally. As area veterans passed away from COVID-19, he grew deeply concerned. “We know their families,” he said. “They’ve just been brokenhearted they’ve not even been able to have a service for their family members. And the other thing that kept hammering on me ... is that

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(members of the community) were looking out for everybody else. The theme just kept hitting my head over and over: Angels Among Us.” So, Post 130 organized a Sept. 26 Angels Among Us Remembrance Day at Memorial Park in Grass Valley, where the names of area veterans who died from COVID-19 were read aloud, and tribute was paid to essential workers and others whose lives were lost or affected by the pandemic. A bell rang as each name was read. The post honor guard delivered a 21gun salute. Family members of the fallen attended, observing social distancing rules. Adaptation to the pandemic was the theme of most American Legion Veterans Day commemorations in 2020. “We can’t forget about our comrades,” Oxford, Calif., American Legion Post 108 Americanism Chairwoman Sarah Eisenhardt said. “It’s important to make sure that everybody is doing OK, especially our older vets. We want them to know they’re not alone, and we’re still working behind the scenes on their behalf.” She and her children wrote 270 personal Buddy Check cards thanking local veterans, inviting them to dinner and letting them know someone cares. American Legion Riders in California’s Districts 9 and 10 joined forces to conduct a nocontact, socially distanced ride to make up for a canceled Veterans Day parade in San Leandro. They visited VA health-care facilities where patients were quarantined due to the pandemic, flying 3-by5-foot U.S. flags behind their bikes. Porterville, Calif., Post 20 had a virtual Veterans Day parade that aired on regional television;

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video was shot using mounted and handheld cameras, as well as a drone, in the Porterville Veterans Memorial building parking lot. Madison, Ala., American Legion Auxiliary Unit 229 sent cards and letters to isolated residents of Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville for Veterans Day. Post 488 in Riverside, Ill., conducted a virtual Veterans Day program on Nov. 11 that included a historian’s portrayal of President Ulysses Grant. In Thomaston, Maine, masked members of WilliamsBrazier American Legion Post 37 conducted their annual Veterans Day celebration while maintaining social distance. American Legion Auxiliary Unit 72 in New Albany, Miss., coordinated a project to lay out a 3,000-candle luminary trail to honor veterans; bags were decorated by local schoolchildren. An American Legion-involved socially distanced Veterans Day ceremony in Rockingham, N.C., included a local Hometown Hero Award for Sgt. William Lunceford, whose homecoming from a fourth tour to Kuwait was delayed six months due to COVID-19. Beckley, W.Va., Post 32 worked with city officials and others to conduct what they called a “reverse Veterans Day Parade” where entries lined up at the Beckley-Raleigh County Memorial Airport and stayed in place while spectators drove by. Hollywood, Calif., Post 43 continued its pandemic-spurred drive-in theater program with a Veterans Day showing of “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and kicked off a month-long food drive for a nonprofit group that supports homeless and low-income residents with food, clothing, life-skills

education, employment and housing. “Our presentation of ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ is a celebration of veterans everywhere,” Post 43 Legion Theater Director Bill Steele said. “We are proud to be able to bring the public and veterans together during a pandemic and honor those who have served our country, in war and peace.” Members of Hays, Kan., American Legion Riders Chapter 173 led a Nov. 6 Veterans Day parade with students of Roosevelt Elementary School, who made signs and waved flags as local veterans drove past; COVID-19 concerns had canceled the school’s annual Veterans Day dinner and program. Weehawken, N.J., American Legion Post 18 spent much of Veterans Day doing Buddy Checks. Edgar M. Boyd Post 37 in Williston. N.D., teamed up with Cherry Creek Media to present a virtual Veterans Day ceremony live on the post’s Facebook page and 660 KEYZ. Adjutant Dan Brown told the Williston Herald that Post 37 wanted to do something to honor veterans, despite the pandemic. “These are our veterans,” he said. “It’s who we support. It’s what we do. We do everything we can to let them know that we’re still here for them, and that their service is appreciated.” In Hilliard, Ohio, the Veterans Day parade was canceled, but William R. Schnug Memorial Post 614 continued its tradition of free ham and bean meals, this year allowing only carryout. Beech Creek, Pa., Post 623 joined with PA Skill and Jack Houser Amusement to provide 600 free hoagies to veterans and their guests via a COVID-safe drivethrough system. Warren, R.I., Post 104 and American Legion Auxiliary Unit 11 converted their Veterans

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Wreaths Across America program perseveres

Denise L. Henhoeffer/The American Legion

The annual Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery did not look likely in 2020, due to COVID-19. A November decision to call it off was reversed by Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy after discussions with the Maine-based program that supplies wreaths for graves of veterans across the nation, often with support from American Legion posts that collect donations and pledges to place them in local cemeteries. Nationwide,

Day into an assistance mission to collect and provide clothing items, hygiene products, stamps, gift cards and comfort items to residents of the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol and other veterans who live in local nursing homes. Cleburne, Texas, Post 50 staged a drive-by parade to honor veterans at six area nursing homes. And what started as an idea to bring Veterans Day to local communities unable to conduct ceremonies because

the activity made for a good holiday break from stress and other difficulties caused by the pandemic. “We were going to do whatever we had to do,” said Evelyn McSherry, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 153 in Wisconsin, whose wreath-placing program went forward amid restrictions. “It seems to be very, very important to the donors that they participate every year. They all have their own reasons.”

of the pandemic turned into a ride involving more than 100 motorcycles to honor the state’s veterans, thanks to efforts of California District 9 and 10 American Legion Riders. “This was the only opportunity we had (to observe Veterans Day), in lieu of the fact we can’t have parades or anything like that,” said David Leavitt, District 10 American Legion Riders director. “Being on motorcycles, we can gather. We flew the flags. We rode through all

the downtown areas. People were smiling, waving, happy to see us.” The ride passed through Oakley, Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Danville, Pleasanton and Livermore, with quick stops at the Martinez VA Medical Center and the Palo Alto VA Medical CenterLivermore. “Those guys inside the VA hospitals ... are pretty much on lockdown,” Leavitt said. “It was not only heartwarming to see them, it was kind of like tearful.”

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[SNAPSHOT OF SERVICE]

Responsibility accepted by South Phoenix American Legion Family On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019, Travis L. Williams American Legion Post 65 in Phoenix invited Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr., senior pastor at First Institutional Baptist Church, to give an address. His speech challenged those in attendance to “lift, lower, smooth and straighten” ZIP code 85040, which includes part of South Phoenix, by MLK Day 2020. It was a call to strengthen the community, and Post 65 answered by developing projects and initiatives involving local youth, law enforcement and veterans. When the pandemic struck, members of Post 65 saw their efforts with the HeroZona Foundation and municipal groups as an extension of that challenge. Those efforts soon included thousands of free, safe drive-through tests for COVID-19, and using the post restaurant as a resource to feed area residents in need and at risk for infection. Arizona had been hard-hit. On July 8, the state reported more new positive tests for COVID-19 than the entire European Union. Blacks and Hispanics were also statistically more likely than others to become infected and die of COVID-19. “For us, it’s our fiduciary duty to serve the community that we reside in,” said Post 65 2nd Vice Commander Alan “A.P.” Powell, a Gulf War veteran and co-founding chairman of HeroZona. “Those ZIP codes have been underserved, and we want to make sure that they have the same assets and make sure that we can contribute to them. If we have the ability, we have the responsibility.” According to the organization’s website,

HeroZona’s mission is “to create and empower heroes in our community.” The foundation stimulates entrepreneurship, employment and education, and one of its most dedicated and trusted allies is Post 65. The foundation specifically identifies veterans, first responders and “those that bring social good to our future generations and under-served communities” as teammates in the effort. Powell said Post 65’s commitment to community assistance and collaborations with HeroZona made it easier to stand up and activate a COVID-19 testing site. “We have such a following in the community and the respect ... for being the post that gets stuff done,” Powell said. With no high-capacity COVID-19 testing conveniently available in South Phoenix, where the majority of residents are African-American or Hispanic, the post realized something needed to be done. Post 65 Commander Jarvis Reddick said testing originally was going to be conducted inside the post home. After plans were publicized, it quickly became clear the Legionnaires would need a much larger venue. Powell reached out to South Mountain Community College and secured a new location. Salt River Project Power and Water, Maricopa County’s District 5 and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry were summoned to assist. Testing would be performed by Lab24, a familyowned, Florida-based laboratory that operates nationally. Funding for the effort came as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic

“Families that received the meals were grateful and commented on how flavorful they were, and that made us feel good.” Phoenix American Legion Auxiliary Unit 65 member Michelle Daniels

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“If we have the ability, we have the responsibility.” Phoenix American Legion Post 65 2nd Vice Commander Alan “A.P.” Powell

Ash Ponders/The American Legion

Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law on March 27. The testing effort began in early July. Word spread, and lines of motorists began to form. The operation soon expanded from two days a week to four 10-hour days a week. Reddick said he was initially surprised by the high demand. “I had no idea it was going to be that big. There are other testing sites around, but our site is offering free testing and no pre-registering.” The impact of the HeroZona-Post 65 alliance didn’t really hit Reddick until area and national media outlets started covering it, and he saw the reactions of community members partaking of the service. “Then it dawned on me that this is bigger than even I’m thinking it is ... In my eyes, we’re helping the community. But in other people’s eyes, we’re doing something that is life-saving for them.” Powell said the COVID-19 testing initiative is simply an extension of his military service. “I fought

in Desert Storm, and now I’m fighting on the innercity streets of South Phoenix,” Powell said. “We try to uphold all the principles of The American Legion and the pillars of The American Legion. Our mission is we all served our country. Now we serve our community.” American Legion Auxiliary Unit 65 took up a comparably effective mission to provide local COVID relief. Unit member Michelle Daniels, who owns the All About Food restaurant inside the Post 65 home, applied to become a Feed Phoenix Initiative provider to help struggling residents through the pandemic. By mid-August, Post 65 American Legion Family members were preparing and packaging 150 meals a day, using locally sourced vegetables and other healthy ingredients. “Families that received the meals were grateful and commented on how flavorful they were, and that made us feel good,” Daniels said. “When you’re able to get your hands on something that is nutritious, and it makes you feel good, it may be comforting. It means a lot.”

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“The coronavirus has made this year challenging for all of us. However, this is a way in which we can demonstrate The American Legion Family’s unyielding support to our nation’s heroes, military families and the communities in which they live. I encourage all squadrons to participate how they deem most appropriate.” Sons of The American Legion National Commander Clint Bolt, in an Aug. 4 message urging participation in the 100 Miles for Hope challenge, in support of the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation.

100 MILES FOR HOPE

The commander’s challenge to get outside, exercise and support an important cause swept the nation in 2020.

Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

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“We have been cooped up and self-isolating for so long that the 100 miles is a way to reintroduce exercise to Legionnaires and the country. In addition to what we gain from the exercise, we hope to gain some much-needed donations for our Veterans & Children Foundation.” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, launching the 100 Miles for Hope Challenge on Aug. 3, 2020 Charles Mostoller/The American Legion

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merican Legion Media & Communications Division Deputy Director Henry Howard woke up one morning in July, laced up his shoes and went for a run. It was a daily routine for the 51-yearold long-distance competitor and certified running coach. But nothing about this year was routine. No races to run. No commute to the office. Planning the week’s media program with staff was handled through video conferences. Like everyone, he was in the semi-limbo of waiting for the pandemic to end, whenever that might happen. Like most American Legion National Headquarters employees, Howard had been working primarily from home during the pandemic. Running along a trail near Lafayette, Ind., thinking about a summer of lost competitions, an idea occurred to him: “What if we developed a virtual run or walk that would give American Legion Family members a safe and healthy physical outlet, given everything that is going on?”

That was the genesis of 100 Miles for Hope, a challenge for American Legion Family members and supporters to cover 100 miles any way they chose in the 100 days leading up to Veterans Day. The idea addressed a key finding from The American Legion’s COVID-19 survey: over 25% of respondents reported that “physical activity” was the best way to address emotional well-being during the time of self-isolation. National Commander Oxford had also made the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation a top priority when he was elected in August 2019. The foundation provides funds to assist and train more than 3,000 accredited American Legion service officers, who provide free VA benefits representation for veterans and their families; it also supplies the national Temporary Financial Assistance program with money for cash grants to assist military and veteran families with

children at home, who are facing unexpected financial hardships. Oxford was completely onboard with 100 Miles for Hope as a way to fund those two important American Legion functions. “We have been cooped up and self-isolating for so long that the 100 miles is a way to reintroduce exercise to Legionnaires and the country,” he said as he kicked off the challenge on Aug. 3. “In addition to what we gain from the exercise, we hope to gain some much-needed donations for our Veterans & Children Foundation.” One week later, nearly 2,000 participants had registered to log 100 or more miles before Veterans Day. They were encouraged to choose their own mode of propulsion – foot, pedal, hoof, paddle, motor, whatever  – and record their mileage to reach the goal. Each registrant was sent a bright red performance tech shirt and a sign that read “I DID IT!” to display when posting images of

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“Aug. 3, and here I go!” Army veteran Angel Faulkner as she kicked off her 100 Miles for Hope journey

Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

themselves on social media and legion.org/legiontown. The day the announcement hit the national website and social media, participants began sharing their plans, stories, accomplishments and enthusiasm. “Aug. 3, and here I go!” wrote Angel Faulkner of Avon, Ind., on the Legiontown platform. “As a retired female Army veteran, I am going the 100 miles for hope. Wish me luck as I go through the miles!” The timing of the challenge couldn’t have been better for John Piechowski and Donald Weigend of Wisconsin, who had already planned a 200-plus-mile bicycle ride as part of a vacation with their wives the first week of August. “Any time I see an organization helping our fellow veterans, I’m interested in how I can help their cause,” said Piechowski, a member of Post 486 in Jackson, Wis. “When I read that this fundraiser was focused on helping veterans and their families in financial crisis and supporting service officers, I felt like it was a no-brainer.” The pair of friends signed up, started their 223-mile

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journey Aug. 4 and wrapped it up Aug. 7. There were walkers, runners, bicyclists, canoers, kayakers, golfers, treadmillers, equestrians and motorcycle riders. One woman was pushed 100 miles in her wheelchair. Participants shared how 100 Miles for Hope had given them the boost they needed to get outside and exercise; many recorded pounds they lost as excitedly as the miles they traveled. Some walked dogs. A veteran in Alaska pushed a baby stroller past a pair of young moose. Legion Riders made it a chapter activity in some communities, easily covering the 100 miles in single-day motorcycle excursions. Air Force veteran and Virginia Legionnaire Rob Wilkins used his role as a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition to applaud and promote the program as he set and easily surpassed the 500mile goal he set for himself. “As a member of The American Legion for many years, when I saw that initiative, I thought, ‘How could I not join? How could I not be a

part of this?’ Something that I have believed in for many years ... something positive.” Piechowski, who had been bicycling regularly for about a dozen years but really picked up the pace during the pandemic, aimed to hit 2,000 miles in all by the end of 2020. “It has become a great outlet to disconnect from work and get better focus,” he said. “Especially now that I’m working from home full time, biking has been a great way to decompress. Physically, I am in the best shape I’ve been since I got out of the Army in 1990.” By registering online through American Legion Emblem Sales, participants received their shirts and signs, and about half the $30 registration fee went directly to the foundation. Many participants made additional pledges or donations, and some used the initiative to raise funds for other uses. Michael Hall and Keegan Leonard of La Jolla High School in California collected additional pledges to help the District 22 American Legion Junior Shooting Sports program, of which they are participants; they also

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used the running challenge to help them prepare for candidate fitness assessments to apply for military service academies. Those who completed the 100 miles could download a certificate signed by the national commander. “Now through Veterans Day, you’ll likely find me walking,” Oxford wrote in a message to the membership Aug. 26. “I’m walking with a purpose. I’m walking for our nation’s veterans and youth ... Why 100 days? Walkers can break that number down to a mile a day, roughly 20 to 30 minutes. That happens to be the activity level many health experts recommend. If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time to join the challenge. It really doesn’t matter how you cross that 100-mile threshold. We just want you to join us in strengthening our Veterans & Children Foundation, so that we can provide American Legion service officers the training they need and continue to support military families with Temporary Financial Assistance grants.” Aug. 7, 2020 After a few false starts, I’m happy to finally have commenced my 100-mile journey at my favorite San Diego hiking trail. The main entrance at Cowles Mountain takes you along a zigzag 1.25-mile route. The trek ends at a 1,594-foot summit and spectacular 360-degree views of San Diego proper. With the necessary descent and the lengthy return hobble/walk to my vehicle, I’m estimating three miles contributed to this venerable cause. – Benjamin Holmes, San Diego Ohio American Legion Auxiliary Unit 421 member Cindy Boehnlein said she “jumped at the chance to

participate. I needed to challenge myself physically and to fundraise for accounts my unit doesn’t usually donate to ... I have even gotten my husband to participate for the 100, and I am seeing a change in his health for the better.” Inspired by the support her son and daughter-in-law received from an American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance grant to help pay for a spinal surgery, Boehnlein set a goal of 700 miles and sought additional pledges from friends and family to divide equally between the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation and the American Legion Auxiliary Emergency Fund. Murrieta, Calif., Post 852 member Charlie Parker, 75, had not been able to use his legs since a series of freak accidents about three years earlier permanently injured his

spine and put him in a wheelchair. To swim, he places a flotation device between his legs and uses only his arms to make seven strokes per lap in a 45-foot pool. He calculated in September that upon finishing the 100 Miles for Hope challenge, he would have made 84,000 arm revolutions. “People can walk 100 miles easily, people can bicycle 100 miles even easier, people could run or motorcycle ride 100 miles even easier,” Parker said. “Other than Olympic swimmers, which I was not, very few people swim more than a few hundred yards in a day. I have been a swimmer most of my life (and) I like doing things for other people, so there is my inspiration. The choice to swim 100 miles is because that’s the only thing I can do, and it gives me a personal challenge.”

“The choice to swim 100 miles is because that’s the only thing I can do, and it gives me a personal challenge.” Charlie Parker of Murrieta, Calif., Post 852

Jeric Wilhelmsen/The American Legion

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Corey Perrine/The American Legion

Havre de Grace, Md., Post 47 Commander Michael Bush organized a 10-mile flotilla for kayakers participating in the 100 Miles for Hope challenge.

Parker’s lower-spine injury occurred after he fell out of a car while assisting someone trying to rescue a stray dog. He does not let his condition, nor the pandemic, deter his commitment to a healthy future. “Exercise is extremely important to me because if I don’t keep myself in good physical shape, my life is going to hell in a handbasket,” the Navy veteran said, noting that he also is the primary caregiver for his wife. He handles the majority of the grocery shopping, cooking and setting up medical appointments, plus

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other regular household tasks. “My philosophy is if I don’t take care of myself, I certainly can’t be expected to take care of her.” Aug.10, 2020 Yesterday, Aug. 9, 2020, my walk in support of The American Legion’s 100 Miles For Hope – for the Veterans & Children Foundation – had me visiting VFW’s Post 10060, Montville, Conn., American Legion Post 112, Montville, and American Legion Post 9, New London, Conn., where I am a past post commander. It was a long day, but I did manage to walk 35.9 miles, bringing my total so far to 51.5 miles walked in support of The American Legion’s Veterans & Children Foundation. – Pierrerobert Sampeur Sr., Uncasville, Conn. Aug. 12, 2020 My walking partners and myself started on Aug. 5 and have already finished 58 miles so far. My wife

has finished hers in her wheelchair with her health-care provider as the walker. By the time the finish comes, we will have more than enough miles. I will be working with my post to get them walking. – Martin Lawrence, Post 407, El Paso, Texas Aug. 21, 2020 Finally finished my 100 miles on 8/20/2020. The weather cooperated and my chores around the house were completed, so I did the last 25 miles. #100MilesForHope Will be starting the next 100 miles tomorrow. – Maurice E. Tobin Jr., Lincoln, R.I. Aug. 22, 2020 I am a Gold Star Dad running in honor of my son, Army Sgt. Rhys W. Klasno, KIA 13 May 2007 in Haditha, Iraq ... I’m a 69-year-old Marine veteran who just had open-heart surgery on June 13. I am just starting a walking regimen, with two miles

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per day. This 100-mile commitment may take me a while, but I will make the Veterans Day deadline. Semper Fi. – Michael Klasno, Kingwood, Texas “It had been a couple of years since I actually had my kayak out,” said Michael Bush, commander of Joseph L. Davis Post 47 in Havre de Grace, Md. “I’ve had the kayak for 10, 12 years. Prior to that, I’ve been canoeing all my life, in the Boy Scouts or with my 20-year-old son, who is an Eagle Scout.” For one portion of his 100 Miles for Hope, Bush and three others from his post dusted off the paddles and shells and set off for a 10-mile, three-hour voyage on the Susquehanna River, situated between the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground and Perry Point VA Medical Center, wrapping up the day at Post 47. “The 10 miles is challenging, but I’ve done stuff in the past that is longer and more challenging,” the Army veteran said. “It was a beautiful morning. The tides were in our favor, and we had a strong tailwind the whole time. We made good time.” Bush said he encouraged others to take the challenge, including a retired Air Force veteran who is an avid runner and a Navy veteran who said she planned to kayak the entire distance. “They have exceeded my total so far,” said Bush, who as of Sept. 14 had kayaked 68 miles himself. “I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do.” To him, though, it wasn’t a competition. “I’m really enjoying the trips. It’s such a beautiful area around the Susquehanna River. There is a lot of wildlife and some

of the mornings when I am out by myself ... it is just extremely peaceful and very enjoyable, an opportunity to reset the mind from the trials and tribulations of the workday.” Aug. 24, 2020 A full schedule toward my 100 miles. On Wednesday, I rode horseback for six miles and a two-mile hike in Sequoia National Park. On Thursday, I did another two-mile hike. On Friday, I did three miles of run/ walk in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Sunday, I rode my bike for 17 miles. Now up to 45 miles total, almost halfway there. – Michael E. McCaffery, Los Angeles Sept. 4, 2020 My dachshund, Daisy, and I completed 100 miles, and we will be working toward another 100 miles. We enjoy walking three miles early each morning and are excited for this opportunity to participate in a great cause! – Kim Kreft, La Vergne, Tenn. Sept. 7, 2020 Retired U.S. Army master sergeant and second vice commander of Post 15, Kent, Wash., completed the first 100 Miles for Hope along with my wife Irene and dog Chip! We started on Day One and averaged about five miles a day walking the trails around Kent. Completed on 9/1/2020. Starting on our next 100 miles! – Chriss R. Moen, Kent, Wash. Sept. 28, 2020 I and my dog Lucy did our 100 miles in 20 days. – Ed Pulver, Del City, Okla.

Sept. 27, 2020 I accepted the challenge of Commander Oxford. Buster, our 5-year-old Rottweiler, and I walked five miles a day for 20 of 21 consecutive days. We had to take a day off so I could have cataract surgery. Posted it on my FB page. – James V. Scariot Sr., Henderson, Nev. Sept. 21, 2020 After finishing a virtual Bataan Death March (rucked 60.1 miles) in July, I was happy that The American Legion came up with #100MilesForHope and signed up immediately. I started off slow, just walking the dog a mile a day. After my kids went back to school, I decided to pick up the pace. I continued to walk the dog one mile but started to run as well. Then I added a mile ruck (weighted backpack). Soon I was walking, running and rucking three miles a day. As always, life can get in the way - I lost six days of workouts when my daughter was unexpectedly hospitalized. She recovered and is doing well. I set a goal to try to finish the 100 miles before another Legionnaire (unbeknownst to him). Then I realized day 50 of #100MilesForHope was coming up, and I wanted to finish by then. I had to really put the miles in the last few days but met both goals. I ended up walking (with and without the dog) about 62 miles, running 25 and rucking 13. – Kimberly Biggerstaff, Spring, Texas American Legion service officers do much of their work behind closed doors, in order to protect

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the privacy of veterans and families in need of assistance with health care or disability benefits. They respond to stressful situations, volumes of government rules and personal dilemmas that call for veteran-to-veteran compassion and professionalism. “In small towns and big cities, our accredited service officers help veterans navigate the confusing, sometimesfrustrating process of receiving the benefits they earned in service to our nation,” Oxford explained in September. “Quite often, this assistance goes beyond paperwork, as service officers steer veterans in the grip of depression out of some of their darkest moments.” Courtney VanZanten, commander of Arthur T. Peterson American Legion Post 136 in Chester, S.D., and Department of South Dakota service officer, explained that she had met with many veterans who were at risk of harming themselves as the pandemic wore on. “I had a veteran who was dealing with a lot of stress reach out earlier this year,” she explained, in reference to a former servicemember who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suddenly felt more isolated than ever. “We were able to get him admitted to a short-term mental health clinic. He is doing well now, and I am relieved

he got the help he needed, both from a mental health perspective and a TFA grant.” VanZanten, a former Air Force captain, welcomed 100 Miles for Hope for more reasons than the services it supports. She also accepted the challenge, for herself. “It felt great ... 2020 has been chaotic at best, and having a goal seemed to put some normalcy and routine back into my life,” she said. “Walking 100 miles pushed me to be outside in nature, away from the computer and phone screens, and in the moment.” She reached 100 miles on Sept. 22, the halfway point of the 100-day challenge. “Mindfully putting an hour or so aside for self care is something that all young parents should do – it was good for my soul and my health. Not only that, I managed to get my three children to join on many of my walks ... it was neat to participate as an American Legion family.” The life of a service officer, she explained, can be rewarding and exasperating. “I absolutely love my work. Serving my fellow veterans is truly my life’s calling. Every day,

I get to help people navigate their benefits they earned through service to our nation. What could be better?” The pandemic contributed to the usual stress of the job, but that made her work all the more important, she said. “It can be incredibly exhausting some days. Veterans come in struggling with substance abuse. Others fall behind on their bills and are not sure what to do. Some are experiencing stress-induced nightmares about their combat experience again. Others want to put final affairs in order because of a recent cancer diagnosis. Some are frustrated and angry with a VA denial. I see many people during a lot of low moments in their lives. It can be emotionally taxing work, but I know it is absolutely necessary.” She said national American Legion Veterans & Children Foundationfunded service officer training helps her do her job efficiently and effectively so she is “better equipped to handle the tough days.” By the time VanZanten reached 100 miles, more than

Michael “Monkey” Killion, secretary of Temecula/ Murrieta, Calif., Chapter 852, joined other Ameican Legion Riders for their 100-mile journey on motorcycles. Michael Hjelmstad/The American Legion

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4,200 others had registered to take the challenge. “To the other participants supporting #100MilesForHope, and therefore investing in continually educating veterans service officers such as myself, thank you,” she said. “We are better veterans service officers because of you.” Sept. 19, 2020 I had intended to cross the 100mile threshold today, running the Air Force 5k for the Air Force birthday. But that milestone was marked on Tuesday during a simple two-miler. We were always told if we weren’t 15 minutes early, we were late, so it happened at the right time. All of those miles included pushing my daughter in her stroller. Today’s 5k included two baby moose on either side of the trail, without mommy in sight. Pretty nerve-wracking, 2.5 miles in and wondering where the burst of speed will come from if momma shows up. – Jason Ott, Anchorage, Alaska Sept. 21, 2020 We had our family vacation planned for Sept. 11-18, 2020. We packed up from Wisconsin and headed west to South Dakota. I needed to cross an item off my bucket list: Mount Rushmore. So, as we got there in the later afternoon and explored Mount Rushmore, my 3-year-old son decided it needed a better name and renamed it “Rock Faces.” I, of course, couldn’t think of anything more fitting than having my 100 Miles for Hope shirt on – and wouldn’t you know it, I left my sign at the rental cabin. But I had my photo taken in front of Mount Rushmore, minus the sign. What was even more amazing and hard to describe was the evening

lighting ceremony. After the park ranger talk and the movie about Mount Rushmore, they lit the faces of the presidents. After the lighting, they invited all veterans/active-duty military members to come up on stage and be thanked by the crowd. The park ranger then asked for six volunteers. Well, I decided to raise my hand, and myself and the other five veterans were asked to retire the flag flying over the stage at Mount Rushmore. What an honor that was, and the crowd again thanked all of us before we departed for the evening. What an amazing feeling, and my son and wife got to watch it all. All of this while supporting 100 Miles for Hope and the Legion. – Michael Eibs, Port Washington, Wis. Sept. 29, 2020 I walked 100 miles while golfing 100 Miles for Hope to support our nation’s veterans and children! – Ken Peterson, Owosso, Mich. Less than two months from Veterans Day, American Legion Riders Chapter 852 of Temecula/ Murrieta, Calif., accepted the challenge. They staged at a grocery store parking lot and spent half a day rolling as a group along sunny southern California highways, passing vineyards, waving to motorists, visiting a casino and wrapping up with lunch. They completed the challenge – plus another 30 or more miles – many wearing 100 Miles for Hope performance shirts. Chapter 852 member Phil Rice, a retired Navy master chief, organized the ride, but due to bike problems, he was relegated to what he calls the

“4-wheeled cage.” Regardless, he was ready to do his part in leading the Legion Riders on the Saturday morning expedition. “It seemed like a great idea and an opportunity for us to get out as a group and do something – and give to The American Legion and our fellow veterans,” Rice said. Nearly two dozen bikes showed up for the official start at 8 a.m. Among them was Michael “Monkey” Killion, secretary of Chapter 852, widely known in the community for the five-foot stuffed monkey on the back of his bike that his son gave him for Father’s Day. “Whenever I stop in a grocery store, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re the one we see all the time riding around,’” he said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I ride with the American Legion Riders ... we come out and support our local veterans, our nationwide veterans, and anything we can do.” The planned route took the Chapter 852 Riders through the winding hills of Riverside County and the Temecula wine country. Stops included the Cahuilla Casino near Anza and the Bates Nut Farm near Temecula. The final destination was the Rainbow Oaks Restaurant for lunch. While the primary purpose was 100 Miles for Hope, the Saturday morning ride was about more than fundraising for the chapter’s members, who had been separated much of the previous eight months. Post 852 Commander Charles Landreth, chaplain for the Riders chapter, said he was grateful for the opportunity simply to get together at a time when gathering had been limited due to COVID-19. “It gives us something to bring us back and cement the solidarity between the Riders,” he said.

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“We have several other chapters who have come out for support, so I think it’s a good thing.” Aug. 20, 2020 Rode my 2000 Ducati ST2 motorcycle up Mount Lemmon near Tucson, Ariz. The mountain road just recently opened back up after a fire burned out over 100,000 acres. The town of Summerhaven was not affected by the fire directly, but business has suffered not only due to the pandemic but also loss of business while the fire burned (several weeks of closure of the only paved road), and now the closure of the hiking trails and campgrounds due to fire damage. It was an eyeopener to see the brush and timbercovered trails I have hiked many times now exposed to view from on high. The good news is that green has already started to appear in the newly open areas. – George “Grizz” Andrews, Vail, Ariz. Sept. 16, 2020 I finished the 100 miles today. Fate just had my path go past a bloodmobile, so I gave blood at about the 99-mile mark. This was my first walk that didn’t include chainsaws since Aug. 10, when the derecho storm hit our area. I also finished the 100 by motorcycle as an American Legion Rider, along with three others, on Aug. 14, as we went to the birthday celebration of a 104-year-old ex-POW. – Roger Norfolk, Cedar Rapids, Iowa The pandemic closed Robert Michaelson’s gym in March. So the retired Air Force doctor put on his sneakers and started walking six to eight miles daily.

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“It’s just part of my lifestyle now,” he said. “My wife says I’ve lost weight; maybe the weight is redistributed. I guess I have lost weight since my pants don’t fit the same way.” Michaelson quickly signed up to participate in the 100 Miles for Hope challenge when it began Aug. 3. Michaelson, adjutant of Capt. Mark “Tyler” Voss American Legion Post 313 in Boerne, Texas, walked the majority of his miles, but he polished off the goal with a 27‑mile bicycle ride at the Crownridge Canyon Natural Area in San Antonio. The ability to support the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation was an added incentive, he said. “I do a monthly donation to the Veterans & Children Foundation anyway. This was just a little additional way to contribute. And I want to get the rest of the post involved, too. The commander signed up, as well as several other members.” As a physician and former Air Force flight surgeon, Michaelson offered some advice to those wishing to participate but had not been physically active for a while. “If you haven’t been exercising, go see your physician first,” he said. “Make sure that you are clear to do some exercise and start slowly. Then you can build up and make it part of your lifestyle. You will feel so much better doing it.” Michaelson advised participants to break the 100-mile goal into small chunks. “If you do a half-mile a day, or a mile a day, most people can walk that,” he said. “You don’t have to do it like I did, six to eight miles a day. You’ve got 100 days to do it. Anyone can do that. And

besides, what is most important is to support the Veterans & Children Foundation.” Sept. 22, 2020 Praise for all participants who care enough to move for our freedom and country. I will not stop working my treadmill until it stops working. – Berenice E. Reese, Warrenton, Va. Sept. 22, 2020 We started our 100 Miles for Hope on Aug. 11, 2020. We started off by doing six days a week and taking Sunday off. One day we would walk for an hour doing 3.5 miles in one hour. Then the next day, we would ride our bicycles for an hour, doing 10 miles in one hour. We finished our 100 miles in three weeks. We are still doing the same routine to this day. We are feeling good, losing weight and are in a lot better shape now. We encourage more of you to join the 100 Miles for Hope. – Dr. Rick and Monica Snook, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Sept. 23, 2020 I started my sixth 100-mile trek today. I’m 74 – if I can do it, anybody can. There is still time – 175 miles to go to reach my goal of 700 miles, then we will see what happens. – Maurice E. Tobin Jr., Lincoln, R.I. Oct. 2, 2020 I had hip-replacement surgery July 31 and began walking with a few steps, then a few blocks. My wife and I began tallying our 100-mile goal on Aug. 17. As of Oct. 1, we are at 67.5 miles, and will easily reach our goal of 100 miles before the first of November! – Betty & Frank Moon, Hayfield, Minn.

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Rob Wilkins and his son enjoy a bicycle ride near their Richmond, Va., home. Wilkins, a Legionnaire, serves on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

Mike Kepka/The American Legion

Rob Wilkins grew up playing basketball, baseball and football. He later became a bodybuilder and personal trainer, a background that made him an ideal fitness instructor for several Air Force units with which he served over 26 years. “In the military, it’s important to be fit and to look fit,” the retired master sergeant said. “I thought the military provided great workout facilities. My supervisors were very encouraging about making fitness an important part of our day because you have to prepare for what could be the worst day of your life. If you are in combat, you can rely on your fitness to sustain through a long battle.”

In the mid-1990s, Wilkins led an Air Force health-screening initiative for a 600-airman unit. Three of those screened were found to have underlying conditions that may have led to illness or even early death. He received the Air Force Commendation Medal for the initiative. More important to him was the ultimate result: with lifestyle changes, treatment and exercise, those who had previously undetected health problems could get better. “One of them told me, ‘Thanks to you, I’m going to see my grandchild.’” A member of American Legion Post 141 in Richmond, Va., Wilkins

has a seat on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. When he learned about 100 Miles for Hope, Wilkins was an immediate supporter, posting updates about the challenge on social media and agreeing to do a video on the national American Legion website encouraging involvement. “I have been a proud member of The American Legion since 2008, so once I found about this 100 Miles for Hope Challenge, I was all in,” he says in the segment, in which he bicycles alongside his son. “I wanted to encourage my friends and my family to do more, so my personal goal is to do 500 miles by Veterans Day, Nov. 11. I really encourage and support The American Legion in all of their initiatives, and I think this is one of the best initiatives they can do. I hope to inspire others, my friends and my family, to also exercise. The more people we get moving, the better off we will be. I encourage you to set a goal, stick to your goal, and before you know it, you’ll be surpassing your goal.” Fitness activities, he added, are especially valuable in tense times. “I see what The American Legion is doing at a time when there is a lot of stress in our country,” he said, noting that alcohol and drug use

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were climbing in 2020. “Keeping people moving is important. Going out and running, or walking, or riding a bike makes you feel better.” Wilkins urges those who have been inactive to start slowly and proceed carefully. “Many people have gotten out of shape because they are no longer with their unit,” he explained. “They no longer have their comrades around them who can help them. Take this opportunity to continue, or re-establish, your physical fitness routine. Be sure to get medically cleared before you start a new physical fitness program. Take your time, have a goal and have fun doing it.” As for his own goal, Wilkins crushed it, breaking 700 miles by Veterans Day. Sept. 8, 2020 I started on my stationary bike on Aug. 15. Fifteen days later, the 100th mile came on the speedometer. I rode while watching my favorite programs, so it was fun and easy, six to eight miles in no time each day. I was proud and honored to be able to help this worthy cause. A couple of my friends have joined also, one running and one walking. – Mary Standish, Post 64 finance officer, Middleborough, Mass. Sept. 28, 2020 I just wanted to let Commander Oxford know that I accepted his challenge to walk 100 miles before Veterans Day. That was accomplished a few days ago. I currently have 161 miles logged and am still going, all walking here in the beautiful Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. I hope all the Legion Family can take part in this very worthwhile endeavor. – C. Jacob Greeling, Bella Vista, Ark.

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Oct. 2, 2020 Ninety-one years old. Happy to be participating in the 100 Miles for Hope challenge. I plan on continuing walking and biking while the weather is permissible. Nice program The American Legion has going. – Jacob J. Ricklij, Kalamazoo, Mich. Oct. 5, 2020 I just started my seventh #100milesforhope. – Maurice E. Tobin Jr., Lincoln, R.I. Oct. 5, 2020 While a daily walker anyway, it was my pleasure and honor to walk 97 miles and swim three miles in honor of our veterans and their children. My hope is that this program will help many people, young and old, who are in need. With a goal of completing the project well in advance of Veterans Day over a month early, I shall continue walking in these autumn New England days in honor of all veterans! Many words of appreciation go out to all who have served. – Howard Kendall, Plymouth, Mass. Sept. 28, 2020 I walked my 100 Miles for Hope, and I felt inspired every step I took. I come from a family of veterans, and we love to volunteer and help out wherever we can. This walk, run, bike or whatnot has inspired me to walk more and be healthy, and along the way, I have been able to inspire others to get out and walk. I’m so honored to have joined this group, and I completed my 100 miles on the beach at Long Boat Key. – Sandra Boyd, Lusby, Md.

Sept. 22, 2020 I walked, rode a bike and kayaked the 100 Miles for Hope in the beautiful wilderness of Alaska, where social distancing is not a problem! I am a proud member of American Legion Post 9 based in Wiseman, Alaska. We are the farthest-north Legion post in the world. I am also a musician, and so is Post Commander Jim “Clutch” Lounsbury. To celebrate the completion of the 100 Miles for Hope, Clutch joined me in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks on Sept. 16. We celebrated American Legion Day and my completion of the 100 Miles for Hope by giving a distanced concert for passersby. I played guitar and sang a selection of patriotic and American popular music. Clutch played his washtub bass. – Arlene Slocum, Fairbanks, Alaska Army veteran Kevin Motter of American Legion Post 109 in Montpelier, Ohio, says he “was in a bad place” when the 100 Miles for Hope challenge began. His weight was up, his bloodpressure medication was “stuck between VA and the Postal Service,” and he was possibly pre-diabetic. The combination was by no means a formula for success in the era of COVID-19. “My doctor had been on me for quite a while about my weight,” he said. “I knew I was creeping back up to dangerous levels ... where I should not have been. I’ve had blood-pressure issues, been a borderline diabetic, and my doctor had mentioned the possibility of bariatric surgery.” The 100 Miles for Hope initiative was, for him, more than a way to pass the time during the pandemic. “The challenge allowed me to work on my personal health,” he said.

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Challenge helps COVID survivor recover The American Legion’s 100 Miles for Hope challenge came along at just the right time for Air Force veteran Wes Singletary. “I was walking a lot with the new puppy I got in July,” Singletary said of his five-month-old dog, Copper, a Catahoula leopard hound. “They need a lot of exercise.” So Singletary, a member of American Legion Post 13 in Tallahassee, Fla., was among the early registrants for the 100 Miles for Hope challenge.

Soon after he was discharged, Singletary was able to go only about a half mile at a time as he rebuilt his strength. Soon, he was up to three to four miles daily and back on track to finish the challenge. His doctor credited regular walking for his fast improvement. “I need to keep going and build my lungs back up,” he said. “COVID really took a toll on them. Aside from the medicine I am taking, the 100 Miles for Hope has helped me really get it going. I’m walking four miles pretty easily right now. I couldn’t get out of it if I wanted to. This Catahoula needs exercise. If he doesn’t get out, he’s going to eat my house.”

He and Copper were 20 miles into their quest when he was infected Photo courtesy Wes Singletary with COVID-19. He caught it from his wife, who got it at work even though “she did everything she could to keep that place COVID-proof.” Singletary said he was grateful for his medical care, Copper’s companionship and The American The coronavirus hit his wife like a bad cold, but Legion. it was a different story for Singletary, who has asthma. He recalled his temperature hitting 102 degrees the first day. He quarantined at home for about 10 days. But when his oxygen levels dipped into the 70s, he went to the hospital. “It really knocked me down,” said Singletary, who spent two weeks in the hospital. “When I presented, I had COVID, pneumonia and myocardial edema, which is fluid on the heart. I even had a urinary tract infection.”

“I’m not stopping until Veterans Day. And maybe not even then.” Motter, a former high school cross-country runner, climbed aboard his stationary bike and started pedaling, eventually pushing 15 miles a day. He also walked and hiked. Before he knew it, he had logged more than 950 miles and

“I am blessed to be able to walk,” he said. “This COVID is not a joke. If you are blessed, you survive it. It kicked the hell out of me. I hadn’t been in the hospital since I got my tonsils out in third grade. Those people saved my life. I am truly blessed to be able to get out into the sunshine, walk my dog and build my health back up while at the same time helping a worthy cause through The American Legion.”

lost 21 pounds. “I feel great,” he said at the halfway point of the challenge. “My clothes are looser. I have more energy. My mood has changed for the better.” His longterm goal during the challenge: 1,200 miles and 35 pounds. During the summer, his blood pressure medicine, which is made

in China, had been delayed by production and delivery issues related to the pandemic, he said. “At one point, I went without the blood-pressure meds for three weeks, and it spiked pretty good,” he said. “When Commander Oxford put out that challenge, I said, ‘I can do that.’” He celebrated his 61st

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birthday in October by bicycling and hiking 20 miles. “It’s a personal thing,” said Motter, whose father died at 62 and neither grandfather made it to 60. “It was a very opportune time in my life personally for this challenge to come out. I’m going to continue this to hit my weight-loss goal and then keep going to maintain it.” “It’s never too late to start riding, walking, running, or whatever gets you up and moving,” said Piechowski of Wisconsin, who completed his 100 Miles for Hope four days after the initiative was announced. “Even if you think you can’t do it, you can. If I could go from struggling to ride seven miles to riding 2,000 in a season, anyone can.” All it takes is that first step, he explained. “Take a ride – just one ride. Find flat ground so that you don’t have to climb a hill. Rail trails around the U.S. are great places to start. Then ride. Maybe two miles, maybe four. Your butt will hurt. But trust me, that goes away as you continue to ride. Your legs will get stronger, your heart will get stronger. And soon you’ll be able to ride longer and farther.” Aug. 13, 2020 Being commander of Green Ridge Memorial Post 926 during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a real challenge. I never imagined having to close our doors as we did during the lockdown this spring, or the challenges we’ve faced since re-opening in June. These times have reinforced for me the meaning of Legion Family. The post is more than a place where members and comrades come to enjoy a beer and swap stories. It’s about what we do for our community to let them know we continue to serve and will be here

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for veterans. I’m walking my 100 miles for veterans and children. I have 88 miles to go by Veterans Day. – Chris Albanese, Aston, Pa. Teresa Ash of Christie DeParcq Post 406 in St. Paul, Minn., had been a pack-a-day-smoker for 40 years before she quit on Flag Day 2020. By the beginning of the 100 Miles for Hope challenge, she needed something to keep fighting the cravings. “It’s kind of crazy, but it timed perfectly for me, because I was quitting smoking,” the Army veteran explained. “One of the things I did as a smoker would be to pace around. I did it outside, and my family would come out with me and talk. I would be pacing or moving. When I decided to quit smoking, everyone told me that I had to change all my habits.” Ash said she knew others who changed their habits when they quit smoking, “and it didn’t work out for them.” Instead, she continued everything, just without cigarettes. “Everybody would continue to come outside with me,” said Ash, a vice commander for the American Legion Department of Minnesota. “I would just pace, continuing to do what I did when I smoked. That’s how this whole thing started.” During the challenge, she was averaging about four miles of walking a day. “I feel so much better. I really do. It was wonderful that my family was so supportive of me.” Ash says healthy personal habits are important to American Legion Family members who want to keep serving their communities long into their lives. “You have to want to do this for yourself,” she said. “You have to want to feel better

for yourself. Not for your kids. Not for your family. Not for anybody else. A lot of us go to a meeting to support veterans, or volunteer to flip burgers, or sell poppies. If you don’t quit smoking and keep your body healthy, you are not going to be able to do that.” Her family has jumped into the challenge, in support. “I’ve lost 30 pounds since I quit smoking and started walking. My daughter works for the post office, so she is constantly on her feet and on the go. My perfect husband walks with me, and he has lost weight. My daughter’s boyfriend has felt much better.” They see no need to quit walking after Veterans Day. “You feel better. You feel healthier. And you want to live longer and be stronger to do things. Michael and I go God, family and American Legion. We work to help veterans, and we need to be healthy to do that. This 100 Miles for Hope really just came at the right time for us. Everything just fell into place.” By Veterans Day, 4,823 participants had registered for the 100 Miles for Hope Challenge, generating more than $150,000 for the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation, and plans began to make it an annual event. Oct. 10, 2020 I DID IT! Another 100 miles completed for National Commander Bill Oxford‘s 100 Miles for Hope Challenge, totaling 200 miles walked around Union Grove State Park in between my national president travels to departments this fall! – American Legion Auxiliary National President Nicole Clapp, Gladbrook, Iowa

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South Attleboro, Mass., Post 312 Commander Maurice “Ted” Tobin reached 100 miles within the first weeks of the challenge, and then set himself a goal of pedaling 900 more by Veterans Day.

Photo courtesy Maurice “Ted” Tobin

Oct. 15, 2020 Today I completed 700 miles for #100MilesforHope. It’s a great feeling. I will see if someone from my post will sponsor me for another 300 miles, to make it a total of 1,000 miles before Veterans Day. – Maurice E. Tobin Jr., Lincoln, R.I. South Attleboro, Mass., Post 312 Commander Maurice “Ted” Tobin was an early contributor to the Legiontown.org call for stories and photos of how participants were fulfilling the 100 Miles for Hope Challenge. He reported that on Aug. 20, his first 100 miles were behind him. So, he decided to do another 100. Then another. By mid-October,

the 74-year-old Legionnaire was happy to report he had broken the 700-mile mark. The reason for his enthusiasm: The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation. “I’ve always been involved with young people,” Tobin said. He has served as a youth sports coach, Boy Scout leader and athletic director at a church. “If it has to do with children, that fits me. I’ve been a mentor for so many years and enjoyed it. They are going to be our future.” Back when he was a boy, Tobin bicycled all the time, but as he neared 70 years of age five years ago, he found himself “totally out

of shape” and 30 pounds heavier than he is today. “I had gone hiking with the Boy Scouts on a very easy trail, and I was dying,” the Vietnamera Navy veteran recalled. “So, I decided that I would be getting back in shape.” Bicycling, he found, was the perfect way to do that. He started out slowly and lengthened his rides as he grew stronger. “I did five miles then up to seven or eight miles. Then I went up to 15 miles as my legs and body took care of themselves.” Now, he says, “If it’s a nice day, I go out and do at least 25 miles.” The 2020 success of 100 Miles for Hope – from nearly every standpoint – led the national commander to make it bigger, better and annual, starting April 1, 2021. “I am eager to get started on my journey,” Oxford explained when announcing the second annual challenge, which would run through the 2021 national convention. “Please join me on the road – trail, river or elliptical – to improved fitness and mental wellness. Best of all, this comes with the knowledge we are supporting our veterans and military families with every step, pedal, swim stroke or other movement.”

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VETERANS STRENGTHENING AMERICA Response of The American Legion during pandemic illustrates newly adopted mission statement and motto.

A statement of mission, vision and values for The American Legion – originally passed by an email vote in August – was polished and adopted at the first virtual meeting of the organization’s National Executive Committee Oct. 14-15. The same resolution summed up what the organization had done and shown throughout the pandemic in one motto:

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“The American Legion: Veterans Strengthening America.” The NEC’s Fall Meetings also finalized a succinct mission statement: “To enhance the wellbeing of America’s veterans, their families, our military, and our communities by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” If the pandemic showed the nation anything, it’s that The American Legion fulfills its mission every day,

through individual obligation to communities, states and nation. The pandemic’s effects and lessons flowed through the October NEC meeting. The Pony Express Ride – one of many motorcycle excursions throughout the country to raise money for the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund that collectively became the 15th Legacy Run – rolled into Indianapolis on Oct. 13 and

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delivered tens of thousands of dollars in donations to the national commander. “Even though we’ve been shut down because of the COVID pandemic, we’re still awarding those scholarships,” Oxford said before American Legion Riders from multiple states stepped up and handed off checks and cash that came to more than $83,500. “It’s because of the contributions that everybody’s making today. The Legacy Scholarships that we fund out of these donations is just a way to continue to honor our fallen men and women who lost their lives in service to this country.” The NEC’s Fall Meetings also urged support of legislation to build on the American Legion Buddy Check program and call on VA to establish a national week each year specifically to

reach out to veterans who may be struggling mentally due to the pandemic. “The suicide rate was a crisis among veterans before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Oxford told the NEC. “The shutdowns, economic consequences and isolation have added gasoline to this fire.” The pandemic only amplified the role of the organization’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, Ralph Bozella, chairman, told the NEC. “Since the onset of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, we all have had to adjust our normal operation procedures – something we have learned through our military experience,” he said. “In the year 2020, the ability to adapt and overcome has become the new norm and our current way of life. Regardless of the situation ... veterans continue to have issues

with health care, mental-health needs, claims and memorial benefits. Our attitude that VA&R never rests continues, as we work for America’s veterans and our families.” The NEC also passed a resolution offering $1,000 grants to qualifying American Legion posts that were forced to close or drastically reduce services due to local shutdowns. The grants were restricted “to meet financial responsibilities associated with maintaining post facilities and community presence.” From food pantries to COVID-19 test or vaccination sites and blood drives, those facilities proved essential throughout the country during the crisis. “Look across the nation at Legionnaires hosting blood drives, making and delivering meals to

“Since the onset of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, we all have had to adjust our normal operation procedures – something we have learned through our military experience. In the year 2020, the ability to adapt and overcome has become the new norm and our current way of life.” American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission Chairman Ralph Bozella COVID OPERATIONS: THE AMERICAN LEGION FAMILY’S RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC

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people in need and delivering groceries or medicine,” American Legion Department of California Judge Advocate Autrey James said during an online training meeting in April. “These are vital needs that our local governments can’t do alone, but our Legionnaires can and are doing. This is the chance to remind our communities and others that we are much more than a bar. We are, and will remain, an integral part of the communities we serve.” In many communities, Legionnaires directly addressed the needs of local businesses that suffered from coronavirus-driven shutdowns. Legionnaire Scott Quilty, an Army veteran who lost a leg and an arm to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, launched the Angel Fund in March to provide grants to local businesses. Over the course of 14 days, Quilty and his fellow Post 116 American Legion Family members raised and disbursed more than $121,000 to help businesses in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. “It was pretty clear that small businesses were going to take a hit in this crisis,” Quilty said. “You have this whole health crisis that is developing, and there are lots of people surging to address (it). But it comes on the back of this economic crisis that we’re starting to

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experience now. So, what I thought is what small businesses could use right now is cash. They need to be able to pay the rent. They need to be able to make a dent in payroll, or they have to focus on other operating expenses so that they can have a fighting chance of making it.” The local business community had supported Post 116 in the past, but many of those companies were idled and strapped during the shutdown. The Angel Fund appealed to area manufacturers and others not as adversely affected to raise money for others. Seeded with $1,000 from Post 116, the fund grew through a Facebook campaign. “We found many of the typical folks that would have given were disproportionally impacted by the crisis,” Quilty said. “They were in industries that were shut down. But what we found was there were industries that were still humming along ... and realized this was their opportunity to make an impact on Main Street.” In Big Sky, Mont., American Legion Post 99 purchased $200 gift certificates from 21 different local businesses and presented them to first responders, health-care workers, and county, postal, grocery store, newspaper, bank and gas

station employees – in a gesture that addressed multiple needs. When Post 178 of Millerton, N.Y., was forced to close its doors, members turned its electronic reader board over to local officials to share important public-health information, like social-distancing reminders, COVID-19 testing schedules and what to do if symptoms of infection occur. “It’s pretty hard to get the word out to everybody, and it’s very important that people know what’s going on and how to stay healthy, and where to go and what to do,” Post 178 Commander Al Andrews said. “Our Legion sign ... people look at that all the time and miss it when it’s not on.” It was yet another example of an American Legion post adapting to serve its community during the pandemic. “We were told to close,” Post 178 Adjutant Sean M. Klay said. “We weren’t given the option. But on the flip side, just because our day-today operations can’t necessarily take place the way we normally would like them to, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to fill in our community ... That’s why we are here. There are myriad ways posts can step up and be relevant during times of crisis. Right now, this is

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the niche we were able to fill. That’s what makes the Legion so versatile ... we’re able to identify those needs in our respective communities and help fill those needs.” Caroline Yarmala of Post 202 in Topsham, Maine, had trained for months to run in the Boston Marathon. Like most sporting activities across America, the event was not going to be conducted in person, or in its usual April timeframe; it would be virtual, with competitors striding through their communities, raising awareness for various causes, registering their times and celebrating their completions through social media. On Sept. 12, at 7 a.m., the Navy veteran took the first step in her 26.2-mile journey, starting off in Veterans Park, Lewiston, Maine. As she ran in the crisp morning air, she thought about a friend, Michelle L’Heureux, who had undergone several surgeries since she was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; it was Michelle who inspired Caroline to give the famous run a try. She thought about her father, Joseph, a former Navy corpsman who had trained her for what would be her first marathon. She thought about The American Legion and what it meant to her. Her chosen cause: the American Legion

Department of Maine Foundation. “You have to adapt and overcome when something crazy like COVID happens,” she said. “We used this opportunity to involve more of our American Legion Family.” Her route included stops along the way to honor the branches of military service. At each interval, which included American Legion Post 135 in Sabattus and Post 158 in Lisbon, a changeover of the branch flags occurred; a veteran would be waiting for Yarmala and run alongside her while carrying the flag of a branch. Post 202 member U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, carried the Marine Corps flag. Maine Department Commander Matt Jabaut carried the Army flag, and Caroline’s father carried the Navy flag. Other veterans met the runner and paced alongside her, hoisting the Coast Guard and Air Force flags. American Legion Family members cheered, and blue streamers flew in the air when she crossed the finish line in front of Post 202. “After completing the marathon, I learned that plans may never work out the way you want them to,” she said. “Life gets in the way. Obstacles can get hurled in your path. The unfathomable can become the new normal. But with the right

foundation, support team and selfperseverance, your goals are still obtainable. “Running reminded me that we are living in a time of chaos and uncertainty, but we really need to stop fighting one another and start working together for a common goal. Help pull our brothers and sisters out of the dirt and pull each other up by the bootstraps and cross that finish line together, as a united front. The American Legion Preamble says ‘to promote peace and goodwill on earth’ ... running that marathon, it gets quiet in your head sometimes, and that’s the thing that kept going for me.” Often, The American Legion’s most significant contributions to the strength of the nation occur when news cameras are not rolling, microphones are somewhere else, and media outlets focus their attention on other matters. Meanwhile, The American Legion – from individuals quietly kayaking on a river to help children and improve their own well-being, to blood-donation campaigns to fulfill a nationwide shortage to national outreach efforts to find and assist veterans struggling with isolation amid the pandemic – has marched with purpose into the crisis to come up with ideas and perform actions

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Post home becomes venue for vaccinations As the COVID-19 journey turned to vaccinations in early 2021, American Legion Veterans Memorial Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla., opened its doors to provide space. “This is one of our Four Pillars,” Post 347 First Commander Joan Suelter said. “And the relationship we have with (VA staff) is unbelievable. What better way for us to take care of veterans but through this program? ” The need for social distancing and parking places, along with normal service demand, led the VA outpatient clinic in The Villages, Fla., to reach out to the world’s largest American Legion post to see if it could help. VA clinicians began administering vaccinations there Jan. 28.

“Collaboration with our community partners allows us to remain agile, receptive, and relevant to the veterans we serve,” Florida/ South Georgia VA Health System Director Thomas Wisnieski said. “We are very fortunate to be partnering with Post 347.”

that have made differences when differences were desperately needed. “We are meeting differently, and we are serving differently, but we are still serving,” Oxford said in the NEC’s virtual Fall Meetings. “2020 is a year that many would like to forget, but I truly believe it could be our finest hour.” The resolution passed by e-mail in August 2020 contained “value principles” that have formed the backbone of the organization since it was established in 1919 by World War I veterans whose primary objective was to build a stronger nation after the guns of war had gone silent. Each of the six value principles stated in the resolution were at work every day during the COVID-19 pandemic:

help them transition into their communities.

A VETERAN IS A VETERAN – The American Legion embraces all current and former members of the military and endeavors to

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT – The American Legion meets the unique needs of local communities.

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SELFLESS SERVICE – The American Legion celebrates all who contribute to something larger than themselves and inspires others to serve and strengthen America. AMERICAN VALUES AND PATRIOTISM – The American Legion advocates for upholding and defending the United States Constitution, equal justice and opportunity for everyone and discrimination against no one, youth education, responsible citizenship and honoring military service by observing and participating in patriotic and memorial events.

ADVANCING THE VISION – The American Legion educates, mentors and leads new generations of Americans. HONORING THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE US – The American Legion pays perpetual respect for all past military sacrifices to ensure they are never forgotten by new generations. As the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb heading into the first anniversary of the pandemic, taking more lives and advancing a so-called “new normal” in U.S. society, the timeless mission, vision and values of The American Legion stood strong and ready to deploy, with new experience, into whatever crisis fate had to offer in the months ahead. U.S. wartime veterans and their families understand, better than most, what it takes to make a nation strong in such times.

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The American Legion VETERANS STRENGTHENING AMERICA

700 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46204 PHONE WEB (317) 630-1200 www.legion.org