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Hosting Legacy Run kickoff 'remarkable' for Florida Post 347

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With a membership of more than 6,700, American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla., can lay claim to the title of the largest American Legion post in the world.

It’s fitting that in August, the world’s largest post will host the start of the biggest American Legion Riders event of the year.

Post 347 will serve as the kickoff point for this year’s Legacy Run, which will leave Lady Lake Aug. 18 to begin a seven-state ride that will wrap up in Indianapolis on Aug. 22 in time for the 2019 National Convention.

Immediate Past Post 347 Commander Al Varrone, who is chairman of the Legacy Run activities, began hearing “rumblings” of his post hosting the 2019 Legacy Run kickoff during the 2018 American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis. He was then approached by Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan, chairman of the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee, last November.

“I thought it would be a big honor for the post to be able to do that, so I was kind of anxious to get it going,” Varrone said. “And there were folks at my post who were anxious as well – especially my Riders.”

Post 347 didn’t have a Riders chapter until three summers ago, but Chapter 347 Director Gene Haplea said the number of Riders has grown to more than 100 since then. Hosting the kickoff of the Legacy Run “is a fantastic opportunity for some exposure and for a (Riders) chapter to get involved in some good,” Haplea said. “For ours, it’s even more so. We’re a relatively new chapter … doing some good things, some fun things and starting to become much more active within the post.

“To tack something like this on – the Legacy Run in any year is a noteworthy kind of accolade to be associated with. To host it in the centennial year, with all else that’s been going on with the Legion … is even more remarkable. We’re thrilled.”

With anywhere from 200 to 300 riders and their passengers on the ride, a Legacy Run stop at an American Legion post usually provides months of preparation for the post. But Varrone said his post is used to big events.

“Our post is probably an anomaly as far as American Legion posts go,” he said. “We’re used to hosting between 600 and 700 people at our post on Tuesday nights because that’s when our Queen of Hearts drawing is. Logistically, for the post to be able to handle it is a relatively easy thing to do.”

Varrone said the post doesn’t normally open up its kitchen until 5 p.m. on Friday but will have it open starting at noon on Aug. 16 and will serve food until 7 p.m. that night. The following day the post will serve lunch and then provide a spaghetti and meatballs dinner that night.

Varrone said the post’s kitchen is used to serving 150 to 250 meals on the busy Tuesday nights, making it well-prepared for the Legacy Run. And Varrone would know. His wife, Joyce, is Post 347’s kitchen manager and a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 347.

“They’re kind of used to it,” Varrone said. “And we have a good group of volunteers that handle that.”

Volunteers for any big event at the post come from a cross-section of the entire American Legion Family – including the more than 2,400 Auxiliary members and 700-plus Sons of The American Legion members. “Our volunteers, by and large, come from across the entire (Legion Family) spectrum,” Varrone said. “Normally when we do things at the post, it’s not just the Legion members. It’s the Auxiliary and the SAL, and we have a very good relationship across all the different organizations.”

Varrone said being able to kick off the Legacy Run at his post is a great honor – as is being the largest American Legion post in existence. “There’s a lot of pride there,” he said. “If you happen to be there on a Tuesday night ... and we have the 700 people in the building … the lounge manager gets up there right before the drawing … and he always starts it off by saying ‘Welcome to American Legion Post 347, the largest post in the world.’ You oughta hear the roar that goes up inside that place.”

Haplea said there’s also a great deal of pride in how the Legion Riders, through the Legacy Run, have taken up the cause of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, which provides college assistance for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. The 2018 Legacy Run raised a record $1,300,804 for the Legacy Fund, the fifth-straight year the ride has raised more than $1 million.

The reason behind the fund also resonates strongly with Haplea, who was on active duty with the U.S. Navy in the Pentagon on 9/11. “I’m extremely proud to be a part of that kind of an effort that’s taken place and grown over all those years,” he said. “To me, it’s another testament … of just what kind of a role the Legion Riders have been playing and will continue to play and grow in their chapters. We’re that one unique effort at the post level that embodies everything the Legion is about, which is the family. We are the sole connecting point within the post that connects all the dots. We have members that are Legionnaires, members that are Auxiliary members and members that are SAL members.

“To have one group like that pulling everybody together … is really exciting. It’s humbling, but it’s exciting at the same time. And for the Legion Riders to have been handed the challenge … of heading up the lion’s share of the heavy lifting to make this Legacy Scholarship really, really come alive, is just extraordinarily special. It’s personally special to me.”

Online registration for the 2019 Legacy Run continues here.


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Support Legion programs through the purchase of centennial coins

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American Legion Family members and coin collectors have purchased more than 102,500 American Legion 100th anniversary commemorative coins, according to unaudited numbers from the U.S. Mint, since their release March 14.

Each coin incorporates original designs by members of the Mint’s Artistic Infusion program, inspired by The American Legion’s history and legacy.

• The silver dollar features the American Legion emblem surrounded by oak leaves and a French fleur-de-lis. On the reverse side are crossed U.S. and American Legion flags beneath an arch from the Arc de Triomphe, in another nod to the Legion’s birthplace.

• The $5 gold coin commemorates The American Legion’s birth in Paris in 1919, with the Eiffel Tower and a V for victory; they are encircled by the outer edge of the background of the American Legion emblem, representing the rays of the sun. The coin’s reverse depicts an eagle in flight, symbolizing honor, valor and bravery.

• In a tribute to the Legion’s dedication to 100 percent Americanism and the welfare of youth, the clad half dollar portrays two children, one wearing a parent’s or grandparent’s American Legion cap, saluting a U.S. flag on the coin’s reverse side. The words “I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG …” are on the obverse side, continuing on the back with “ … OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

To purchase an American Legion commemorative coin or coin set, go to www.legion.org/coin or call 1-800-872-6468.

"The special centennial coins, produced and sold by the U.S. Mint, are a great way to honor our organization’s legacy that began March 15-17, 1919," said American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad. "It’s an awesome, inspiring and successful legacy — authoring the GI Bill, creating what is today’s Department of Veterans Affairs, ushering in the U.S. Flag Code, mentoring millions of youths through various programs, and so much more."

Proceeds from coin sales will help fund American Legion programs that support veterans, servicemembers, their families and the communities in which they live.

The U.S. Mint will have a booth in the Exhibit Hall at the Indiana Convention Center during The American Legion’s 101st national convention to sell the Legion’s commemoratives coin series.


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Hiring fair, credentialing summit scheduled for national convention

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Veterans, servicemembers and military spouses can find new careers and learn best practices for credentialing and enhancing civilian career prospects at The American Legion’s national convention in August.

The Indianapolis Military Hiring Fair with The American Legion will take place Aug. 22 at the Indiana Convention Center, 100 S. Capitol Ave. Check-in for job seekers and employers will begin at 8:30 a.m., with each employer presenting a short overview of their open positions from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m. The hiring fair takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The event, promoted by Hiring Our Heroes and The American Legion, is free and open to active duty servicemembers, Guard and reserve, veterans and military spouses.

For more information and to register for the event, click here.

On Aug. 28-29, The American Legion’s National Credentialing Summit will bring together experts from the private and nonprofit sectors, the armed forces and federal agencies to share best practices for credentialing and enhancing career prospects for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses. The summit will be held at JW Marriott Indianapolis, 10 S. West St.

The summit will help to identify strategies for key decision-makers to use at companies and organizations nationwide in order to expand upon recent progress and promote wider awareness of the credentialing issue. The summit will also help attendees to collaborate with one another in breaking down credentialing barriers that affect veterans and the military community.

To register for the summit, click here.


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Legacy Run registration already at 300-plus

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Registration for the 2019 American Legion Legacy Run already has surpassed 310 participants in two months. To register online, click here.

Online registration for riders and passengers will end Aug. 11. All riders and passengers who register online before Aug. 1 will be mailed the registration packet with patches and map book materials before national staff departs. Those who register on or after Aug. 1 will be mailed their registration packets on or after Sept. 1 (while supplies last) as staff returns from convention duties.

Online registration is simple and easy with a credit card payment. Those preferring to print and mail a registration form with a check or money order need to continue through the online registration process. Instructions are provided on the information review page to print the registration form and mail payment.

A reminder that pre-payment for fuel and meals is mandatory, in order to avoid dealing with cash on organized fuel stops and to be able to properly advise meal locations how much food to prepare.

For those wanting to support the Legacy Run but are unable to participate, online registration for supporters (non-riders and non-passengers) will continue until Sept. 7. Supporter registrations of $25 or more will also receive a thank-you package while supplies last.

The Legacy Run will depart American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla., on Aug. 18, and arrive in Indianapolis on Aug. 22 for the 2019 American Legion National Convention. Along the way, the ride will make stops in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky, before ending up at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis.

The 2018 Legacy Run raised a record $1,300,804 for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, the fifth-straight year the ride has raised more than $1 million. The Legacy Fund provides college assistance for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.


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Cy Young Award winner reflects on Legion Baseball experience

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When Randy Jones saved the 1975 Major League Baseball All-Star Game for the National League, the final out was a fly ball to left fielder Gary Carter, who played the majority of his career at catcher.

For Jones, it was an even more unique and special putout. When he pitched for The American Legion team in Fullerton, Calif., Carter was the team’s batboy.

“It was pretty classic that you're shaking everybody's hands and here comes Gary Carter out of left field, and hands me the baseball, after catching it,” recalls Jones, who pitched most of his career with the San Diego Padres. “And I just thought, ‘How surreal is that? It’s come full circle.’ Those are memories I'll never forget.”

Carter, who broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1974, reunited with Jones during batting practice before a Padres-Expos game.

“Both of us had the biggest grins on our face, because of what we went through and the relationship we had in Legion Baseball,” Jones recalled. “It was just phenomenal because we had been friends forever. That started in American Legion Baseball. I just could not believe how special that was.”

Carter is among 81 American Legion Baseball alumni who have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Jones, too, had an impressive MLB career, notably winning the National League Cy Young Award in 1976 when he won 22 games with a 2.74 earned run average for the Padres.

Today, Jones is still affiliated with the Padres and American Legion Baseball (ALB). In fact, he has helped grow ALB in San Diego County where the number of teams has grown from zero two years ago to 22 now.

“The memories I have of American Legion Baseball and those times are special,” he said. “They were special for me and I understand how special they are for these kids today.”

Steve Busby, who also played in the 1975 All-Star Game, was a teammate on the Fullerton Legion team. “Steve and I have been friends all these years. I love running into him when I can,” Jones said. “I'll never forget those days. They were magical.”

Jones remembers playing several times a week, always against strong competition. “I'll never forget those years that I played Legion ball and how much I learned,” he said. “They'll always be special, and that's why I'm involved now. That's why I want to give back to these kids and make sure that a lot of them have the opportunity that I had.”

The Randy Jones Foundation supports children of military veterans. It’s another way that Jones gives back to those who supported him as a teenaged pitcher who never thought he would appear in the major leagues.

“I know we can make a difference in a lot of these kids’ lives to give them the opportunity to chase their dreams,” he said. “We're creating better citizens, better people for our country. Hopefully, if they do that and that they do have a passion and love of the game, they'll get that college scholarship or that opportunity to play in college. I just want to make sure that they have every opportunity.”

The Padres “have been very supportive, as far as in what we're trying to do and what we're trying to achieve in San Diego,” he said. Notably, all 22 Legion Baseball teams wear Padre-themed uniforms.

Jones himself sells one-pound bags of coffee for $15, one-third of which goes to fund ALB in San Diego. He encourages all teams to contribute to the sales effort. “That'll make all the difference in the world. All of a sudden you've raised $15,000-$16,000 for American Legion Baseball, here locally in San Diego. And we can do that, and then go to regionals and compete, and do the things that you really want to do.”

His experience as an ALB player helped Jones continue on as a pitcher with Chapman University before being drafted by the Padres. It was a life-changing experience for sure.

“Legion Baseball gives you an opportunity to continue to play and get better at your game,” he said. “And that's what this game's all about. It's a game of failure, is what baseball is. It's how you handle failure, how you learn from your failures, and that's how you become a really good baseball player. It gives these kids an opportunity to fail and learn to get better. If that burning desire is there to chase that dream, then let's enhance that. Overall, what I see is these kids continue to chase the dream. That's what it's all about.”


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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.