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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion supports Bladensburg memorial in Supreme Court filing

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The American Legion urged the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial in Prince George’s County, Md., in a court filing dated Dec. 17.

Working with attorneys from First Liberty Institute and Jones Day, The American Legion’s filing argued that the World War I era memorial is constitutional.

“When our brothers at The American Legion erected this memorial in 1925, it was to prevent all of us from forgetting something we cannot see: the service and sacrifice of those who died defending freedom,” said American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad. “This memorial is a fixed reminder of 49 men who gave everything to preserve our freedom.”

In 1925, The American Legion and Gold Star Mothers dedicated the cross-shaped Bladensburg Veterans Memorial to honor 49 Prince George’s County men who gave their lives during World War I. Mothers who lost their sons in World War I designed the memorial to recall the cross-shaped grave markers standing over the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war.

For more than 90 years the memorial honored the service and sacrifice of the 49 veterans without complaint. But in 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declared it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The Supreme Court should honor the way Gold Star mothers chose to remember the service and sacrifice of their sons who died defending our freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty. “If this gravestone is bulldozed to the ground, it’s only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the hundreds of memorials like this one across the country.”

Michael Carvin, lead counsel for the case, partner at Jones Day, and First Liberty network attorney, agreed. “Americans should honor the way these Gold Star mothers and The American Legion chose to remember the service and sacrifice of the 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George’s County.”

Oral arguments in the case are expected in the early spring of 2019. To learn more, visit

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'It's a dream come true'

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Following a reorganization of The American Legion Department of Wisconsin’s District 8, American Legion Riders Ray and Evelyn McSherry were looking for a project the district’s Legion Riders could take on. Riding past the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in King, the pair came up in the fall of 2012 with the idea of bringing the Wreaths Across America program to the cemetery.

In just six weeks, the husband-and-wife team led an effort to raise enough funds to place 400 wreaths on gravestones at the cemetery. But that wasn’t enough for either of them. They wanted a wreath for every veteran’s gravesite.

Mission accomplished.

On Dec. 15, more than 500 volunteers including family and friends of the veterans buried there, placed 7,274 wreaths at the cemetery – one for every gravesite.

“Everybody said I was nuts and that this would never happen,” said Ray, District 8 Legion Riders president, a past two-term state ALR director and a member of Palmer-Ritchie-Thomas Post 153. “It’s so gratifying to see it done. To remember all these vets. It’s a dream come true.”

District 8’s Legion Riders again spearheaded the effort that led to raising more than $70,000 to supply wreaths for the 7,274 graves – some dating back to veterans of the Civil War. Donations came from American Legion Family members from all over the department. District 8’s Legion Riders raised more than $30,000 through a gun raffle.

“It’s been getting the word out: publicity, talking to people, mailings,” said Evelyn, who serves as District 8’s ALR secretary and is a member of Auxiliary Unit 153. “I contact local organizations and go out and do a presentation and speak to the people in the community. We’ve gotten the cooperation of (the American Legion Family) across the state, and they’ve been very, very supportive.”

Evelyn said Wisconsin’s Legion Riders have taken on the cause and run with it. “Throughout the state, wherever we go, they’re always talking Wreaths Across America,” she said. “They’re speaking to other districts and other individuals about our Wreaths Across America program. It just pleases me to have our members so proud of an endeavor that they’ve taken on and see it accomplished.”

The public also has gotten involved. Chloe Heisler, a 16-year-old junior at Weyauwega-Fremont High School, has been raising money for District 8’s Wreaths Across America effort for four years. She estimates she’s raised more than $10,000 during that time, going door to door to solicit donations from area businesses.

“My grandpa is a Vietnam veteran, and I just want the opportunity, when he passes, to be able to honor him,” Heisler said. “And I know that a lot of other people would like to honor their family members as well. Seeing the turnout here was just amazing.”

Department American Legion Family leadership – including National Executive Committeeman Ken Rynes, Alternate NECman Robert Shappell, Department Commander Frank Kostka and Auxiliary President Char Kiesling – helped place wreaths, as did American Legion Family members from all over the state.

Eric Brunner, an American Legion Rider from Post 114 in Eagle River, said a new national cemetery will be opening near the post in either late 2019 or early 2020. Brunner said District 11’s American Legion Riders want to bring Wreaths Across America to the new cemetery when it opens and were in attendance to observe the event.

But they also were there to participate. “Each (wreath) I lay I say ‘Thank you for your service,’” Brunner said. “What we’re doing is honoring men and women who served. It’s just another way of remembering them and honoring them for their service.”

Following the placing of the wreaths, a ceremony took place that included laying wreaths for all five branches of the military, the Merchant Marines, POWs and MIAs, and Gold Star mothers. Two Gold Star mothers were in attendance: Elizabeth Kryst and Beth Karlson.

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Leo Gonnering, a member of American Legion Riders Chapter 339 and the master of ceremonies, said those gathered at the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery were there not to remember the veterans’ deaths, “but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful nation. These (wreaths) … honor those who have served or are serving in the armed forces, and to their families who endured sacrifices every day on our behalf.”

Kostka said he was proud of the entire department for helping make covering every grave a reality, providing another day to remember those who have sacrificed so much for the nation.

“Our veterans are not remembered enough,” Kostka said. “Every veteran here gave part of their life for our country. And some of the veterans, they don’t have any family (or) friends to visit them. This will be the second time this year somebody will visit their grave, see their name and just think about their service.”

Kiesling said the event should serve as a way to educate others about the need to remember the nation’s veterans. “We thank all of those who have given their lives for our freedoms,” she said. “We need to teach others of the importance of those sacrifices … and we continue to do that, as we are doing today.”

After the wreaths were placed, the ceremony finished and the cemetery mostly empty, Evelyn had a chance to reflect on what she and the other Legion Riders had helped make happen for those buried at the cemetery.

“Once everyone has left and it gets quiet, Ray and I always take a ride through the cemetery to see because we don’t get a chance to see what’s going on during the actual wreath laying,” she said. “It brings us to tears, it actually does, to see this entirely covered.

“And I keep thinking that right across the street is (the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King) with many of our veterans living there. And they have the opportunity to look out over the cemetery and see this covered, and to know that they won’t be forgotten.”

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Super Galaxy: Aeromedical evacuation's biggest ally

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — During a cold, gloomy first week of December, total force Airmen teamed up at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, to test the capability of the Air Forces largest aircraft to perform aeromedical evacuation during a proof of concept event.

The goal was to establish the C-5M Super Galaxy as part of the universal qualification training program for AE forces. If successfully certified, the C-5M will have the capability to move three times the current capacity in one mission compared to other AE platforms.

The proof of concept event was made possible by recent upgrades to the C-5 making the cargo compartment more suitable for AE operations.

“The engine upgrade allowed the aircraft to produce a lot more power and to use the jet more efficiently,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Boots, 60th Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation C-5M flight engineer evaluator. “Another factor was the environmental system received upgrades. We now have better control over the systems, and we’re able to better control the environment (temperature and cabin pressure) that the AE folks would have downstairs in the cargo compartment.”

The C-5M upgrades allowed the proof of concept to work, but the Airmen’s innovation is what made it happen.

“The Air Force as a whole is more interested in using the assets that we have more efficiently and maximizing the capability that we can get out of different airplanes,” said Air Force Maj. Kevin Simonds, 22nd Airlift Squadron C-5M pilot. “I think this is an example of that. It's a priority within the force and in the MAJCOM (Air Mobility Command) as well to try to maximize the way we use the assets that we have.”

With the Department of Defense’s shift to focus on great power competition and maintaining readiness, the C-5M’s greater capability to the AE enterprise could be a game changer.

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Legionnaire’s wish to receive Purple Heart comes true

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Francis Byrne has waited 74 years to fill an empty spot in a display case that holds the medals he received from fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. The 94-year-old World War II Army veteran and Legionnaire, who is battling terminal cancer, recently received news that his wait was over.

Byrne was to receive his Purple Heart.

On Friday, Dec. 14, Byrne was presented with his long overdue medal by New Hampshire National Guard Adjutant Gen. Brig. David J. Mikolaities, and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey. The ceremony was held at the Elliot Hospital Conference Center in Manchester, N.H., where Byrne shared in his excitement alongside family and members of his Henry J. Sweeney Inc. American Legion Post 2, including Post Commander Daniel Beliveau and Post Adjutant and New Hampshire National Executive Committeeman William "Bill" Roy.

Believeau said Post 2 "is very proud of Francis Byrne for his service to our country during World War II. His actions during combat in Europe demonstrate the finest qualities of the members of the Greatest Generation. And serve as an outstanding example for our next generation who are now serving the United States both in uniform and out of uniform."

The post presented Byrne with the Department of New Hampshire's Centennial coin.

Byrne was injured in Belgium in 1944 when he was hit in the leg by shrapnel from a German land mine. A display case on a wall inside his home includes medals for D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Combat Service, Army Good Conduct, World War II Victory and the French Croix de Guerre. After being diagnosed with terminal kidney and bladder cancer a few months ago, and only given four months to live, Byrne’s wish was to receive his Purple Heart to hang in the case as well.

The office of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has helped make Byrne’s wish come true by advocating for his long-overdue award. Shaheen told the Union Leader that the lieutenant who was going to write Byrne up for his Purple Heart was killed in battle. "So it's taken this long to get that recognition that he so deserves."

Shaheen spoke with Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper about Byrne's overdue award, and shared with Esper that “Mr. Byrne is a World War II hero, a member of the Greatest Generation, and he deserves this honor."

Following the call with Esper, Shaheen called Byrne to share his long-awaited news.

“I started shaking … I was so emotional,” Byrne told the Union Leader. “I didn’t think I would live to see the day.”

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Potential shutdown unlikely to impact DoD, VA

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With another partial government shutdown looming in the coming week, it’s unlikely – but not completely assured – that the shutdown will have an impact on the Department of Defense.

Currently, a partial government shutdown could occur at midnight on Dec. 21 over the failure of Congress to pass spending bills to fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Spending bills previously approved by Congress and signed into law would keep departments operating in Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. Lawmakers already have cleared legislation to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, the legislative branch, military construction, and energy and water development.

While the Defense Department currently isn’t in the mix, is reporting there is no guarantee there wouldn’t be side effects for the military if negotiations on a solution continue to deteriorate.

According to ABC News, about 420,000 federal employees who are deemed “essential” would continue to work through a shutdown, ensuring that critical operations in government would proceed unhindered. But these workers would not receive any compensation until the shutdown ends and lawmakers pass legislation to pay them retroactively.

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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.