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Sons membership grows again in 2019

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Membership in the Sons of The American Legion grew 1.2 percent in 2019, the largest growth in the organization since 2016.

Sons membership as of Dec. 31 was 375,540, an increase of 4,520 members from 2018. Membership in 2016 grew 1.6 percent, increasing to 367,948 members.

Some of last year’s growth in membership could likely be attributed to passage of the LEGION Act, which President Trump signed into law on July 30. The legislation, which declared that the United States has been at war since Dec. 7, 1941, opened Legion programs and benefits to millions of veterans who previously weren’t eligible because their service fell during undeclared periods of war.

The legislation also extended membership eligibility for the Sons.

At September’s National Children & Youth Conference, SAL Children & Youth Chairman William Clancy said one of the Sons’ goals for 2019-20 is to reach an all-time high in membership: 400,000 members.

Sons membership reports can be found here.


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PNC Dellinger honored for his leadership

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American Legion Past National Commander Daniel Dellinger of Virginia was asked why he continues to do so much for the nation’s largest veterans service organization. He replied, “Because of love. Because of love for this country, and because of love for those who raise their hand, take that oath, put that uniform on, and defend our country every day.”

Dellinger was inducted into the Sons of The American Legion Hall of Fame at Post 13 in Pasadena, Calif., during a gala early last November. Other inductees included 74-year American Legion member Anna Brown and Past Department of California American Legion Auxiliary president Linda Workman. The three names are now enshrined on the first floor of Post 13 alongside others such as American Legion Past National Commander Jake Comer.

The Sons Hall of Fame started in 2013 with seven initial inductees as an event to celebrate individual contributions to the American Legion Family, and to add new energy to Post 13, according to Mike Seaton, first national commander for the Sons of The American Legion in 1968.

The Hall of Fame is an extension, and a separate and independent program, of the Sons of The American Legion Pasadena Squadron 13. The nominating committee includes Squadron 13 Commander George Curtis, 1992 National Commander Eugene L. Sacco and Seaton. They select American Legion Family leaders nationwide on their contributions to the organization.

Seaton said those selected are "leaders in their community, are making a contribution to veterans and basically people that deserve to be told thank you and give them some recognition for it.”

This year’s honorees have distinguished themselves at the community, state and national level.

During his time as national commander in 2014, Dellinger called for the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as well as Under Secretary for Healthcare Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey following a CNN report that the Phoenix VA Medical Center had been keeping a secret waiting list that included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment, which may have resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans.

“He would get up in the middle of the night to answer emails to folks in the media, do a phone interview with a TV journalist, work with staff, anything he needed to do to be sure that another veteran didn’t die due to wait time or the lack of care,” said Nancy Brown-Park, who served alongside Dellinger as National Auxiliary president, during her introduction of Dellinger at the gala.

Dellinger, a life member of Dyer-Gunnell Post 180 in Vienna, Va., serves as the post’s judge advocate and mentors post-9/11 veterans in The American Legion. He helped build The American Legion float for the Vienna Halloween parade, complete with an Eiffel Tower to represent the organization’s birthplace and celebrate the Legion‘s 100th anniversary; he helps cook breakfast for Unit 180’s monthly fundraiser; and he and his wife Margaret worked alongside American Legion Family volunteers for the centennial float represented at the Jan. 1, 2019, Tournament of Roses Parade.

“He is still very active in the American Legion Family, whether wearing a red cap or a blue cap,” said Brown-Park, who also is a Sons Hall of Fame honoree. “What I admire about him is that he’s as involved today with his post and department as he was before he was national commander. He is dedicated to the entire Legion Family. When I served as national president, he always made sure that the SAL and I were included. He asked my opinion, we had great conversations about growing the American Legion Family, and that continues today.”

Dellinger said induction into the Hall of Fame is something he never dreamed of. “I just do things, and good things happen,” he said. “But I do appreciate everything that’s being bestowed upon me this evening.”

He said none of what he has been able to do in the American Legion Family would be possible without support from his family and wife, Margaret. “Some say I’m the Energizer Bunny, but they’ve never seen her work. I really want to thank her for putting up with me and supporting me in my endeavors. She is a saint.”

Dellinger got his start in The American Legion when a foreman who was working construction with him came up and asked if he could borrow a wheelbarrow for the weekend and added, “I need you to deliver it to the American Legion post,” Dellinger said. “So I drop that off, have two libations and a World War II vet says, ‘Do you have $15 on you?’

When Dellinger handed the money over, the World War II veteran said, “’Congratulations you’re the newest member of The American Legion.’ It only took me about two months to be elected adjutant of the post, and the rest is history. Those World War II and Korea veterans who were past post commanders took me under their wing and taught me about The American Legion. They taught me about the principles we were based upon.”

Dellinger spoke of those mentors and what they instilled in him – “hard work, pride, loyalty, honor your commitment, do what’s right, follow through, help others when possible.”

For his ending remarks, Dellinger recognized the foundation of American Legion Family history as a path to the future.

“The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, and the Sons have been, or are, celebrating 100 years of service,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to be successful and take care of our veterans and servicemembers, our communities and our nation ... all three entities need to work together, and that’s what you’re doing here in California, and it’s what we’re doing across the country. I commend you for what you’re doing, but if we’re going to continue to be relevant, we need to keep up the fight. And the only way we keep up the fight is if we all work together.

“We’ve been leaders for 100 years. We need to stand for 100 more.”

Introductions for the other two honorees shared that Workman is an inspiration to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of California. An Auxiliary member since birth, she has been elected or appointed to more than 25 department and national offices, and has held several positions on committees and commissions. She is currently serving as the Auxiliary Department of California's National Executive Committee member, and is a recently retired banking and mortgage professional who now spends much of her spare time revitalizing Auxiliary units within her district.

Brown is a U.S. Marine Corps World War II veteran and past commander of Santa Monica Women’s Post 704 and Bay Cities Post 123. She has served as the historian and vice commander for the Department of California, and recently completed a 20-year stint as president of the Women's Marine Corps Association of Southern California.


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Maine Legion post takes unique approach to battling homeless issue

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American Legion Past National Vice Commander John Hargreaves says there are approximately 100 identified homeless veterans in Maine on any given night. Of those, approximately 10 have reached out to a local or state agency about housing options but have yet to be placed somewhere.

It’s that second group that raised the concerns of a group of Legionnaires at Hargreaves’ post, Charles E. Sherman Jr. Post 36 in Boothbay, and has led to what could end up being a short-term solution for veterans needing to get off the street immediately.

Ed Harmon, a member of Charles E. Sherman Jr. Post 36, where he is a service officer and the commander of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 36, came up with the idea to convert a cargo trailer into a temporary residence for veterans in between applying for housing and being placed in some kind of residence. He and fellow Post 36 member Arthur Richardson, who has an electrical license and a background in carpentry, teamed up to build a prototype that the pair hope will become the first of many such trailers throughout the state.

Harmon said that he attends various meetings with other veterans service organizations, and state and local agencies, where he “kept hearing about the lag time on paperwork” for homeless veterans looking for immediate housing. “They’re still sleeping on the street, in a car or under a bridge. How do we resolve this?” Harmon wondered.

Post 36 Commander David Patch attended many of the meetings with Harmon, where they started to understand “what was missing,” in housing homeless veterans, Patch said. “To add to that, just a few months ago we had a homeless veteran who was in his car. We saw firsthand what the problem was. And following that veteran, we had a local veteran who ended up passing away in his sleeping bag alongside the railroad tracks. So we had the understanding what the problem was academically, if you will, and then we saw it and experienced it firsthand.”

Harmon already was in the business of retrofitting campers for use by veterans, and that prompted the idea that “why don’t we build something that’s temporary (so) that they can survive?” Harmon said. “Get them out of the cold. Get them horizontal. Give them some heat. Give them some hope. So that’s how it developed. Seeing the plight that’s been going on, I couldn’t take it anymore.”

He and Richardson went to work on a cargo trailer that Harmon had purchased, insulating it, lining the inside walls with fiberglass-reinforced plastic, and providing the trailer with LED lights and heat rated at 99.9-percent efficiency. The trailer has a bed, nightstand, end table, chair, microwave and refrigerator. The heat and electricity in the trailer is powered by plugging the trailer into a regular electrical outlet located outside of a home.

The Veterans Emergency Temporary Shelter (VETS) is intended to meet a need for “those veterans who are in that limbo between contact with an agency and actual placement in temporary transitional housing,” Hargreaves said. “A lot of times on weekends they call, they walk (into a homeless shelter) and there’s no beds. And they have to vet those veterans and there’s nobody to call and check. The veteran is back in his car or under the interstate, wherever. The intent is that these (trailers) are located in places where the agency can put them directly in (the trailer) for two or three days, or maybe a couple weeks. We’re looking at 12 or 13 units for the state of Maine probably. Maybe more. But that also depends on who can take them and who can provide the services.”

Harmon said he and Richardson will “build as many of these as we can get money for and send them around the state.” Over the next few months members of Post 36 plans to work with VA, the state and other organizations involved with the homeless population in Maine to create a process for making the trailers available to those entities assisting homeless veterans.”

Getting the word out about the efforts of Post 36 hasn’t been a problem. “(In Maine), this project is probably known by every organization that deals with homelessness, including the (Department of Veterans Affairs) and the state of Maine,” Patch said. “Visibility in the state right now is not a problem.”


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VA now processing Blue Water Navy veteran claims

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As of Jan. 1, the Department of Veterans Affairs began processing Agent Orange disability claims for Blue Water Navy veterans.

The American Legion-supported Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which was signed into law June 25, affects Blue Water Navy veterans who served within 12 nautical miles offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962, and May 7, 1975, as well as veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Jan. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971. According to a VA press release, these veterans can now apply for disability benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides.

Click here for a list of diseases associated with Agent Orange.

Blue Water Navy veterans have waited nearly 50 years to receive disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. The American Legion passed Resolution No. 246 in 2016 that supported "legislation to amend title 38, United States Code, to presume exposure to Agent Orange for any military personnel who served during the Vietnam War on any vessel that came within 12 nautical miles of the coastlines of Vietnam."

The VA press release also announced that survivors can file claims for benefits based on a veteran's service if the veteran died from at least one of the 14 presumptive conditions associated with herbicides such as Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida if their parent is or was a veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period.

Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. American Legion service officers also are available to assist with benefits claim and application process. Visit www.legion.org/serviceofficers to find an American Legion service officer near you.


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Historic Paris Post 1energizes a new generation

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American Legion centennial events occurred throughout the nation and around the world in 2019. No fewer than 4,000 local posts conducted activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the nation’s largest organization of wartime veterans. I spent significant time on the road throughout the centennial celebration – working on the video series “To Strengthen a Nation,” riding along American Legion Memorial Highway last August and participating in the 101st National Convention in Indianapolis among those unforgettable experiences.

And as the centennial year came to a close, I found myself where it all began: Paris, France, where the organization’s legacy is certainly fueling a historic post’s vision.

There have been several different 100-year anniversaries for The American Legion in 2019. The Paris Caucus that created The American Legion was conducted March 15-17, 1919, and the Legion Birthday was celebrated far and wide a century later. The 100th anniversary of the St. Louis Caucus was last May, with a major event put on by the Department of Missouri. The 100th birthday of the federal charter on Sept. 16 and the first national convention in November were remembered. And posts everywhere began celebrating their own centennials with ceremonies and a renewal of vows to uphold the organization’s driving purposes.

It wasn’t until Dec. 13, 1919, that Paris Post 1 was established. Many of its members were founders of the organization living in Europe, and it became affectionately known as “The Mother Post.”

One hundred years after Paris Post 1 was chartered, I stood in its administrative office looking over a display case full of memorabilia and photos, alongside Vice Commander Bryan Schell. A Navy veteran in his early 40s, Bryan had spent the previous several months helping plan a recognition of the post’s 100th birthday. With the United States no longer having a prominent military mission in France, the number of expatriates has decreased over the decades and many members have re-deployed elsewhere, so membership is not what it used to be there. A young and relatively new Legionnaire, Bryan is intent on getting the post back into the city’s spotlight and growing again.

As I was taking photos of some historic banners, Bryan brought out a post delivery book whose last log entry was May 21, 1940. Just days earlier, the Nazis had invaded France, soon to occupy Paris.

Located at 49 Rue Pierre Charron in the 8th district of Paris was the longtime home of Post 1, Pershing Hall, which had to be closed down during the occupation. The building itself was acquired and established as a World War I memorial by resolution of the 1927 American Legion National Convention. The resolution aimed to make it a permanent American Legion building, with appropriate artifacts from the war, and as a meeting place for many U.S. groups there. It was dedicated by namesake Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, and over the years it become much more than a war memorial and American Legion clubhouse. It became a center for Americans in Paris, nicknamed the “American Embassy” because while the real U.S. Embassy handled diplomatic policy and paperwork, Pershing Hall was where the U.S. community hung out and enjoyed being among other Americans. Any American who was anyone made a point to visit Pershing Hall, home of The American Legion’s Paris Post 1, during its heyday. American Legion founding leader Col. Francis Drake, first commander of Paris Post 1, played a vital role in the establishment of Pershing Hall as a means to maintain a strong post-war friendship between the United States and France.

As the looming threat of the Nazi occupation spread across Europe, eventual Paris Post 1 Commander George Aubrey had also distinguished himself as a Legionnaire, just as he had as a soldier during World War I. Aubrey served as a company commander during the war, and in the battle of Saint Mihiel, he was wounded several times and received the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster.

In 1938, he was elected commander of Paris Post 1, and in 1940, as the Nazis approached, he was serving as commander for the Department of France.

Pershing Hall was boarded up as the Germans closed in. A deal was struck with the Swiss Guard to protect it. Aubrey and his fellow Legionnaires, meanwhile, helped organize a volunteer ambulance corps to transport wounded troops to hospitals long before the United States entered the fighting in Europe. One of about 500 Americans in Paris at the time it fell to German forces, Aubrey also helped Legionnaires in Paris make weekly short-wave broadcasts, reporting events back to the United States. In 1941, Aubrey was forced to flee.

He moved his family south to the town of Saint Amand-Montrond and began working with the French marquis there. In July 1944, as the Allies were pushing across northern France following the D-Day invasion, Aubrey and his marquis group of resistance fighters attacked and captured German headquarters in the town. Shortly afterward, while organizing another group of resistance fighters to help drive the occupiers out, Aubrey found himself outnumbered in a firefight and was fatally shot.

The rich history of Paris Post 1 is one of the reasons Bryan Schell joined The American Legion and is working to rebuild awareness of its historic role. A few years after The American Legion moved out of Pershing Hall in the 1990s, the mayor of the 12th district of Paris offered office space in a government building on Boulevard Diderot, near the Lyon train station, to keep it there.

On Dec. 14, Paris Post 1 had its centennial gala at the Marriott Hotel along the famous Champs-Elysée. Continuing with its tradition of bringing together Americans in Paris, the gala featured among the attendees representatives from the American School of Paris, Association of American Residents Overseas and the Boy Scouts. Guests enjoyed a lively cocktail hour then moved into the main dining room where they were entertained by concert pianist Sebastian Ene. Robert Hannan, counsel general of the U.S. Embassy in France, spoke to the group, and glasses were lifted by members who toasted a century of The American Legion experience in the city where it all began, with an eye toward the future. “It’s everyone’s celebration,” Schell said. “It is a momentous occasion to be able to understand what we have done in the past to see what want to do in the future.”

As we drove throughout Paris, and I began recording the many monuments and memorials connected to The American Legion and U.S. military service there, I could not help but feel the same way as this young vice commander, who found himself captivated by The American Legion not long ago. He had been looking for a place to access veteran services and facilities when Post 1 member Rick Jones told him about the Legion. Once he learned the history, and seeing an opportunity to connect other U.S. veterans with services, legacy and camaraderie in Paris, Bryan was hooked and now looks forward to helping Post 1 extend its vision into a second century, propelled by a history that includes dedicated service in two world wars, the second of which took the life of a former post commander whose story is not lost on new generations, like ours.

U.S. Army veteran Jeric Wilhelmsen, a member of Hollywood Post 43 in California, is co-host of “To Strengthen a Nation: The American Legion Story,” a documentary history of the organization. Visit legion.org/legiontv to view the first seven episodes.


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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov