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Veterans Benefits Information

Veterans Day in East L.A.

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Anyone who thinks The American Legion lacks diversity should have been air-dropped into Atlantic Avenue Park in East Los Angeles Nov. 10.

In a pre-Veterans Day ceremony, community members of all demographics filled the park and heard from U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress, whose father was a charter member of nearby Eugene Obregon American Legion Post 804, as well as a member of Congress, himself, and Los Angeles City Council member. The post’s commander is East Los Angeles College student Karla Gonzalez, a U.S. Army veteran and single mother of five who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and Africa; she told the crowd how important family and veteran support was during four deployments over a period of 12 years in the Army. That’s a big part of why she gives back through The American Legion.

“I continue to serve by helping veterans and families in our community because,” she told more than 100 veterans at the third annual event, “…without you guys, without all of your support, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you right now. The road is not easy. But every time I fall, I manage to get up and continue to serve, and I continue to do the things that God has brought me here to do.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, a former member of Congress and Secretary of Labor whose parents met in a U.S. citizenship class, coordinated the Veterans Day weekend ceremony. “It’s a time for us to recognize the contributions made by all our veterans, as well as those who represent those veterans,” she said. “They have made us proud for many, many decades.”

At the event, Solis presented certificates of commendation to Post 804; Judge Advocate Nick Rosa, who served as master of ceremonies; past American Legion National Executive Committee member Hugh Crooks Jr.; the Sons of The American Legion; American Legion Riders; a high school student who spent his summer vacation studying cancer at Harvard; Marine Corps League Detachment 1347; the Hispanic American Airborne Association; and others who strengthen the community, which has a proud tradition of military service and support.

The 1954-chartered post was named for Marine Private First Class Eugene A. Obregon of East Los Angeles who at age 19 sacrificed his own life to save a wounded comrade during the Korean War and received the Medal of Honor in 1951. A U.S. Navy ship, a highway interchange, a Marine Corps barracks and three parks, in addition to Post 804, are named in his memory. The post recently refurbished and colorized a portrait of the local hero that hangs inside the gymnasium at one of the parks.

Another speaker was state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers, who now represents the legislative district that includes East Los Angeles. “In particular, I want to recognize and honor the thousands of immigrant veterans, having been born in another country, who still adopt this nation and say, ‘I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect the freedoms of this country,’” she told the crowd. “Even if they were physically not born here, they give of themselves, like anybody else.”

Post 804 Commander Gonzalez is one such veteran. “I was born in Mexico,” she explained. “I came here in 1996. I was confused. I was young… but one thing I did know for sure was that I wanted to serve this country. I came here for opportunities, and I took advantage of every opportunity that was offered to me. One of those opportunities was to join the service. I got my citizenship back in Germany, right after my deployment to Iraq. I came back, I took the oath, and here I am.”

Rep. Roybal-Allard encouraged those gathered for the event to honor veterans by volunteering in the community, through the schools, VA health-care facilities, neighborhood watch programs and cleanup projects.

“While it is not possible for us ever to equal the sacrifices of our veterans and their families, we can challenge ourselves to ensure that their services and sacrifices were not made in vain,” she said. “It starts with fighting our own cynicism, our own short-sightedness, our own selfishness and, above all, our own intolerance. It starts with realizing the necessity of universal patriotism and of honoring in our hearts, our minds and in our actions that for which our country stands and what our country means to us.”

She strongly urged those gathered to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census. “If every man, woman and child in our community and in our state is not counted, we will lose millions of federal dollars, which we did in the last census, for education, health care, housing and veterans benefits,” she said. “The fact is, if you are not counted in the census, then as far as the federal government is concerned, you do not exist.”

Crooks Jr., a Vietnam War combat veteran who now serves as chairman of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, shared with the crowd some of the key issues confronting those who served – unemployment, under-employment and homelessness among them. After delivering a Veterans Day proclamation to Solis from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Crooks described the cold welcome he and his fellow Vietnam veterans received when they came home in the 1960s and how simple words of thanks can go a long way today.

“Tomorrow, we celebrate Veterans Day, this day where we put veterans first,” Crooks told the crowd. “But I want to ask you a question: shouldn’t every day be Veterans Day? Shouldn’t every day, veterans are first? It’s up to us to ensure that every veteran feels his or her service to this country is appreciated by their fellow Americans. There are many tangible ways you can do that, some as simple as, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for our country.’ For my Vietnam brothers and sisters, some as simple as, ‘Welcome home, brother and sister.’”

Following the ceremony, many made their way to Post 804 for a meal and to take in some of its history. “There’s a lot of history in this post,” says post service officer/chaplain/historian Armando Esparza, longtime member and Vietnam veteran, who happily showed visitors the post’s artwork and gallery of portraits. Included are photos of former military personnel with post connections, such as Obregon, Edward R. Roybal (father of Rep. Roybal-Allard), civil rights activist and Navy veteran Cesar Chavez, Rosa, Esparza and dozens of others, from World War I through the Global War on Terrorism. “We’ve got generations here – one that’s four generations here. A lot of veterans. I have family up on the board there, too. I have an uncle, I have a son who served in the Marines with me … they all stepped up.”


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'Just the right thing to do'

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The Legionnaires from American Legion Post 18 in Weehawken, N.J., have managed to more than double the post’s membership in two years, thanks in part to focusing on community involvement.

That involvement, along with following the Legion’s long-time mantra of “veterans helping veterans”, was at the forefront of the post’s Veterans Day mission.

Yes, post members attended three Veterans Day ceremonies in the area – including one it co-conducted with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1923 – that morning. But in the afternoon, Post 18 members made visits to fellow post members who haven’t been involved in recent post activities.

One such member was World War II veteran Ernie Troisi, a 91-year-old widower in nearby Union City. Post 18 Commander Chris Page, First Vice Commander Troy Robert Mack and member Craig Vogel – all post-9/11 veterans – walked more than a mile to visit Troisi in the home the veteran has lived in since birth.

The goal was to perform a “buddy check” on their fellow members, as well as pass out membership cards. “They love being identified as Legionnaires,” said Page, who was active duty in the Army from 1992-1999 and currently is a sergeant first class in the Army Reserves. “And that’s what (non-commissioned officers) do in the service. You’re supposed to check up on your troops. We’re charged … with the health and welfare of our troops. What we like to do is check up on our members and make sure they’re OK. We also check in on their families as well. It goes back to helping out with the community.”

The Legion contingent was joined by members of Pin-Ups on Tour, whose members recreate the magic of the Hollywood Canteen that operated during the 1940s as a club offering dancing and entertainment for servicemembers who were normally on their way to an overseas deployment.

Troisi, whose wife passed away in the past year, shared photos he had of he and his wife, their family and Troisi’s younger years, when he was a gymnast and a track athlete. Page asked Troisi if there was anything he needed; Post 18 will help collect Troisi’s wife’s clothes that the veteran wants to donate to someone, as well as seeing that his disabled doorbell is working.

“I really appreciate it,” Troisi said of the visit. “Thank you so much for coming by.”

Mack, who served in the Army from 2004-2009 and now is the director of Human Services for Weehawken, said conducting the buddy checks is “literally just the right thing to do. Lord knows we would love to do this more often and more frequently. But certainly today is a day you call on your buddy and make sure that your buddy’s doing OK.”


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A day of celebration at the Bladensburg veterans memorial

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Valor. Endurance. Courage. Devotion.

Those words are emblazoned on the sides of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, along with the names of the 49 men from Prince George’s County, Md., who made the ultimate sacrifice during the first world war.

The words also illustrate the five-year battle waged by The American Legion to ensure that the memorial was not removed from where it has stood peacefully since The American Legion and Gold Star Mothers dedicated it in 1925. Thanks to a 7-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the memorial will remain in place and Legionnaires will continue to hold Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies at the site as they have for decades.

William Speight, American Legion county commander of Prince George’s County and a member of Post 196, said simply, “We won this fight and the peace cross isn’t going anywhere.”

More than 100 American Legion Family members, Bladensburg residents and others turned out for the first ceremony at the base of the memorial since the Supreme Court decision. At least three World War II veterans attended the ceremony.

“This is great, seeing everyone come out, especially the older veterans from World War II,” Speight said. “It’s wonderful to see a blend of Americans — black, white, Hispanic, doing something together. That’s what’s great about our country. When we come together, you can’t stop us.”

Steve Weitz, a Coast Guard veteran who has lived in Bladensburg for 42 years, referred to the memorial as “the heart and soul of the community.”

Noting it has stood for nearly a century, Weitz said, “Everyone here knows where the Peace Cross is. It’s very well-known throughout the state. We’re so grateful to keep it here. The whole country is grateful because this would have set a precedent to take down the crosses in Arlington and all the other military cemeteries.”

In a day designed to thank and honor veterans, the gratitude extended to all of those who defended the memorial, including The American Legion’s legal teams at First Liberty Institute and Jones Day.

“Every year we come here for Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Weitz said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like if the cross was torn down. We’re so thankful for the lawyers who saved it. They never gave up.”

Roger Byron, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, said the high court ruling is having an impact well beyond eastern Maryland.

“This was obviously a huge win for veterans across the United States,” said Byron, a Navy veteran and member of The American Legion in Texas. “This win not only protects the Peace Cross, but it sets a new standard in the law to protect veterans memorials across the country from similar attacks.”

Less than five months after the ruling was issued, there are already examples of its reach.

“The case is a precedent-setting matter,” Byron said. “It has already been used to reverse one decision that struck down a memorial that was used for Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. We expect it to become a landmark victory in defending veterans and religious liberties across the United States.”

Byron pointed out the Legion’s long history with the memorial and noted that it will continue.

“It’s been a privilege working with the Legion on this,” Byron said. “What was at stake with this litigation was not just this peace cross, but all memorials like it from coast to coast, including those in Arlington National Cemetery. Now we have a standard in place. And veterans can rest assured that they can honor their own, they can honor their fallen the way they have done from time in memoriam, using the symbols they have always used.”

While the 40-foot-high memorial’s location is secure, more work remains to be done. Cracks have formed. A tarp covers the top to prevent further damage from the weather. The memorial’s supporters said they would be working to secure funding to restore the memorial and hinted at a rededication ceremony.

But Veterans Day was a day of gratitude and celebration.

Even though Philip Holdcraft has emceed more than 15 ceremonies at the memorial, this year’s Veterans Day event was special.

“I wanted to thank all the people who fought the battle for us,” said Holdcraft, a past commander of Post 131 in Maryland. “They were always there when we asked them. Now that the Peace Cross is going to stay, I just wanted to thank all those who helped out.”

Holdcraft reflected back to the Legion’s Preamble, which includes the phrase, “To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in all wars.”

“That’s what The American Legion does,” he said. “We support our veterans and our veterans families.”

Christopher DiPompeo, an attorney with Jones Day, worked on the case for five years. His goal was simple: “to tell the story and let the Supreme Court know what this means to the people of Bladensburg, to those who served. Here’s to another century of gathering here to honor veterans.”

DiPompeo was honored to work on behalf of the nation’s past, present and future veterans.

“It means a lot, especially on a day like today when we honor veterans,” he said. “I’m glad to know that, while I did not serve, we were able to do something to preserve the memories of those who did, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”


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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