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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion helps save Vietnam veteran’s memorial from removal

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For more than 50 years, a memorial honoring the life and service of Vietnam War veteran Jim B. Robison has stood tall in the desert in Ocotillo Wells, Calif. From their living room window, Elmo and Nancy Robison could see the memorial that was dedicated to their son, who was killed Feb. 7, 1966.

In January 2017, a single complaint was lodged, citing the First Amendment. This jeopardized the memorial’s future because at the time it sat on public land owned by the Ocotillo Wells Airport. San Diego County, which oversees the airport, considered moving the memorial to another location, which drew an outcry from local residents.

Robison’s nephew, Tom Lemmon, and Ocotillo Wells resident Sherri Kukla led the movement to save the memorial. Along the way, American Legion District 22 of California and First Liberty Institute joined in to save the memorial and preserve the remembrance of a fallen servicemember.

“We firmly believe that the greatest gift that we can give our fallen warriors, the men and women they served with, and the families they leave behind is the gift of remembrance,” District 22 Commander Chris Yates said. “The American Legion has a big commitment to make sure that we preserve the memories and the incidents of our associations in the great wars. We’re fulfilling that obligation by making sure that we’re preserving the memory of the men and women, like Jim Robison, who gave their lives for this country.”

On Dec. 1, American Legion Post 853 officially purchased the quarter-acre parcel of land where the memorial sits. Robison’s family members are pleased with the outcome.

Lemmon said the memorial is visible from the family homestead.

“It’s something my grandparents (Elmo and Nancy Robison) looked at every day,” he recalled. “I know it gave them a lot of peace. Literally from their house they could see the Gold Star flag (in the window) and see the cross just behind it.”

Lemmon, who was not quite 7 when his uncle was killed, said he remembers Robison well. He went to Vietnam around Christmas Day 1965 and was killed the following February.

“I have lots of memories of him,” said Lemmon, a Marine veteran. “He was athletic, smart and loved the Army like crazy.

“After he was killed, I wanted to join the military.”

Evon DeLauder is Robison’s older sister and Lemmon’s mother. She remembers her brother as being very sweet and athletic. “He would put Tom on his shoulders and run around with him. Tom loved it.”

Robison lived with his sister and her husband when he was 16 and she was 19 in Florida. “He’d come through the living room, hear the music on the radio, grab me and we’d start dancing.”

Shortly before leaving for Vietnam, Robison visited his sister and her family in Oxnard, Calif. He bought presents for Tom and his sister. “Everyone prayed for him,” DeLauder recalls. “He said, ‘I am not afraid to die. Pray that I am not captured or maimed.'”

DeLauder had written him three letters and received one from Robison. He concluded the letter with, “I’ll be home soon,” she remembers. “His death was very hard on us.”

Robison carried a book by Billy Graham during the war. “It had to do with life after death,” said DeLauder, who kept the book and recently passed it on to her daughter. “He accepted the Lord and in the book he underlined every passage that had to do with life after death. It wasn’t a gruesome thing. It was a beautiful thing.”

Now living in Virginia, DeLauder hasn’t seen the memorial in years. “It’s a beacon of life,” she said. “He’s still alive in our hearts.”

Post 853 members will work with the family to care for the memorial.

“Any memorial that represents or even associates itself with a fallen veteran or any veteran is a memorial to all of us,” Post 853 Commander Lee Quarcelino said, noting the post voted unanimously to undertake the project. “We all paid the price. That’s what the Legion is about; helping community, children, the nation.”

The memorial sits on a small hill in a barren desert, often used by dune buggy enthusiasts. The memorial’s concrete and brick base supports a metal cross, which is about 20 feet high.

Such peaceful remembrance is especially important to Dale Jones, Post 853 second vice commander and chaplain.

“A memorial allows us to remember the sacrifices, the past,” Jones said. “As we move forward in the future years, future generations – the Great War, World War II, Vietnam – all the conflicts grow further and further apart. History can be lost. But these memorials, they are that moment in time where you can take the quiet time to remember those who have fallen and given the ultimate sacrifice. This memorial is a place where we can go and recognize those who have paid the ultimate price.”

The Legion’s acquisition of the land concludes a lengthy period when local advocates, public officials and others joined forces to save the memorial.

Kukla is a co-founder of S&S Off Road Magazine. The land around the memorial is popular among off-road enthusiasts.

When Kukla learned that San Diego County was quietly considering removing the memorial she feared Robison family members, veterans, off-road participants and others would lose their place of quiet remembrance. She posted a message on her magazine’s Facebook page and started an online petition, which generated an outpouring of support for the memorial. The tight-knit off-road community immediately got involved, spreading the word and contacting local lawmakers.

“I was overwhelmed,” Kukla said, noting that other veterans and civilians have had their ashes scattered at the site. “Everybody was really upset that it might come down. Everyone feels like it’s their memorial.”

Lemmon contacted county supervisors and worked with them for over a year, while also getting California Rep. Duncan Hunter involved to assist with the land transfer from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Last summer, Hunter sent a letter to the FAA requesting it consider a request from the county to sell the land to a private party to keep the memorial in place.

With Lemmon’s and Kukla’s involvement and commitment, the pieces started falling into place to save the memorial. With the county and congressional staffs engaged, the Legion and the legal team joined the effort.

First Liberty Institute senior counsel Roger Byron worked with the Legion, Robison’s family and others to secure the deal.

“The memorial will continue to stand for years to come in honor of the fallen American solider it was erected to commemorate,” Byron said. “In my mind, the Legion rode in on a white horse and ensured that the honor of the fallen American servicemember — as well as the sanctity of the memorial erected to honor him — would continue to stand for years to come.”

Byron is a Navy veteran and member of The American Legion.

“All veterans memorials should be honored, and all veterans memorials should be preserved,” he said. “This isn’t Arlington National Cemetery, but it’s the next best thing. Fallen servicemembers can’t be here to defend themselves. They’re not here to defend the memorials that honor them so we should do it for them.”

Lemmon praised Byron for his role. “He had an amazing compassion and a desire to do the right thing.”

Robison’s nephew is thankful for the support from the Legion, First Liberty and others.

“My goal was to save the cross but I hadn’t given it much thought to what that meant,” Lemmon said. “I really liked the connection to my uncle — who had an American Legion post named after him in Ocotillo Wells. I really like how The American Legion’s mission is to support veterans and their families.”

Now, the memorial will remain in place where it has been for more than a half century.

“It’s a low-key memorial, something my family looked at every day,” Lemmon said. “It gave us a gentle reminder of Jim Robison. But we saw fairly quickly that others latched onto it for memorials for their families, which is a big part of the story. While it will forever be known as the Jim B. Robison Memorial, it’s really everyone’s.”

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Legion commander: ‘President Bush admired by troops, world leaders around the globe’

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The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization, American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad, issued the following statement regarding the passing of former President George H.W. Bush:

“The American Legion is saddened by the passing of a great Legionnaire, former President George H.W. Bush. His stoic leadership during the Gulf War was admired by not just by the troops that he led, but by world leaders around the globe. As a young man he served heroically in World War II. It marked the beginning of an entire lifetime dedicated to public service. He inspired Americans to give back to their communities with his ‘Thousand Points of Light’ program.

"The American Legion was proud to present our highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, to President Bush in 1991. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Bush family and his many friends.”

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Collaboration and partnerships emerge as themes of Military Health transformation

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Collaboration and partnership are paving the path forward for the Military Health System, explained two senior medical leaders Wednesday, Nov. 28, during the 2018 meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals.

Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency’s National Capital Region Medical Directorate and the transitional Intermediate Management Organization, talked about the value of a market construct to support military treatment facilities under the DHA. This model calls for centralized functional capabilities at the DHA headquarters to ensure standardization and ensure efficiencies and intermediate management functions managed by market offices.  Asking the audience to set aside their desire to take notes, he guided attendees through a series of illustrations and examples demonstrating how shared values can guide the transition designed to optimize the experience of care for providers, patients, and other stakeholders.

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American Legion to appear in 130th annual Rose Parade in California

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On March 15, The American Legion will celebrate its 100th birthday. To highlight its centennial nationwide during the biggest New Year’s Day celebration, The American Legion will have a presence in the 130th annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1.

An American Legion centennial float will travel the 5 1/2-mile parade route filled with hundreds of thousands of spectators and millions of viewers watching live on television. The float will showcase to parade viewers who The American Legion is with its representation. This includes several members of the Legion Family, such as National Commander Brett Reistad, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Greg “Doc” Gibbs and Auxiliary National President Kathy Dugan. Also included will be American Legion Riders, youth program alumni such as 2018 American Legion Boys Nation President Joshua Cheadle and Auxiliary Girls Nation President Hoda Abdalla, Samsung American Legion scholar Jack Gardner, and Olympic gold medalist and American Legion air-rifle champion Jamie Corkish.

A representative from each of the five military branches also will be on the float, along with a Medal of Honor recipient from each of the war eras. They include Hershal “Woody” Williams of World War II, Ron Rosser of the Korean War, Walter “Joe” Marm of the Vietnam War and Britt Slabinski of the Global War on Terror.

The Rose Parade will be broadcast live beginning at 8 a.m. PST. The parade is televised on ABC, NBC, Hallmark Channel and others. Check your local broadcast listings for more information or visit

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Health leaders: Whole of military health is greater than sum of parts

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md – Department of Defense health leaders who spoke about Military Health System reform during the 2018 meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals, stressed collaboration and commitment to implement massive organizational transformation. 

“What you’re hearing is, this is a Military Health System and not an Air Force or an Army or Navy or even a Defense Health Agency system,” said Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, the Air Force surgeon general. “All the parts are required in order for MHS to be the best it can be. That’s why we’re all committed” to making sure transformation is successful.

Otherwise, Hogg said, “It fails our beneficiaries: our service men and women and our family members. And we will not let that happen.”

Hogg was one of six panelists speaking on Thursday, Nov. 29, during the 127th AMSUS annual meeting. “Change is hardest in the beginning, messiest in the middle, and easiest at the end,” she said, referring to requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2019 to transition administration of all military treatment facilities to the DHA no later than Sept. 30, 2021.

Dr. Terry Adirim, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health services policy and oversight, served as panel moderator. In her opening remarks, she noted that having DHA as the single agency responsible for the administration of all MTFs is the best way to improve and sustain operational medical force readiness and medical readiness of the armed forces, improve beneficiaries’ access to care, improve health outcomes, and lower costs.

Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, DHA director, was the first panelist to speak. She said the transformation enables the MHS to create efficiencies among collective patient populations, particularly with appointment processes and pharmacy refills.

Lt. Gen. Nadja West, the Army surgeon general, noted the hospitals and clinics at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were among the inaugural group of MTFs to transition to the DHA on Oct. 1.

“It’s a model of how smooth a transition can be,” she said, noting there was no disruption in either care or the readiness mission.

“Through transformation, we’ll ensure [Army Medicine] remains a no-fail mission,” West said.

Vice Adm. Forrest Faison III, the Navy surgeon general, said the sea service “is taking advantage of the many, many opportunities that come with transformation. It will allow us to focus on our true north: ensuring we’re doing all we can to save lives and return sons and daughters home to their families.”

“If you’re going to fight tonight, you’ve got to be able to save lives tonight,” Faison said. “Every mom and dad in America is depending on us to do that.”

Navy Rear Adm. Colin Chinn, the Joint Staff surgeon, described his role as a global medical integrator. Medical interoperability is needed not just among the services, he said, but also among allied and partner nations. “They are vital to our global success,” he said.

Dr. Richard Thomas, president of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, was the final panelist to speak. He noted that the mission of USU includes educating, training, and preparing health professionals to support military and public health efforts.

“We don’t fight alone,” Thomas said, “and we certainly don’t heal alone.”

AMSUS continues through Friday, Nov. 30, in Inner Harbor, Maryland.

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.