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The Legion Family spirit of giving

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As the holiday season continues to ramp up, American Legion posts and their Legion Family members are among those individuals and organizations who look to assist those perhaps needing a little extra help this time of year.

But American Legion Family members don’t just provide financial assistance. In some cases, they’re ensuring veterans with no family in the area don’t experience the holidays alone.

One post also is stepping up to help those impacted by a tragedy. This year’s Christmas party in Paradise, Calif. – first started by American Legion Post 259 four years ago – provided an early Christmas for the children who survived the 2018 Camp Fire.

Post 259, the Paradise Host Lions Club and the Paradise Veterans Group teamed up to raise more than $8,000 to buy over a thousand gifts for local children this holiday season. The event took place at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Paradise.

And at St. Peter American Legion Post 37 in Minnesota, the post is hosting a different kind of Christmas party, one that focuses on helping children with special needs – specifically those with autism.

According to KEYC, the post is hosting a Sensory Santa Visit on Dec. 21. Children with special needs can enjoy a visit with a disability trained Santa in a sensitive and calm environment, with games there designed specifically for them.

Abby Baker, a mother of two children with autism, praised what the event offers. “For special needs parents, especially when they are going to a typical event, it can be so chaotic,” she told KEYC. “And your child can be so sensitive to things, every child with a disability is different. And so you never know if your child will react to a large crowd or whether the lights and sounds will be too much for them.”

The following are some of the events and assistance American Legion Family members are providing across the country as the nation celebrates the holiday season.

Arizona

American Legion Riders Oro Valley Chapter 132 raised more than $10,000 the past few months to buy a specially modified, eight-passenger golf cart for residents of the Arizona State Veterans Home in Tucson.

The Riders provided an escort when the cart was delivered during the home’s Christmas party, along with presents for the residents. With the cart, the veterans will have easy access to the home’s campus.

“Some people thought it would take a year to raise the money, but thanks to some generous donations, we did it in seven weeks,” Chapter 132 Legion Rider John Madaloni, coordinator of the fundraising effort, told tucson.com. “As veterans, it is our way of giving back. Lots of us didn’t get some things we should have been entitled to or receive acknowledgment that we should have, and that is what The American Legion is all about: It is veterans helping veterans.”

Connecticut

In Litchfield, Morgan-Weir American Legion Post 27’s annual food drive resulted in food being provided to 71 families. Thousands of perishable and nonperishable food items were donated and then distributed to families of limited financial means. So much food was donated that some will be delivered to local food banks.

“It’s a true community effort,” Auxiliary Unit 27 member Jane Bonville told the Republican American. “The Boy Scouts and the State Police Explorers help out, and the Litchfield-Morris Rotary Club was a major contributor.”

The families benefiting from the drive were identified by the town’s social services department and the Litchfield school system’s social worker.

Additionally, food and personal items were collected through the post and the Rotary Club to send to Auxiliary Unit 27 member Christine Shortsleeve’s son’s military unit. Her son, Evan, is on a nine-month deployment with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The post was able to send 21 boxes of collected items overseas to Evan and his fellow soldiers.

“They were all elated,” Shortsleeve told the Republican American. “They couldn’t believe how much they received and were very appreciative.”

Georgia

Continuing what has become an annual tradition, Morris-Little American Legion Post 6’s Legion Family in Milledgeville provided donations and volunteers for the Joy Shop for the residents at the Georgia War Veterans Home. The shop allows the home’s residents to shop for gifts for their friends and family and travels to each of the state’s veterans homes. Auxiliary Unit 6 raises money all year long, as do other Auxiliary units. The donations help buy gifts for veterans to choose from.

Glenda Kohlhagen, one of the newest members giving of her time as a volunteer with the Morris-Little American Legion Post, also attended the two-day event, and helped where needed.

“We love giving back to our veterans, because they have given and done so much for us and our country,” Unit 6 member Glenda Kohlhagen told the Union-Recorder.

Idaho

American Legion Post 101 in Mountain Home is working with Snake River Bros of Southern Idaho (SRB) to donate three holiday dinners for needy families in the area. Post 101 and SRB will present the families with the turkey dinners at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church.

Indiana

• American Legion posts in Hendricks County comprising the Indiana Blue Star Committee are again assisting area military and veteran families with their annual Spirit of Christmas Event on Dec. 21. The committee is sponsoring 21 families this year comprised of deployed families, single-mothers and single-fathers serving, or veterans and Gold Star families.

• In Sullivan, American Legion Post 139 donated approximately 30 poinsettias to all of the veterans in area nursing homes, and hosted a Christmas party for the children and grandchildren of the post’s members and a holiday dinner.

Kentucky

American Legion Post 121 in Bardstown continued its tradition of distributing Christmas food boxes to about 80 local families, many of them veterans’ families. The post teamed up with Bread for Life Community Food Pantry, which identified 50 families in need; 30 families were identified through the local school resource centers.

Many items were collected through a food drive at local schools. Area businesses also provided reduced prices on items and donated to the effort.

New Jersey

Donato J. Laviola Post 139 in Lyndhurst provided a Christmas Party for special needs children, and will be providing $100 Shop Rite cards and $100 gift cards to 10 needy families in town. The post also will provide items to local veterans in senior homes.

Pennsylvania

In Danville, American Legion Post 40 members have been delivered Christmas presents for more than 50 years to veterans in area nursing homes. Recently, members of the post’s American Legion Family visited 50 veterans in four different nursing homes. The members provide gift bags that include a military calendar, a puzzle book, a pen, body wash and deodorant, diabetic socks and an American Legion hat and T-shirt.

“We’re making sure every veteran is taken care of and let them know they are not forgotten, they’re still a part of the military family,” Post 40 Commander Brian Sosnoskie told The Daily Item. “It’s up to us to continue this tradition.”

Wisconsin

In La Crosse, American Legion Post 52 set up a Buddy Tree with the names of 100 area veterans. The community was invited to pick names and buy that veteran a gift.

"It's overwhelming what the generosity from the public and the community, other veterans, and other American Legion Posts. It just feels great," Post 52 Commander Josh Navrestad told News8000.

If your American Legion post and/or Legion Family is part of a special holiday event, please share the story and photos at legiontown.org.


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OCW helped thousands of wounded warriors, veterans and their families in 2019

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The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program helped thousands of wounded veterans and their families this year through donations of rehabilitation equipment and comfort items, as well as a number of events aimed at providing respite and fun.T

The following are a few examples of how OCW grants were able to assist others.

Walleyes for Wounded Heroes

In June, more than 100 wounded veterans spend three days fishing Lake Erie as part of the eighth annual Walleyes for Wounded Heroes event. The American Legion has provided grants to fund the event since 2014; this year’s $16,000 grant covered the cost of lodging as well as daily breakfast and lunch for the veterans.

“For us to come up with that money every year that the Legion donates would be so many extra hours that we just don’t have,” said Walleyes for Wounded Heroes President Joe Stelzer, a member of American Legion Post 323 in St. Marys, Ohio.

Tom Crites, a member of American Legion Post 452 in Stanton, Mich., said the event gives the veterans a chance to help other veterans.

“We went through some of the same things they went through. If we can help them get help, get their PTSD more under control … it can help the younger veterans bond with us. We’re here as older people and can take a younger guy under our wing and become friends with him. Each year we see them that bond grows stronger. It’s really satisfying for us to help other veterans,” Crites said.

A night at the ballpark

Through a relationship with Hawthorne Gardening Company, the OCW program was able to invite 500 veterans and their families to a Tacoma Rainiers minor-league baseball game in August.

Some 25 employees from Hawthorne drove two hours to volunteer their time to welcome veterans and their families to the ballpark and hand out complimentary T-shirts and hats. They were joined by members of The American Legion Department of Washington, including Department Commander Bob Clark, who threw out the first pitch.

“This is what it’s all about, getting together, having camaraderie, doing things in a community,” Clark said.

“I think it’s great to get all the veterans out here in support of each other, and enjoy a night of sport,” said Carmita “Angel” Nash, a veteran of the Army and Washington National Guard.

Six Flags Fiesta

The same weekend as the Tacoma event, OCW donations covered the cost of admission and lunch at Six Flags Fiesta in San Antonio for hundreds of patients and their families from Brooke Army Medical Center. OCW has worked with the Department of Texas since 2012 to make this event happen.

Parade VIPs

During The American Legion National Convention Parade in Indianapolis on Aug. 25, the Legion’s centennial float included three special guests courtesy of the OCW program. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Maxfield, Sgt. Chris Leverkuhn and Sgt. Chris Henderson – all medically retired after suffering injuries while either in training operations or combat – were guests of The American Legion over the weekend as part of the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program.

The trio, who served together in the 209th Quartermaster Company out of Lafayette, Ind., were able to do some sightseeing, hit area restaurants and even attend the Aug. 24 Indianapolis Colts preseason game.

Every dollar donated to OCW goes toward the comfort items and services that help servicemembers in their recovery. For donations to OCW, visit www.legion.org/donate.


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Uncovering My Father’s Vietnam Service Through the Things He Carried

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Before he died, my father never talked about his time in the military. Now I’m trying to put the pieces together using the clues he left behind.

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Legion Family steps up to honor, teach during Wreaths Across America

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Last Saturday, Dec. 14, more than 1 million remembrance wreaths were placed on veterans’ gravesites across the nation as part of Wreaths Across America (WAA). The program provides the opportunity for family members, friends and strangers alike to honor those no longer alive who at one time wore the uniform of their nation.

And at WAA events from coast to coast, American Legion Family members were present, either hosting or participating in the event, or fundraising to cover the costs of the wreaths.

In places like Quincy, Mass., and Elmira, N.Y., Legion Family members participated in events that placed a combined more than 14,000 wreaths at area cemeteries.

And in Wisconsin, District 8’s American Legion Riders spearheaded an effort that again provided a wreath for every veteran’s grave at the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in King. More than 7,200 wreaths were placed for the second straight year. Click here to watch a video of the event.

Elsewhere, Legion Family members were busy last weekend in carrying out WAA’s mission of both honoring veterans and teaching future generations the value of their sacrifice. The following is a sample of how Legionnaires, American Legion Auxiliary members, Sons of The American Legion and American Legion Riders helped out with Wreaths Across America.

California

In Willits, American Legion Post 174 teamed up with the Willits FFA, 4-H and community members to place more than 500 wreaths at the Willits Cemetery. The event included a ceremony where wreaths were placed to honor all five branches of the military, the Merchant Marines and U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action servicemembers.

Connecticut

In Enfield, John Maciolek American Legion Post 154’s Auxiliary unit sponsored the 11th Wreaths Across America event at St. Patrick's King Street Cemetery. Local Boy and Girl Scouts assisted in placing the wreaths, and the names of Enfield residents killed in action since World War I were read aloud by first responders and Gold Star family members.

Massachusetts

• For the sixth year in Shrewsbury, Victor R. Quaranta American Legion Post 397 sponsored the WAA ceremony, placing 51 wreaths at Mountain View Cemetery. Ray Stone American Legion Post 238 also laid wreaths during the event.

• In Scituate, American Legion Post 144 placed around 550 wreaths at Cudworth Cemetery. “It’s wonderful. We had about 40 kids here,” Past Post 144 Commander Steven Litchfield told WATD. “We did 550 bows in probably half an hour, which is pretty amazing. A lot of hands makes short work. They got into it. I explained what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I had kids coming up and thanking me, and I’m thanking them. It’s neat, we really love doing this.”

New York

In Victor, an effort that began in 2018 with seven wreaths on seven graves grew to more than 500 wreaths being placed in three locations — Boughton Hill, St. Patrick’s and Village cemeteries — by American Legion members, local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and volunteers.

“It’s gratifying to me to know that all the graves here for the veterans are going to have a wreath for Christmas,” American Legion James Cooke Post 931 Finance Officer Bob Haggett told the Daily Messenger. “I had some help from a lot of people who donated or volunteered and are out here in the rain today.”

Oklahoma

More than 500 graves were decorated with wreaths at Coweta’s Vernon Cemetery. Members of Coweta’s American Legion Post 226 participated in the event by laying ceremonial wreaths in honor of each military branch.

“It is important to remember our veterans and to recognize the people who have served,” Post 226 Commander Shawn Fitzgerald said. “Everyone who has served, whether in combat or non-combat positions, they are all veterans and equally respected by our organization. People need to remember them.”

South Carolina

• In Charleston, American Legion Riders Chapter 179 conducted its first Wreaths Across America ceremony at Live Oak Memorial Garden in West Ashley. The event’s keynote speaker was retired U.S. Marine John Coy, a member of Post 179. "There's nothing greater than remembering and honoring those individuals who have served,” Coy said. “And those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation."

• At Long Beach City Cemetery, members of American Legion Post 1995 and Veterans of Foreign Wars members placed wreaths on the graves of the nearly 216 veterans buried at the cemetery. “It shows the local community that we still care for our brothers and sisters that have passed, that have made that sacrifice, to come out and say, ‘We remember you, we remember what you did for us,’” Post 1995 member Tina O’Shields said.

Texas

• In Katy, Jonathan D. Rozier American Legion Post 164 led the effort for the third annual local Wreaths Across America event. The post helped raised enough funds to place wreaths on approximately 445 veterans’ graves at Magnolia Cemetery. American Legion Department of Texas Division 2 Commander Bryan Coleman, the keynote speaker, said, “Symbolically, wreaths represent everlasting life. This seemingly simple evergreen is so much more than a decoration on a grave. Wreaths Across America exists because hundreds of thousands of people across the United States and abroad responded to the emotional power of these wreaths and their simple ability to honor military veterans and their families.”

• In Lukfin, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 113 conducted a WAA ceremony at the Garden of Memories Cemetery that placed wreaths on every veteran’s grave. “This program turned out phenomenally. It has been the best one that we have done so far and we have been doing it for a few years now,” Post 113 Commander Michelle Scuito told KTRE. “We have a huge veteran community in Angelina County. So, it should mean a lot to all of us that many of our community members went and served their country.”

Virginia

In Sandston, American Legion Post 242 teamed up with Henrico County Police and other local first responders to place wreaths at Seven Pines National Cemetery. The public also helped place the wreaths, including the family of Col. Thomas Felts, a Sandston native killed by an IED in Baghdad in 2006.

West Virginia

Beallsville American Legion Post 768 member David Wiles helped organize the WAA event at Beallsville Cemetery and other area cemeteries, where more than 400 wreaths were placed. Powhatan Point American Legion Post 228 and Woodsfield American Legion Post 768 in Ohio were among the other organizations that took part in the event.

“We are one nation and one flag,” Wiles said. “Many walks of life. The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout the nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom and without fear. … The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality.”

Wisconsin

In St. Lawrence, Allenton American Legion Post 483 joined with volunteers to place 287 wreaths on the graves of the veterans buried at eight area cemeteries.


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Gingerbread house reflects Connecticut posts legacy

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An edible gingerbread house model of American Legion James B. Whipple Post 86 is on display at the Wilton Library in Connecticut. It was created for the second annual How Sweet It Is In Wilton – Gingerbread House Contest 2019, whose theme is celebrating the past, present and future of Wilton.

The idea to choose Post 86 as a Wilton landmark for the gingerbread model was an easy one for the Stewart family.

“We follow all the wonderful community programs Post 86 offers and thought not only should it be represented at the Wilton Library this holiday season, but it was also a perfect way to celebrate the centennial (of Post 86),” said Viv Stewart.

Viv and her husband’s three children have been a part of Post 86 through Scouting and the post’s support of the soccer program Kick for Nick. Their son, Kace, also is a recipient of the James B. Whipple Post 86 American Legion Certificate of School Award for Distinguished Achievement. Kace, an Eagle Scout and now a freshman at the University of Michigan, “is both humbled and grateful that Post 86 chose him for such an honor, and so are we,” Viv said.

It took Viv and her daughter Halli over two days to build the gingerbread house. “Everything needed to be edible and needless to say, we’re happy it’s still standing,” Viv said. The house resembles Post 86 from the side staircase made with Starburst candy, to flag poles made of licorice with the American and POW flag, and the Kick for Nick net filled with candy to reflect soccer balls.

“What they did was fantastic,” said Post 86 Adjutant Tom Moore. “They did a great job keeping with the foundation of the post. Whatever you see on the gingerbread house, if you came to our post you would recognize it immediately.”

That includes the Kick for Nick sign and net which was founded by the late Post 86 member Ken Dartley in memory of Army Pfc. Nicholas Madaras.

Madaras was an avid soccer player, coach and referee in the local community. He wanted to share his love for the sport with the children in Baqubah, Iraq, that he met during his deployment. They were using tin cans as soccer balls.

He asked his family in the summer of 2006 while home on leave to send a few soccer balls so he could distribute them to the children. Madaras, 19 years old, never got the chance to do so. He was killed by an IED on Sept. 3, 2006.

Dartley read about Madaras, his passion for soccer and desire to share the sport with children in Iraq. So he approached the Madaras family and asked if he could start a program of collecting soccer balls to fulfill their son’s wish. That was the beginning of the Kick for Nick program.

What started with soccer balls being collected in a net in front of Post 86 has grown to the distribution of over 55,000 balls to 53 countries. People from all over the country donate.

“We empty the net four or five times a year,” Moore said. “I never knew Nick. But this program brings tears to my eyes.” And the simple fact that Viv and Halli highlighted the program with the gingerbread house “is an honor” to Post 86 and the community of Wilton.

Winners of the contest will be announced before Christmas. Viv said her and Halli’s “intention wasn’t to win but to choose a landmark in our hometown and then have fun figuring out how to make it completely edible.” After the contest, the gingerbread house will be displayed at the home of Post 86 to celebrate its centennial.


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