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Pearl Harbor 77 years later: forging the future, remembering the fallen

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In recognition of their dwindling numbers, American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad made it a point to meet several of the few Pearl Harbor veterans left as he attended the battle’s National Remembrance Day Commemoration Friday morning in Hawaii.

“The theme for the program this year was ‘Forging the future,’ but we all know that it is the heroes of the past that have ensured that America even has a future,” Reistad said. “This is the very reason that The American Legion’s founders included a pledge to ‘preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars.’ We have a responsibility to educate future generations about the honorable sacrifices that have been made so that we can have the freedom that we all enjoy today.”

Following the memorial service, Reistad and a delegation that included American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Gregg "Doc" Gibbs, rode a transport boat alongside the USS Arizona Memorial in tribute to its fallen crew. The Arizona Memorial, which is closed for renovations until the spring, sits above the actual wreckage of the ship that sustained almost half the total casualties of the attack.

Passengers who boarded the transport boat were given floral petals and remembrance cards with names of fallen crew members from the Arizona and other ships that were attacked. Names on the cards given to the Legion delegation included Ensign Carl Alfred Weeden, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ardenne Allen Woodward, Seaman 1st Class Paul Eugene Shiley, Seaman 1st Class Edward E. Talbert and Marine Pfc. Carl Edward Webb.

“These young men never grew old but what they did on that day had a monumental impact on the world,” Reistad said. “But seeing actual names as we were riding in such hallowed waters added a personal element to a solemn day of remembrance. These men were fathers, sons and brothers. They had people who loved them.”

None of the five living USS Arizona crew members were able to attend this year’s service, marking the first time that the crew had no living representative at the ceremony.

While it was clear that the passing or absence of so many veterans that she knew over the years moved her deeply, Superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Jacqueline Ashwell vowed that their legacy would be forever remembered.

“For so long as there is a United States of America, a flag will fly over the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Park Service will continue to tell your story,” she said. “Your unconquerable spirits will live forever.”

Her message was reinforced at the ceremony by Navy Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

“We can never forget the heavy price paid 77 years ago… 21 vessels damaged or sunk, 170 planes destroyed, more than 2,400 dead and 1,200 wounded – soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians,” Richardson said. “Despite these heavy losses, it did not break the American spirit – in fact it charged it. We quickly prepared for the long hard war to come.”

After acknowledging the recent passing of World War II Naval aviator and president, George H.W. Bush, Richardson stressed the need to continue to tell their stories.

“That is why ceremonies like today’s, and organizations like the National Park Service, are so important ... to educate and inspire future generations to work toward a better future,” he said. “And since World War II the United States has continued to play an active role in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Following the remembrance events, Reistad and a delegation of Legionnaires from national headquarters met with Air Force Major Gen. Kevin B. Schneider, chief of staff for Indo-Pacific Command. The meeting covered topics pertaining to Reistad’s upcoming visits to South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Japan.


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PNC Detweiler receives French Order of Merit

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American Legion Past National Commander William Detweiler was honored Friday in a ceremony at the U.S. Freedom Pavilion at the World War II Museum in New Orleans when he received the French National Order of Merit by Consulate General of France Vincent Sciama.

“You're a strong partner, and France is so proud of your work and your partnership,” Sciama said at the ceremony attended by more than 100, including top officials of the museum, which Detweiler has helped make one of the nation's most-visited shrines to American military service.

The National Order of Merit is an honor awarded by the president of France to French citizens or foreign nationals who have exhibited distinguished civil or military achievements. It is second-highest honor bestowed by the Republic of France.

Since the establishment of the award in 1963, notable French artists, athletes, scientists, diplomats and members of the military have received the honor, including oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, actor and filmmaker Gérard Depardieu and Presidents Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterrand.

Royalty and heads of state from around the world, ambassadors and members of the military have represented non-French recipients, including such notable Americans as Gens. Wesley Clark and Anthony Zinni, Comanche Code Talkers Charles Chibitty, Roderick Red Elk and Forrest Kassanavoid, and another American Legion past national commander, Wilbur C. "Dan" Daniel of Virginia, who led the nation's largest veterans organization in 1956 and 1957.

Detweiler has served as a member of the Louisiana Governor’s Military Advisory Board and was a member of the Louisiana Senate’s Select Committee on Military Affairs. He is also a member of the Mayor’s Military Affairs Committee of Greater New Orleans. In 1973, Detweiler was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to the Veterans Administration National Rehabilitation and Education Advisory Committee to the Administrator, and in 1975 was named chairman.

The National Order of Merit specifically recognized Detweiler's work at the National World War II museum. Currently consultant for military and veterans affairs at the museum, his work with the museum began even before ground was broken at the popular and growing institute dedicated to the memory of World War II.

“There ought to be 1,000 bricks with his name inscribed around this museum for all he has done," museum co-founder and CEO/President Emeritus Nick Mueller told the crowd gathered for the ceremony. "He's been a tireless champion and advocate for this museum and its mission, on local levels, on national levels, and international levels."

Mueller shared how Detweiler's support in the late 1990s help make the D-Day Museum (its original name) a reality, how he connected local leaders, DoD officials and French authorities to stage grand opening ceremonies for the museum in 2000, how he helped forge an alliance with the Caen Memorial Museum in France and launched the annual World War II Conference at the museum in 2007 when it re-opened after Hurricane Katrina.

Mueller said that throughout all of Detweiler's work on behalf of the National World War II Museum, "his voice has always been clear, his passion authentic, and his belief in our mission, unwavering.”

Museum CEO and President Stephen Watson also spoke of the positive influence that Detweiler's dedication has on the museum experience.

“He takes the detailed time to ensure we are connected with veterans, providing them with the best experience here at the museum ... that when we engage with military and veterans organizations, they leave this museum feeling that they are part of our family. That comes from the heart, and that comes from his deep, deep passion for the services and sacrifices they have made.”

Upon accepting the National Order of Merit, Detweiler gave credit back to those who supported him in his many roles over the past 50 years of service to veterans. "I have received many accolades and awards over the years, but I would not have received these awards if it had not been for the women and the men who supported my leadership. Without the wonderful staff of this museum, I would not have been singled out for this award. So tonight I humbly accept this award for myself, and for the great staff of this museum.”


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American Legion float has prominent position in Rose Parade

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The American Legion will occupy a prominent position in the 130th annual Tournament of Roses Parade Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

The American Legion will have the third float in the parade, directly behind the Marine Corps band.

National Commander Brett Reistad, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Greg “Doc” Gibbs and Auxiliary National President Kathy Dugan will be among those riding the float. Four Medal of Honor recipients — Hershel “Woody” Williams, Ron Rosser, Walter “Joe” Marm and Britt Slabinski — will also be riding the float.

In the days leading up to the parade, a delegation of American Legion Family members and youth program participants will decorate it. On Dec. 30, the float will be judged along with others in the parade.

Also on Dec. 30, American Legion Post 13 in Pasadena will host a special black-tie event where Reistad, the four Medal of Honor recipients, other American Legion Family leaders, youth champions and others will be present.

The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Legion post, 131 N. Marengo Ave. in Pasadena. For ticket prices and more information, call 626-792-2158 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . To register, please visit here.

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 www.tournamentofroses.com.


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Reistad to Young Marines: Treasure the Greatest Generation

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Many of the heroes of Pearl Harbor and World War II were teenagers who accomplished amazing deeds. That was the theme of American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad’s remarks before the youth organization, Young Marines, gathered at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Dec. 6.

“Many of the servicemembers who were here on Dec. 7, 1941, were not much older than the Young Marines here today,” Reistad said. “Some were just teenagers. After the attack, teenagers from every corner of the United States rushed to their local military recruiters to sign up and defend America in its greatest time of need.

“These young men – and, yes there were women who played a pivotal role in that war effort as well – sacrificed their youth so liberty may grow old.”

Reistad, American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Greg K. Gibbs were three of the guest speakers who spoke to the group gathered to commemorate the Pearl Harbor attack, which occurred 77 years ago on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

“Events like this are particularly poignant because they perfectly summarize the core beliefs of my organization, The American Legion,” Reistad said. “We were founded on the four pillars of a strong national defense, care for veterans, Americanism and patriotic youth programs. I know that the Young Marines not only believe in these principles, but you practice them.”

The Young Marines is a nonprofit youth education and service program for boys and girls from age 8 through the completion of high school. The organization has received support from The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation and was lauded for its service and patriotism by Dungan.

“Just like the Young Marines, The American Legion Family leadership travels to Pearl Harbor to remember the sacrifices of the heroes we lost of Dec. 7, 1941, and to celebrate those who survived one of the most impactful days in our nation’s history,” she said. “I love that your dedication to our heroes is not something you do only once a year – it is something you do every single day. It’s this commitment to serving our heroes that makes the Young Marines so similar to my organization, the American Legion Auxiliary. Your organization and my organization work very hard to serve our military and honor our veterans, while being good citizens who make positive changes in our communities.”

Gibbs mentioned that while he was not a Marine, he was raised by one.

“Growing up with a father who was a combat Marine veteran from World War II and an uncle who was a master sergeant with combat experience as well, the family was run with a certain discipline many of my friends families lacked. My father taught me many lessons although not overtly but through his modeling of what it was to be a man,” Gibbs said, before noting examples of his father’s service to others. “He left us way too early at the age of 57, but I remember the example he set and will strive to live up to his values. He is why I serve as a Sons of The American Legion Commander and continue to honor the service of others. Marines make men. I am sure they do. They made a great father.”

Before placing a wreath in honor of America’s fallen heroes, Reistad implored Young Marines to treasure any opportunity to meet and thank World War II veterans. He noted that when he was the age of the Young Marines, World War I veterans were plentiful, but “now there are none. If you see a person wearing a Pearl Harbor Survivor cap, shake that hero’s hand and thank the veteran for his service. We must not take this great generation for granted. They won’t always be with us. Even though their legacy surely will be.”

This weekend Reistad will embark on a tour of the Far East, meeting with military troops, government officials and Legionnaires in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.


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WWII veterans serve as Veterans Day parade grand marshals

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Constantine (Coz) DiGiullo, 102, and Veria Wagoner, 101, were grand marshals of Albany's 63rd Veterans Day Parade, held on Monday, Nov. 12. They are members of Joseph E. Zaloga American Legion Post 1520 in Albany, N.Y. Both are WWII Army veterans, and have over 60 years of membership at Post 1520.

Two cadets, dressed in WWI uniforms to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI and standing behind the honorees in the photo, are from Albany High School's JROTC program; they were honorary grand marshals, They represented two Albany Medal of Honor recipients: William Henry Johnson and Patrick F. Dunn.


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