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Legion Riders, Gold Star families pay tribute to the fallen

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When Gina Townsend’s father was killed during the Vietnam War, she was too young to understand or participate in his Medal of Honor ceremonies.

As an adult, Townsend began to research her father, Clifford Sims, who received his medal for his actions when he launched himself over a booby trap, sacrificing his life but saving his fellow soldiers.

“We kind of put it behind us because Vietnam was an unpopular war,” said Townsend, who was among the Gold Star family members at the National Poppy Day ceremony at American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, Va. “In my 20s, I started doing some research, met some people who served with him and learned how many things had been done in his honor that we weren’t privy too. Ever since then, we have been going to various events and programs that honor his name and that is what led us here.”

Medal of Honor recipient and Navy SEAL Edward C. Byers Jr. served as the keynote speaker at the event. Byers reflected back to previous missions he was a part of in describing the importance of National Poppy Day.

“Out of tragedy something amazing and beautiful can flourish,” said Byers, who led hundreds of American Legion Riders to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for a candlelight vigil and laying poppies at the wall. “Today is one of those days. To stand here and celebrate National Poppy Day and reflect on why the poppy began to flourish across Europe at the end of World War I. Out of death and destruction grew a beautiful flower. This is why we should not mourn our fallen, but celebrate their lives. We come here today to remember and to reflect on those who gave all and the families they left behind. We will honor them by laying poppies at the wall.”

Among those joining Byers at the wall was Bob Sussan, chairman of The American Legion Riders National Advisory Committee.

“On Memorial Day and every day, it is important that we pause and reflect on those who have given their lives in service to our country,” said Sussan, a member of Post 177. “Being here and placing my poppy has personal significance. I served in Vietnam. I am sure others are just as moved as I am to honor someone who gave their life so that we can all be free.”

For six years, the post has hosted Riders, Gold Star families and other patriots from across the nation on Rolling Thunder weekend. On Friday night, they all solemnly commemorated the first Poppy Day candlelight vigil at the wall.

More than 100 Riders joined Gold Star family members in laying poppies at the wall to pay homage to the fallen servicemembers. Bystanders snapped a few cell phone pictures while others offered symbolic “thank yous” to the veterans for their service and the Gold Star family members for their sacrifice.

Each year in communities across the country, members of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion distribute poppies and collect donations. All donations received as part of National Poppy Day support veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families with medical and financial needs.

Townsend is married to Col. Daniel Lee Townsend, who will be laying a wreath during Memorial Day weekend. “Our family will be honoring our current servicemembers while also remembering those veterans who came before us,” she said.

Poppy Day is a way for Townsend to educate others about her father and husband.

“If I had to help people understand what Memorial Day and Veterans Day are all about is that we remember those people who gave some and who gave all for the freedoms we have today,” said the sixth-grade science teacher. “I think we just need to be aware. My husband is active duty and so we are aware of what is going on internationally. But today’s generation is not aware of some of the history of some of the people who fought and died for our country. I would just encourage people to study our history and learn why we honor these people because we can do what we do now because of their sacrifices.”

The poppy and its history tracing back to World War I in France helps spread that message during this sacred weekend.

“This poppy means that I can celebrate openly and I can share with others,” Townsend said. “We have beautiful weather this weekend. All my friends are here celebrating. It’s just an honor to be a part of it because for so many years I was not a part of it. I think I understand a lot more and I like that my daughter, my husband, are part of something that honors so many.”

 


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Legion slams White House VA budget

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American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt expressed extreme disappointment in the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The administration’s budget for the VA would effectively lower the earnings of our most vulnerable veterans by reducing or eliminating disability payments from veterans who are the most in need,” Schmidt said. “This is absolutely unacceptable to us.”

If approved by Congress, the president’s budget would stop higher disability payments to veterans once they become minimally eligible for Social Security. Veterans currently enrolled in the Individual Unemployability program, which is available to those who cannot work and receive the maximum disability compensation from VA, would see their benefits slashed by nearly two-thirds in some instances.

Another disturbing provision caps working age unemployability at age 62. Schmidt pointed out that many members of Congress continue to work past 70.

“This plan breaks faith with veterans,” Schmidt said. “Moreover, it’s an assault on TRICARE benefits, which were earned by veterans who spent decades of their lives serving and defending the Constitution of the United States. We are also alarmed by the cannibalization of services needed for the Choice program. It is a ‘stealth’ privatization attempt which The American Legion fully opposes. Choice should not be advanced to the detriment of cost of living increases for veterans.

"We hope all veterans, families and supporters of veterans call their elected officials and demand a well-functioning, properly-funded, transparent, and accountable Department of Veterans Affairs, and a presidential budget that fully supports veterans’ needs.”


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Legion remembers the fallen, supports the living

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The American Legion's Washington Office held a National Poppy Day Legislative Reception on May 23 at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., to remember the fallen and support living servicemembers, as well as show gratitude for all the work government and congressional officials do to support the nation’s veterans.

More than 160 guests attended the reception, which featured complimentary appetizers, bourbon whiskey tasting, wine/beer selection and soft bluegrass music. Matthew Shuman, director of the Legion’s Legislative Division, and Executive Director Verna Jones gave brief remarks at the ceremony.

“This is truly a special occasion for us,” National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said. “The red poppy is a symbol of sacrifices made in service to our country. … In 1920, it became the official flower of American Legion families to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died through (World War I). Distributions of these poppies became a national program of The American Legion in 1924. This year, The American Legion asked members of Congress to recognize the importance of the poppy with the support of House Resolution (HR) 309.”

Thanks to the support of H.R. 309, a bill sponsored by Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) that was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform earlier this month, Schmidt said Friday, May 26, 2017, will mark the first-ever National Poppy Day in the United States, a tradition he is optimistic will carry on for years to come.

“Our members and posts are in every congressional district,” Shuman said. “The American Legion is involved in every community, votes in every election and has met with every one of your offices. I think it’s fair to say that The American Legion is part of the fabric of this great nation.”


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U.S. Veterans Use Greek Tragedy to Tell Us About War

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A dozen military veterans recited Sophocles’ poetry and explained their feelings about war and coming home.

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Legion to visit Europe military community

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American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt and Washington Office Executive Director Verna Jones, along with other Legion representatives, will meet with troops, veterans and their families overseas in Europe from May 30 to June 8 to help spread the word about VA benefits and resources available for the military community.

“It’s actually two different parties going together,” said Frederick Gessner, deputy director of the Legion’s National Security Division. “There’s the national commander and his group, and then a separate group with Jones (including our media relations director, Joe Plenzler, and National Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division Director Lou Celli, who will be conducting town halls).”

Part of the itinerary includes six VA town halls to assist U.S. military personnel and veterans, all scheduled for 0900 to 1200 hours each day, at the following locations:

• Tony Bass Auditorium, Building 1043 at Lucius D. Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany (May 30)

• Armstrong Club Ballroom in Kaiserslautern, Germany (May 31)

• American Legion Post 1982 in the USAG Ansbach area of Germany (June 1)

• Patch Barracks Chapel in Stuttgart, Germany (June 1)

• Skyline Theater on Germany’s Spangdahlem Air Base (June 2)

• SHAPE Alliance Auditorium, Building 100, in Benelux, Belgium (June 7)

“The commander will stop in [to the town halls] and say a few words. Then he’s going to go onto the bases and have meetings with the commanders,” Gessner said. “He’s going to explain to them what the Legion can do for them, all the pre-benefits entitled to their troops. But also, he wants to understand what’s happening on their end … so that we can take that information back. That’s why we’re sending staff on this trip.”

Subject matter experts will also accompany Legion staff on the trip to speak about various VA benefits, including everything from the GI Bill to home loans and health care. “Jones is going to have a second mission where they’re going, to have VA town halls,” said Gessner. “That’s where they’re going to invite the military community in those areas - the veterans and the active duty, spouses and anyone who wants to come to have an opportunity to speak to the Legion. But it’s going to be more about what we can offer for them.”

Other events and stops on the itinerary for Schmidt and national staff include:

• visits to the American Legion Department of France;

• cemetery wreath-layings by The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion and USAA;

• VA hospital briefings/Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) presentations;

• interviews with military media organizations;

• a visit to the plaque commemorating the birthplace of The American Legion;

• an unveiling of a monument bearing the Legion’s emblem.


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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