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'The country's in wonderful hands'

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final of a series of profiles of the Boys Nation 2016 officers. Boys Nation 2017 takes place July 21-29 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.

There’s no lack of ambition for Anighya Crocker.

“It’s the hope to one day in my life be the governor of the state of Tennessee. And if I’m elected governor of the state, then I would like to look at the possibility of pursuing the office of the presidency,” Crocker said.

His experience as president of American Legion Boys Nation 2016 and governor of Tennessee Boys State helped spur that ambition for Crocker of Springfield, Tenn.

“Politics, to an extent, was something I had thought about before Boys Nation,” he said. “I had been on my high school mock trial team, two-time state champion, went to nationals, met Justice (Antonin) Scalia, the works. And I wanted to be involved in that way, I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice. But going to Boys State and seeing the mantle of the executive, being elected governor there, and then going to Boys Nation, being elected president, having the opportunity to go across the country, shake hands with some of the greatest men and women I have ever known, it’s really changed my whole perception on what I want to do.”

Crocker acknowledged that the Boys Nation experience — “a week that shapes a lifetime” — changed him in a fundamental way.

“The Boys Nation program reshaped my entire inner being. Now that sounds like a really dramatic statement, but if you analyze it pragmatically, it taught me to be more responsible, taught me to be more accountable, taught me to be more honest, and most of all, it taught me that the only way to see fundamental change in my world is to seek fundamental change within myself,” he said. “You see, you get out what you put in: hard work, honesty, good citizenship and a love of country and fellow man is the best and most efficient way to shape your country, and previous to Boys Nation, I thought that the best way to shape policy was by going to the ballot box … running for office is as easy as picking up the paperwork. Anybody can get involved. And while some might say that’s a scary thing, that’s the beauty of this democracy we live in. Anybody can be anything.”

In Crocker’s estimation, the country’s political divide stems from the disingenuous nature of the world’s leaders, and it’s an issue he wants to address.

“The simple truth is, partisanship ends where lives begin. If I can look a constituent in the face and shake his hand and say something that I believe, and that they know I believe, then that means something more than beating on the books and beating on the proverbial chest of the party. And I learned that at Boys Nation.”

Crocker sees the Boys State programs across the country as “channels into this greater pool of patriotism and education and love of country and love of fellow man.”

And as for Boys Nation? “The values you learn are what stuck with me — the independence, the citizenship, the knowledge, the know-how, the resolve, and the sense of community, the sense that all across this nation there are brothers and people that I can stand by and people that I can love and people that I can get to know.

“ … I’ve been humbled, for the rest of my life, by the experience I’ve had this past summer. I think a lot of people think that the things that we do, Boys State, Boys Nation, were only for a week. Well, it’s not. What I experienced there I’ll covet, and I’ll hold for the rest of my life.

“We have a thing that we passed at Boys Nation called the 45th. The 45th was an imaginary bill that we were all tasked with, and it was to go on and live a good life, to work in our communities, to be good citizens, that was the nature of the 45th. And when (vice president) Choteau (Kammel) closed out the senate on the last day, he didn’t strike the final gavel because he said the mission of the Senate lived on. He was exactly right. The mission of the Senate lives on every day. As each of those senators walks around their communities, shakes hands with their friends and their family and works to make this country a better place. I have no doubt that the young men I was with will go on to be senators, representatives, governors, and maybe even president of the United States. And I can tell you, having been around them, that’s a pretty awesome thing.

“The country’s in wonderful hands.”

Crocker is headed to Vanderbilt University where he’ll major in vocal performance with a minor in political science and a concentration in pre-law.

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Irish Legion post helps honor World War I soldier

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A ceremony honouring Irish native Pvt. 1st Class Michael J. Moffatt, Company “A”, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, United States Army, KIA in France on Oct. 18, 1918, took place at his resting site in Kiltoghert Cemetery, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, Ireland, on June 4. Moffatt was originally buried at the Somme American Cemetery in northeast France, but his remains were repatriated to Ireland at the family’s request in 1922 and hastily buried with little or no military formality at the Moffatt burial plot in Kiltoghert. For nearly 95 years Moffatt had lain in an unmarked grave. But thanks to the efforts of his nephew, Eamon Moffatt, and Michael Noone of The American Legion, a U.S. military-type headstone is now in place, courtesy of VA. The ceremony, conducted by American Legion Post IR-03 in Ireland, included unveiling the headstone, blessing of the grave by local parish priest Fr. Brendan McDonagh, folding of a U.S. burial flag and presentation to next of kin Eamon Moffatt, a rendition of laments and marches by piper Pat Conlon, laying a wreath on behalf of The American Legion by Legionnaire Gerard Duignan, a relation of the Moffatt family, sounding the Last Post by a bugler, and finishing off with playing both national anthems. An attendance of over 100 neighbors, friends, parishioners and Irish veterans were present to remember and honor this courageous soldier from the Great War.

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Job fair on tap for Illinois department convention

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A Veterans Helping Veterans Find a Job hiring event will take place on July 14 in conjunction with The American Legion Department of Illinois state convention. All veterans, military spouses and employers are invited to this free event.

The event will take place at the Bank of Springfield Center, 1 Convention Center Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701. The job fair will be open exclusively to veterans from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., and to the general public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Also, Boots to Business Reboot with the U.S. Small Business Administration will conduct an entrepreneurship training program for veterans and their spouses from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The hiring event is supported by Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and

For more information, click here.

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1957 Legion Player of the Year still playing ball

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Billy Capps, a ball player warming up on hot summer day in El Cajon, Calif., looks nothing like an 80-year-old as he’s fielding the ball, taking bases, and rallying his senior league team. Capps has been playing slow pitch softball for the past 26 years, a long way from the 1954 American Legion World Series (ALWS) title he helped San Diego Post 492 win in Yakima, Wash., all those years ago.

When he’s talking baseball, Capps smiles like that 17-year-old kid who rode the super train from San Diego to Yakima. “We arrived the first part of September 1954, and the first game we played was against Maplewood, Missouri,” Capps said. “We lost 8-2 to a guy who threw the ball about 95 miles an hour. After that we won four straight games to win the title.”

He was playing baseball at Hoover High School and they wanted to find an American Legion post to sponsor them. “We played three games without an American Legion sponsor,” Capps said. Then Post 492 came on board.

The team started the season wearing civilian clothes until Post 492 provided uniforms that were seven years old. “When we finally got a uniform, we thought we would play in San Diego 15 games and be done. And we just kept on going,” Capps said. Post 492 ended their season 39-3.

And the team had zero budget. “The parents had to just scrap up pennies and that’s how we won, just with pennies,” Capps said. “Our uniform was so old that when we got to the finals we still hadn’t washed the uniform from all the games because we were afraid they’d fall apart.”

When Post 492 won the national championship, they had something unique. “One thing we had on our team that was pretty unusual was six left handed hitters, and we had four left handed pitchers,” Capps said. “We had a lot of fun with those right handed pitchers.” They won a lot of close games with close scores. “It was as shocking to us as it was to anybody else that we won.”

Capps has always been very appreciative of George W. Rulon Player of the Year award, and he is grateful to be in such renowned company. “I know there's been millions of people playing American Legion baseball but there's only like 67 of us that are Players of Year,” Capps said.

“Being selected the American Legion Player of the Year was really a great honor to Billy. He's really a humble guy," said baseball historian Bill Swank. "He's the first to say that he probably didn't even think he was the best player on his team, but he was a hustler and he came through in the clutch and he's a great ambassador for baseball and The American Legion.

“People today don’t realize what American Legion Baseball was in the old days. I played American Legion ball. Everybody, if you wanted to play baseball, you played American Legion ball. That’s why most major league ball players came up through the American Legion system.”

American Legion Baseball has had 71 graduates go on to reach the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

American Legion Baseball is still turning out some of the best players in the game. The 2016 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs included Legion Baseball alumni Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, Rajai Davis, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

From the 1954 championship team five players went on to play professional baseball, and one went to the major leagues. Capps signed in August 1955 and played three years with the Kansas City Athletics organization and the Milwaukee Braves organization as a shortstop. He played until he was approached to play baseball at Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot in San Diego, seven miles from his mother's home. “In February 1957, a guy came out to my house, who was a sergeant major in the Marine Corps and he said, ‘I've heard about you, we need one more infielder here at MCRD,’” Capps said.

Capps accepted. It had an impressive 13 professional baseball players and a two-year record of 187 wins and 17 losses. The San Diego Marines had three players go on to play in the big leagues during that time.

After two years playing baseball at MCRD, Capps became a police officer until he retired in 1978. Since that time he’s been teaching college part time on Navy ships that were deploy overseas and on military bases for Central Texas College.

Twenty-five years after Capps was named Player of the Year, he got a letter from American Legion Baseball asking him to come to Yakima where they won the title. And in 2004 Capps was selected for the all time American Legion Baseball team.

He got involved with American Legion Baseball again and started to attend the championship games. “After that I decided to go to a lot of the American Legion World Series. We started going with our motor home, my wife Susie and I, we've been married 58 years."

He is still very active in a weekly softball league that he says is more about enjoying the sport than keeping score and that is very evident by the atmosphere on a hot summer morning. “I just love baseball,” said Capps. “So when I got a chance, after I turned 55 years old, I knew about this senior softball business and so I've been at it for 26 years. As you get older you have to play a lower classification because you slow down, don't hit the balls hard and that kind of stuff,” Capps said. “This is not really a hard nose kind of a deal, we just have fun.”

“He does more than any of these guys because he can still run,” Swank said.






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Department Spotlight: Missouri fights to improve veterans home wait list

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The state’s veterans homes have roughly 1,350 beds and are all at about 99 percent capacity year round.

Rich Heigert, a past department commander of Missouri, has been among those leading the charge to provide relief to the waiting list. Along with the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations (MAVO) and the Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC), The American Legion is advocating for state lawmakers to approve revenue to increase the capacity of the veterans homes.

“We’ve been working with the legislature the past three years to find a way to reduce people on the waiting list to get into veterans homes,” said Heigert, who is the department’s legislative chairman and MAVO’s legislative director.

A bill has been filed in each of the past two sessions of the Missouri Legislature for the sale of state government bonds to fund this need. However, the Legislature adjourned for the year May 12 and will re-assemble the first week in January 2018 for the next 5½-month session.

Heigert and others are urging lawmakers to fund a new home, or replace an aging, multi-story, 150-bed facility with a new, single-level, 200-bed veterans home in Mexico, Mo.

“We can’t build a new home unless we get funding for it,” said Heigert, noting that revenue from casino boats only covers the operating expenses of the existing veterans homes. “The money we get from the boats covers what we do right now. We don’t have any extra money and don’t get anything from general revenue in the state of Missouri.”

Some state lawmakers have proposed using vouchers to place veterans on the waiting list into private nursing homes. However, veterans groups oppose this idea because few private homes meet VA standards or want to comply with VA inspections. Heigert also worries about how that allocation of funds would affect the quality of care.

“We don’t like the voucher idea because it would take the money we currently have to run our own nursing homes,” said Heigert, a member of American Legion Post 283 in Imperial, Mo. “That would be to the detriment of the quality of the nursing homes we have now. Our nursing homes are very popular. They are very clean. In fact, a couple of our nursing homes have been named VA Nursing Home of the Year.”

Right now there is usually between a three- and seven-month wait for veterans to be moved from the waiting list into a home. However, as Heigert pointed out, that wait time is going to increase in years to come.

“We have the best nursing home care throughout Missouri and we don’t want to lose it,” he said. “The wait time is only going to increase. Even though our veterans population is going down, the age of the veterans is getting younger. The veterans of the wars in the Mideast are going to be residing there longer and turnover is going take longer. We’re looking at an average time of six months before a veteran dies today to three or four years before a (post-9/11) veteran passes on.”

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