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An Oregonian's place in the Legion's birth

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He was a beloved soldier, family man, Oregonian and visionary co-founder of The American Legion. And George A. White’s legacy infused a gathering of veterans, families and dignitaries who packed American Legion Post 10 in Albany, Ore., March 15 to mark the 100th birthday of the nation’s largest veterans service organization.

“He was there from the very beginning,” Oregon Alternate National Executive Committee member Andy Millar said. “He was a true Legionnaire.”

“I get choked up because of my dad,” added Steve Adams, first vice commander of the Department of Oregon, who began accompanying his father on visits to American Legion posts when he was 6 years old. “He made me promise to never forget World War I because that’s when The American Legion was born.”

The centennial celebration drew veterans from across the state. Their service spanned generations, from David Russell – who survived the sinking of USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – to Don Weber and Rick Dominguez, whose long military careers included deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. But the event that brought them together at Post 10 last week started when four American officers met in Paris in January 1919.

Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. had invited White, William Donovan – future founder of U.S. intelligences services – and engineer and architect Eric Fisher Wood to dinner to discuss low morale among American troops. The war-weary soldiers were apprehensive about returning home to an uncertain future after enduring brutal combat along the Western Front. At a meeting of 20 officers a month later, it was White who proposed a large gathering of American servicemembers to discuss these perplexing issues. As many as 1,000 American troops attended what became known as the Paris Caucus beginning on March 15, 1919, that formed The American Legion.

When Roosevelt and White first sat down in a restaurant in Paris in January that year to discuss launching an organization to represent U.S. veterans of the Great War, “the question was, ‘Who is going to take care of the boys when they all get home? Who is going to care about them and their jobs?’ Because at that juncture, there was no Veterans Administration,” American Legion Past National Commander Charles Schmidt said during the centennial celebration.

“And because there were some boys who would never go home, there were widows and orphans. So, who was going to take care of them? ... Little did they know when they first sought those answers it would be them. When Lt. Cols. Roosevelt Jr. and White sat down at dinner in January 1919, they had the same concerns about the needs of the veteran doughboys. We in Oregon can be proud that an Oregonian participated in the formation and development of our American Legion.”

White was a seasoned soldier by the time the United States entered the first world war. He served with the Utah artillery during the Spanish-American War, then joined the Oregon National Guard and led a cavalry unit during the Mexican expedition of 1916-1917. Oregon’s 3rd Regiment – which he commanded – was the first National Guard unit ready to go to the front when the United States entered World War I. White became one of Gen. John Pershing’s personal aides during the conflict and was at his side when the Armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1919, in France.

White was elected secretary of The American Legion’s first National Executive Committee, which met immediately after the Paris Caucus. He and another Oregonian, Robert Follet, were two of the first national vice commanders. Because of his journalism experience at the Salt Lake Tribune and Portland Oregonian, White also became the first editor of the American Legion Weekly magazine and published the first issue on July 4, 1919.

With The American Legion Weekly off to a good start, White returned to his post as adjutant general of the Oregon National Guard. “The American Legion has developed exactly along the lines of the original vision of a small group of men who met and planned the Paris Caucus,” White wrote in a column for The American Legion Weekly magazine in November 1920. “Their dream of a great soldier’s organization, moved by an impulse for continued service to America and held together by the ties of comradeship in the world’s greatest adventure, has come true.”

In addition to overseeing the Oregon National Guard and helping build the Legion, White wrote four novels, including a story about a foreign invasion called "Attack on America," that was published in 1939. He fell ill while training Oregon’s 41st Division and died of pneumonia Nov. 23, 1941, just two weeks before Pearl Harbor.

“The doctor told him, ‘You are going to die if you don’t get bed rest,’” said Pamela Pearson-Craig, White’s great-granddaughter. White refused, believing readying his troops was more important given the prospect that the United States was on the brink of another war. “But he died doing what he felt was most important for our nation.”

Thousands turned out in downtown Portland for White’s funeral procession, which included members of the 162nd and 186th infantry regiments, according to the Oregon Journal.

Pearson-Craig loved spending time with White’s widow, Henrietta, while she was growing up and heard story after story about her great grandfather’s impact. “It’s nothing short of amazing that he and other founding fathers had a great vision to fulfill a great need,” she said. “It is wonderful that, after all these years, The American Legion is still going strong. This would make him very happy – to know one of his many legacies lives on.”

The organization White help found has been a powerful advocate for veterans during the past century, National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler noted during his keynote address at the 100th anniversary celebration in Albany. “The American Legion fought for, and achieved a single Veterans Bureau in 1921 and then the Veterans Administration in 1930 to put all services for veterans under one arm of federal support,” Wheeler said. Before that, veterans in need of assistance were bounced from one government agency to another.

National American Legion conferences in 1923 and 1924 resulted in the first U.S. Flag Code. The American Legion subsequently drafted and fought for passage of the GI Bill in the face of fierce opposition from the Army, Navy, some members of Congress, and even some other veterans service organizations. Helping World War II veterans attend trade school or college had the added benefit of returning them to the job market gradually and spared the nation the daunting challenge of absorbing millions back into the U.S. workforce all at once.

The American Legion’s advocacy continued as the world entered the nuclear age. “Before The American Legion demanded accountability and justice for veterans exposed to atomic radiation, government support for service-connected toxic exposure simply did not exist,” Wheeler said. The Legion joined forces with Columbia University on a study that proved Agent Orange exposure was responsible for diseases afflicting Vietnam War veterans and their children.

In addition, American Legion studies dating back to the 1920s helped provide the evidence for making post-traumatic stress disorder a psychological diagnosis in 1980, Wheeler explained. Along the way, The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary established and promoted landmark youth programs, including Boys Sate, Girls State, Oratorical Contest, American Legion Baseball and others. And today, more than 3,000 American Legion service officers are helping some 750,000 veterans with their VA benefits free of charge.

“As we look to the future, a second century of individual obligation to community, state and nation, that founding vision – which George A. White helped give us – is a timeless beacon to guide our way because America has always been made stronger by The American Legion and always will,” Wheeler said. “I often wonder what America would be today if not for the vision of our founders, like George A. White, and execution of that vision over the decades, by people like you, in your department, districts and posts. I can guarantee you it would be a different place, and our nation would not be nearly as strong as it is today.”


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A stalwart ally in the Pacific

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He’s popular at home, having won three national elections and having recently steered his party to a commanding 68-percent majority in parliament. He’s a strong advocate for free trade and free markets – principles he has leveraged to strengthen his country’s economy. And he’s hawkish on defense overseas, recognizing that the West must commit more than just words to defend the post-World War II order. For these reasons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been called “Japan’s Reagan” – and understandably so. But given the actions and designs of the communist behemoth in his neighborhood, his resolute response and his burgeoning partnership with President Donald Trump, a more appropriate title might be “Japan’s Thatcher.”

Whatever we label him, Abe is a stalwart ally in an increasingly dangerous and chaotic world.

Three letters

Before getting into how Abe is pulling his country back onto the world stage to play a key role alongside the United States, it’s important to explain why he has been forced to do so – and why his neighborhood is so dangerous. The answer can be found in three little letters: PRC.

China’s military spending has mushroomed 164 percent since 2008. On the strength of this spending binge, China will deploy 73 attack submarines, 58 frigates, 34 destroyers, five ballistic-missile submarines and two aircraft carriers by 2020. The Pentagon reports China deploys more than 2,800 warplanes and has a bristling missile arsenal with “the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the Western Pacific.”

PRC leader Xi Jinping offers an ominous exclamation point to these numbers: “We must insist on using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly enhancing officers’ and troops’ thinking about serving in battle, and leading troops into battle, and training troops for battle.”

Moreover, China’s actions are not those of a friendly neighbor. The Japan Air Self Defense Forces scrambled warplanes more than 1,000 times in 2018 in response to incursions on Japanese airspace, with Chinese violations accounting for 61 percent of that total (Russia accounts for the rest).

A similar picture emerges with regard to Chinese encroachment on Japan’s territorial waters: According to a RAND study, “Since mid-2014, on average, Chinese government vessels have penetrated the territorial seas seven to nine times a month.”

As Abe bluntly puts it, China is trying to turn the East and South China Seas into “Lake Beijing.” And his response to Beijing’s buildup and belligerence serves as a reminder that the United States has a serious partner in the Pacific: “We will firmly defend the lives and property of Japanese people, as well as our territories, territorial waters and territorial air space.”

Muscles

Toward that end, Japan has increased defense spending 14.6 percent since 2012, with plans to increase defense spending by another 5.5 percent in the coming years.

Japan is expanding troop strength in its East China Sea territories by 20 percent (to some 10,000 personnel), deploying new radar systems capable of tracking stealth aircraft, buying V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to carry out rapid-deployment operations, producing two new frigates per year, fielding a new, 3,000-man amphibious unit modeled after the Marine Corps, expanding its suite of missile defenses, and acquiring F-35 fighter-bombers.

We should spend a moment on those last two items: With a wary eye on North Korea, Japan is a global leader in missile-defense development. The United States and Japan co-developed the SM-3 Block 2A interceptor missile. Japan hosts two powerful AN/TPY-2 missile-defense radars, which are networked with other U.S. missile-defense assets. And Japan deploys a fleet of six Aegis missile-defense warships (eight by 2020).

As to the F-35, Tokyo is in the process of acquiring 147 of the U.S.-built stealth fighter-bombers, including F-35B variants. In fact, more than a quarter of Tokyo’s F-35 buy – 42 airframes – will be F-35Bs. That’s important because the F-35B is capable of taking off from short-deck aircraft carriers, such as Japan’s so-called “helicopter carriers.” (The U.S. military calls them amphibious assault ships.) In response to Beijing, Tokyo has plans in the works to covert one or two of these massive warships into full-fledged aircraft carriers – thus enabling Japan to defend more effectively its vast island possessions and territorial waters from Chinese encroachment. Doubtless, Beijing will get the message.

Abe also has won public support for institutional reforms that are tilting Japan away from its postwar pacifism. In 2015, he persuaded parliament to approve a reinterpretation of the postwar constitution to allow Japan’s military to come to the defense of allies under attack (i.e. the United States). And he is urging parliament to codify in law what already exists in practice – namely, that the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) are not just for territorial defense, but rather a bona fide military that “protects the peace and independence of Japan.”

A top Japanese diplomat says Japan is committed to “shouldering the burden of global defense and security.” And under Abe, Japan is doing just.

Abe is considered the father of the Quad – an ad hoc partnership enfolding the United States, Japan, Australia and India that may in the near future evolve into a full-blown alliance of Indo-Pacific democracies. During a recent series of summits, representatives from the four nations “committed to ensuring a ‘free and open’ region, with ‘enhanced connectivity,’ ‘respect for international law,’ and ‘the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific,’” as Alyssa Ayres of the Council on Foreign Relations reports, citing various press statements from the four democracies.

As if to underscore Tokyo’s commitment to the Quad idea, Japan’s helicopter carriers have deployed to waters off the Indian coast for exercises with the U.S. and Indian navies, and Japan and Australia are “deepening” joint military training, in the words of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, Japan and Australia are updating their defense partnership to reflect increased joint exercises and deployments in each country. Japanese troops and warships also have joined the United States, Britain and France for military exercises around Guam and Tinian.

While Beijing tries to militarize and annex the South and East China Seas piecemeal, Abe has envisioned linking the region’s waterways as “seas of freedom and of prosperity.” Yet just as highways need patrolmen and cities need policemen, international waterways need responsible nations to keep the peace and enforce some semblance of order. Toward that end, Japan is expanding its naval activity in the region by conducting joint patrols with the Navy and other democratic partners.

In addition, Japan is participating in maritime policing operations beyond the South and East China Seas, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (which interdicts WMDs on the high seas) and the Combined Maritime Forces (which is a partnership of 31 nations that contribute naval and air assets, basing and/or personnel to operations focused on security in the Persian Gulf, counterterrorism and counterpiracy).

Add it all up, and it’s undeniable that Japan’s return to the international stage is promoting stability, buttressing a rules-based order and serving as a force multiplier for America’s overstretched military.

Not alone

Japan, as Abe knows, is not alone.

With Beijing lunging at the Senkaku Islands, which sit between Taiwan and Japan’s home islands, Tokyo and Washington are “drawing up battleplans to enable their forces to fight together against any Chinese incursion,” Reuters reports. A recent exercise dubbed “Keen Sword” showcased U.S.-Japanese capabilities to defend island territories. In what Reuters calls the “biggest combined war games” involving Japan and the United States, Keen Sword featured USS Ronald Reagan and 57,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from the U.S. and Japan.

The Japan Times adds that Pentagon-JSDF plans contemplate “such emergencies as armed Chinese fishermen landing on the islands, and Japan’s Self Defense Forces needing to be mobilized after the situation exceeds the capacity of the police to respond.” In addition, the two allies are exploring how they might secure vital passageways in the East China Sea by force.

America is not alone, either. Thanks to the reinterpretation of the postwar constitution (which, ironically, the United States drafted in order to demilitarize Imperial Japan), as well as Abe’s investment in a 21st-century military, Japan is postured to support the United States in contingencies throughout the Indo-Pacific region. And thanks to perhaps the closest relationship Trump has with any world leader – journalist Matthew Continetti notes that Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump, has met with Trump 10 times and talked with Trump by phone more than 30 times, and has joined Trump for 27 holes of golf – Abe, like Thatcher with both Reagan and the elder Bush, will be key to helping Washington weather future international crises.


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NEF ready to assist Nebraska, Iowa flooding victims

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As the devastation from this past weekend’s Midwest flooding comes into focus, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund (NEF) stands ready to assist eligible members.

Flooding has been the most severe in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, where at least three people have been killed. Rivers have soared to record levels, inundating levees, bridges and roads. States of emergency have been issued in communities in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

NEF grants provide immediate financial assistance for American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members who have been affected by the natural disaster. Legion posts also qualify. The NEF provides up to $3,000 for Legion and SAL members with an active membership who have been displaced due to damages to their primary residence, and up to $10,000 for posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community are impacted.

To apply for an NEF grant or to learn more, please visit www.legion.org/nef.

In Kansas, American Legion Post 61 in Wathena launched preparations this past weekend in case flooding created issues for the town. "Right now, it does not look like the river’s crest will hit flood stage," said post sergeant-at-arms Duston Hansen. “If everything holds, we’ll be OK.”

The post is prepared to serve as a shelter or a storage facility, if the need arises. More importantly, members have been spreading the word throughout the community and creating a response plan, especially for older veterans who don’t have nearby family.

“We’ve been visiting these veterans to see what they need,” Hansen said. “Then we, The American Legion, set up a plan so that, if needed, we can get the older veterans removed from their homes and to safety. A lot of these folks, if they are not in a veterans service organization, get lost in the cracks.”

Donations to NEF are needed in order to provide funding for this and future natural disasters. To make a donation to NEF, please visit www.legion.org/donate.


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Chairman Takano Demands Answers Given Concerns VA’s IT Solutions Could Disrupt Healthcare for 75,000 Veterans Each Day

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) issued the following statement regarding the serious concerns raised about VA’s IT solutions in the latest Pro Publica story: “The recent U.S. Digital Service (USDS) report on implementation of technology systems to support the Community Care components of the MISSION Act is incredibly alarming. By suggesting that VA’s planned IT solutions are inadequate, and that VA has not given itself enough time to develop a workable system, this report raises real concerns that implementation may be delayed and could even disrupt healthcare for 75,000 veterans every day. “USDS raises credible concerns that Community Care should have a veteran-centric approach, but despite these critiques, VA appears to be ignoring the problem or at least is unwilling to revisit its approach. Nowhere is this clearer than VA’s intention to formally request a funding transfer to implement the very IT solutions USDS raises concerns about. “VA’s history of failed IT systems shows that it cannot move forward with this IT implementation without addressing these root problems. The Committee will hold a hearing to demand answers from VA about the status of system development and will scrutinize the funding transfer request in light of these troubling findings.” ###

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'A place for all veterans to go'

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At the end of the evening, characters like Earl Grey, Anita Drink, Izzy Sleazy and Ivan Stoned were cleared of murdering reputed mob boss Don Dunn Jr. The rap fell onto Getta Dunn.

Legionnaires were treated to a night of murder mystery on March 15 at American Legion Post 974 in Franklin Park, Ill. But while there was plenty of entertainment, the real purpose of the event wasn’t lost on the Legion Family members there: a celebration of The American Legion Centennial.

Dozens of Legionnaires from the Department of Illinois 9th District gathered at Post 974 for the murder mystery dinner, joined by members of other veterans service organizations. For 9th District Commander Don Horn, the evening was a chance to both bring Legion Family members together to celebrate the Legion’s 100th birthday and raise some money for Department of Illinois Commander Michael Carder’s special project, The Haven, a Legion-operated veterans relaxation and rehabilitation facility in Carbondale, Ill.

“It’s our 100-year anniversary,” said Horn, a member of Post 974. “To get these people together – most of these people don’t even have post homes any more. They have a post, but there’s not a physical location. So they don’t have the functions.

“Part of our purpose is to give back to the community, but it’s also to give back to our veterans and the Legion Family. So to bring everybody here and get the word out to the community that the Legion is here and to tie it all together on our birthday is what we were trying to do. We wanted to make it special.”

Horn said being a member of The American Legion and the organization’s 100-year history “is all about service. It’s a way to give back and to help other people. For me, it was getting back with that fellowship."

Smiling as she looked across the dining room after the dinner, Post 974 Commander Josefina Frances said that fellowship is what The American Legion represents to her. “To me, it means that there is a place for all veterans to go,” she said. “It is a place for all of us to join together.”

Frances said the several post-9/11 veterans in attendance is proof The American Legion remains relevant to the newest generation of its members.

“There’s a cross-section of different posts in the room and different generations. I think that’s great,” Frances said. “There’s a large group of the younger vets. (They) keep the Legion going forward. We have new members. And I get that from a meeting we just had this week. What I loved was I had a Vietnam veteran talking to an Afghanistan veteran. And they were just talking. I’m listening to them and (the Afghanistan veteran) is telling him what it is like now.”

Two of those younger veterans came from Tattler Post 973 in nearby Chicago. One, three-term Post Commander Brent Webb, helped revitalize Post 973 and now serves as the 9th District’s junior vice commander.

The 30-year-old Webb said The American Legion Centennial “is a time for reflection about what The American Legion and its mission mean. It’s a very big milestone, and it’s a chance to bridge the present to the past. I think our centennial is an opportunity to look at our one-year, five-year, 10-year and 50-year plans. We have an opportunity to plan for the future and continue our mission, while also looking for ways to adapt and evolve.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us. We need to find ways to bring in those younger Legionnaires and then use them. We have a lot of strong potential, and I think any challenges we face we are willing to take on.”

Marine Corps veteran Kelly Zebell, Tattler Post 973’s service officer, is ready for those challenges. While she’s only been a member of The American Legion since last summer, the 23-year-old Zebell has hit the ground running with the organization.

Zebell wanted to do multiple enlistments in the Marines but was medically discharged because of a hip injury in 2015. She said she “dove head-first” into American Legion involvement after joining the post and has announced she’s running for post commander.

“I didn’t get to do my full term in the Marine Corps. I initially joined wanting to do 12-20 years,” said Zebell, a junior at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “When I got out, I just really wanted to still do more for veterans. When I started doing American Legion stuff, I was just blown away by how much that we do with the community. I just love doing this: the outreach and the helping in the community.”

Horn said young veterans like Webb and Zebell is critical as the organization moves into its second century of service. “They’re our future,” he said. “To be able to draw on the young ones, get them in here and get them active and participate, that is our future.”


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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.