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Family tradition lives on at Boys State

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There wasn’t much question about whether Patrick Ryan would attend Massachusetts Boys State, assuming he had the opportunity.

After all, Boys State is something of a family tradition. His father, Bob, attended the program and has served as a volunteer legal counselor for years, and Patrick’s great-grandfather, Hayes Kennedy, co-founded the program in Illinois in 1935.

“I found out about Boys State at a pretty young age,” Patrick Ryan said. “ I was always very interested in it; I knew my great-grandfather had been one of the two major co-founders. Since I found out about it, I’ve always had an interest in going.”

While Ryan knew the basics of the program, a weeklong government simulation for young men between their junior and senior years of high school, he was impressed by the extracurriculars such as the recreational sports and band programs at Massachusetts Boys State.

“I feel like that really enhanced our experience in being able to work together and really feel like we were teammates,” said Ryan, who played the trumpet in the band at Boys State this past spring.

The band is a tradition at many Boys State programs, stemming from its inclusion in the first state program.

“They decided right in the beginning they would have a band, and they told boys if they wanted to bring an instrument, they could work up the band,” said Helen Kennedy Ryan, Patrick’s grandmother and daughter of Hayes Kennedy.

While some of Patrick Ryan’s cousins — Fiona Whalen and Anika Peddinghaus, the granddaughters of Helen’s brother Jim — have attended Girls State, he’s the first of Hayes Kennedy’s great-grandsons to attend a Boys State program. He doesn’t expect to be the last, though, as his younger brother, Tom, already plans to attend when he’s eligible.

“I was really proud to be able to carry (the tradition) on for my family,” Ryan said.

Considering his lineage, Ryan said he didn’t feel any pressure during his time at Boys State.

“Unfortunately, I wanted to run for (an official) position, but before I knew when Boys State was and that I was being nominated for the program, I signed up for a summer trip (to Quebec) with a (French) class and it conflicted with like the last day and a half of Boys State, so I didn’t feel comfortable taking a role I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fulfill,” he said.

Ryan has seen firsthand how the values cherished by his great-grandfather and other Legion family members have been ingrained in programs like Boys State and Boy Scouts — Ryan has participated in both, having completed his Eagle Scout project, the improvement of a large town soccer equipment shed.

“I found that a lot of the values that were taught through Boy Scouts happen to be a lot of the same values Boys State taught me,” he said. “I find it really cool and very heartening that my values seem to be similar to the values of my great-grandfather that he instilled into the Boys State program.

“There’s definitely a great sense of pride in knowing that one of my family members took action to do what he thought was right in educating other people, young people, about our government, something that he felt strongly about, because he was in the military, so he did serve and put his life on the line for the country. … I feel really proud that he was able to take a stand and say, this is what I think is right, and then follow through with that with an action.”

And Ryan plans to continue that tradition, as he’s applied to serve on the Massachusetts Boys State staff next year.

“I hope I do get to be on that staff. I do plan to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a counselor, donate my time to Boys State, because I feel that it is a program that really helped me and helps other people.”


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Continue hosting Legion Family dinners with your community

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For nearly 100 years, The American Legion has served veterans, their families, communities, states and the nation. And this past Veterans Day, National Commander Denise H. Rohan called on the Legion Family nationwide to serve up the biggest and best Veterans Day dinner in history by inviting the whole community to join them at the dinner table. Although Nov. 11 has passed, Legion Family dinners can still be held in conjunction with special events. These events include the Legion’s upcoming birthday (March 15), your post’s birthday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and more.

A Legion Family Dinner Kit is available at www.legion.org/nalpa/resources to help posts, units and squadrons promote their Legion Family dinners.

Resources in the kit include:

  • A suggested timeline for planning the event, tips on getting local sponsors involved, and a set of message points that can be presented, and localized, at the dinner or to the press.

  • Sample letters of invitation to local groups to attend and participate in the dinner, a press release, a sample media advisory, a downloadable flyer with fields for posts to provide local information, social media posts and a radio PSA.

Remember to use the hashtag #LegionFamilyDinner when promoting your event.

During the dinner, speak on the Legion's centennial efforts, your post’s history of service, current programs and vision for the future. Healthy families enjoy dinner at the same table together, and we consider the entire community to be members of The American Legion Family.


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NEF deadline extended for hurricane victims

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More than 100 National Emergency Fund (NEF) grants have been distributed to American Legion members, posts and Sons of The American Legion members following the series of devastating hurricanes last fall.

Legionnaires and posts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico received the bulk of the aid after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria struck those areas, respectively.

“This is what The American Legion does,” said National Commander Denise H. Rohan. “When our brothers and sisters face tough times, we pull together as a family, to provide whatever help they need – an emergency grant, a shelter for the night or just comfort from a fellow veteran.”

NEF provides emergency grants to eligible members of The American Legion and SAL who have been victimized by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and more. Individuals can receive grants up to $3,000, while Legion posts can receive up to $10,000.

Due to the severe damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the deadline for applying for grants has been extended to Feb. 1. To apply for a grant, please visit www.legion.org/nef.

Two Texas posts and one in Florida received the full amount from NEF.

“It is critical to help these posts recover, not only for their members and The American Legion as a whole, but for the communities which they serve,” Rohan said. “We’ve seen from past disasters like Superstorm Sandy that investing in a post’s recovery pays immense dividends when members return to serving their communities once again.”

To donate to NEF, please visit www.legion.org/donate.


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Legion Rider remembered for role in funeral protest legislation

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to consider a legal challenge to a Nebraska law restricting funeral protests – a law that a former American Legion Rider is credited for helping get passed.

Nebraska State Sen. Bob Krist has publicly praised Bob “Corndog” Swanson, who died last May in a motorcycle accident, for his role in getting the bill through the state legislature. Krist was the chief sponsor of the 2011 bill, which expanded the buffer zone between funerals and protesters from 300 to 500 feet. The original legislation, passed in 2006, was done in reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church protesting the funerals of fallen military personnel.

Swanson – a member and past commander of Omaha Post 1, as well as a Patriot Guard Rider – worked on the original piece of legislation in 2006 with Sen. Mike Friend that established a 300-foot buffer between the protestors and those attending the funeral.

The protests continued, however, which Krist said was “unacceptable to (Swanson).” Krist and Swanson looked at the legislation, did constitutional research and then began crafting a bill to increase the buffer.

“Bob came to testify with several other (Patriot Guard) Riders … at the committee hearing,” Krist said. “He helped orchestrate that kind of testimony, giving real-life experiences and how discourteous and how much (Westboro Baptist) efforts had disrupted very sacred times for most families. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in that whole thing. He was a big part of both the first bill in Nebraska and then the upgraded distances that we did later on.”

In addition to his efforts with the funeral protest bill, Swanson also worked with Krist to get signs honoring all five branches of the military placed at every rest stop along Interstate 80 in Nebraska. The signs read "Nebraska honors our troops. Thank you for your service”; the design for the signs came from Swanson, who also raised money for the project.

“(Swanson) just felt it very important to recognize the people that served in the armed forces,” Krist said. “He was just, to me, an amazing individual who believed so much in this country and the people who served in defense of the country."

Swanson also had the idea to place an empty chair at Werner Park, the baseball home of the Omaha Storm Chasers, that honors U.S. prisoners of wars and missing in action.

And Swanson also was the force behind the development of the Legion Riders in Nebraska, helping organize 39 chapters across the state. A street along Post 1 in Omaha is named for Swanson.

John ‘Hammer’ Hanzlik, road captain for Omaha Post 1, first met Swanson during a gas stop. Swanson shared the Riders’ mission, and Hanzlik ended up going on a ride to Sioux City for a veterans memorial dedication the next day.

“That trip is how I ended up road captain for the ALR at Post 1,” Hanzlik said. “Bob was the man to ask about anything veteran or Legion. (There’s) so much respect we all have for him.”


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Help build the Legion's database of veterans memorials

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The American Legion’s Veterans Memorial Identification Project is an opportunity for the Legion Family to build a database of memorials and monuments that honor U.S. military service and sacrifice. The online database, at www.legion.org/memorials, was launched November 2016 and has since reached 1,500 entries from around the country and world.

The Legion’s memorial database project was set in motion last October during Fall Meetings when the National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 10, which calls on American Legion Family members to locate, document, photograph and upload onto the database information about veterans memorials and monuments in their local area. It’s not focused on any one war era as Legion Family members care for memorials from the Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism.

Once a memorial or monument has been identified, whether it’s a plaque in the park listing a county’s war dead or a well-known community statue or plaza, and information gathered and a photo taken, go to www.legion.org/memorials and click on “Add a memorial.” This page will ask for information about its installation and condition, an address if possible, who maintains it, a photo (or multiple photos) to upload, and contact information for the submitter. Uploading photos of the memorial and posting them on the database is recommended. The web page is designed to easily upload photos and information via smartphones, even while at the site.

Be sure to look up the memorials already listed in your state before you start.

National Headquarters maintains the database and entries will be made public soon after review.


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