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Veterans Benefits Information

D-Day remembered through augmented reality

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Maurice Renaud was a small boy when U.S. paratroopers descended on his home village in Normandy to liberate France from German occupation during World War II. It was the night before D-Day, June 6, 1944.

On Monday, nearly 75 years later, Renaud relived some of that history through augmented reality at the Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. There, he peered into an electronic “histopad” featuring 3-dimensional digital images of Ste. Mere-Eglise before, during and after the Allied invasion.

“I think it’s absolutely fascinating,” Renaud said after a preview of the interactive exhibit. “Each detailed explanation is really great. You feel like you are part of the action.”

Visitors of all ages took in the exhibit after a ribbon-cutting Monday at the museum. The “D-Day: Freedom from Above” exhibit will be at the museum through the end of 2019.

Ste. Mere-Eglise was the first town liberated on D-Day. Paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions jumped in the night before the famous beach landings at dawn on June 6, 1944. Ste. Mere-Eglise was also the resting place of Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., one of The American Legion’s primary founders, who died at age 56 five weeks after coming ashore in the first wave at Utah Beach.

The opening of the interactive exhibit includes such features as a virtual jump from a C-47 into the village on the night of the assault, an inside look at a temporary hospital, a visit to the Battle of La Fiere Bridge and more using the “histopad” tablet. “This is a new way to create curiosity and interest among visitors for them to relate, in a personal and moving manner, to the museum artifacts, weapons, gear and all the collection on display,” explained Bruno de Sa Moreira, co-founder of Paris-based Histovery, which has produced about 15 similar exhibits, all in Europe. “By doing so, we try to perpetuate the memory of those days.”

The pads have touchscreen dots of light that, when pressed, produce videos, descriptions and information about the people who fought and served in the airborne mission. “We tell the stories of real people,” de Sa Moreira said. “We know where they jumped and what happened to them. So, you have this original mix between technology that comes from the new media, digital 3-D images that we use and the animation that we create, and the messages of history.”

“The reason we brought it here was to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in the short term,” explained Mike Imhoff, executive director of the Air Force Museum Foundation. “The long-term reason we brought it here is because we know this will change forever the landscape of how people will interact with this museum. Less than 5 percent of the museum’s collection is on display. Expansion is limited by capital – economic capital or space … This has the opportunity to introduce the visiting public to assets the museum has in its collection that they have never seen before.”

He said the video-game style animation will help the museum “connect, educate and inspire those kids, and other folks who come here, about the heritage of the United States Air Force, about why it’s so important.”

The 10-panel exhibit is “based on video-game technology, but it’s not a video game,” said Edouard Lussan of Histovery. “It’s built on something entertaining and interactive, something which will allow people to get immersed, to have their own experience at their own rhythm, in their own language. This is the vocabulary of video games. We are using video game technology for mass-market audiences, not for the gamers. It’s very, very different, in fact.”

A similar exhibit is now on display at the Airborne Museum in Ste. Mere-Eglise, an annual stop for The American Legion national commander and his group during official visits to the Department of France each year. Magali Mallet, director of the recently expanded museum in Normandy, came to Dayton for the opening at the U.S. Air Force Museum. She said the augmented reality feature has been a hit in France “and not only for young people. Visitors rate it 4.3 out of five – this is a good rating. Our visitors are saying it is very interesting for families. Sometimes, for children, a museum is boring. It is not a game, but it is made for children to be interested.”

A 25-member Histovery team worked one year to develop the D-Day exhibit.

Imhoff said the accuracy of the exhibit was studied both in France and in Dayton. “The curatorial staff went through every piece of content, and they found minor – only minor – recommendations,” he said. “And this team is very particular. I’ve never seen curators smile so much.”

Hundreds of visitors were on hand for the Monday ribbon-cutting, which featured U.S. Air Force Headquarters Director of Staff Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, who applauded the exhibit not only for its technology but for the message it sends. “The opening of this exhibit celebrates the sacrifices and heroism of these brave Americans, who on D-Day gave their very best,” she said. “The entirety of our nation had mobilized to win. We were all in. We did anything and everything necessary to succeed in this war. We built over 300,000 aircraft during the war, including 95,000 in a single year. For reference, we have 5,300 aircraft in our Air Force now. Millions of Americans mobilized for this fight, and millions more supported all of the efforts back home.

“This exhibit represents those who came before us, in service to America – those who sprinted forward with courage, a proud determination and a commitment to freedom that all of our servicemembers today look up to.”

David Tillotson III, director of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, said “it’s also to inspire the youth of America to remember the sacrifices of those who went before them, and also to inspire them to contribute to their country.”

Following the opening in Dayton, Renaud – son of D-Day Ste. Mere-Eglise Mayor Alexandre Renaud – traveled to Cincinnati for a panel discussion before nearly 500 Sycamore High School students and a luncheon later before nearly 300 members of the Kenwood Country Club, along with a half-dozen or more World War II veterans. He joined Cathy Soref of Locust Valley, N.Y., co-founder of Operation Democracy, a post-World War II program that was rekindled in 2005 to build relationships between Ste. Mere-Eglise and Locust Valley.

Following a day of speaking and media interviews, Renaud appeared at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati where he was named honorary captain for the Reds before their game against the Chicago Cubs.

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Deals and discounts for Military Appreciation Month

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Editor's note: American Legion members and Sons of The American Legion members receive special discounts through their membership. Learn more about the deals offered at our special discounts page.

Here are some discounts for veterans and servicemembers for restaurants, retail outlets and recreational opportunities during Military Appreciation Month. While these have been verified, check your local franchise to be sure that they are honoring the discounts and for more information.


Applebee’s, month of May

Participating location nationwide

Applebee’s is offering 15% off meals during May in honor of Military Appreciation Month for past and present military members. Those who dine in on Armed Forces Day, May 18th, will receive a $5 bonus card to use on a return visit. A valid military ID or proof of military service is required to be eligible for these offers.

McCormick & Schmick’s, May 27

Locations nationwide

Memorial Day is an opportunity for McCormick & Schmick’s to honor those who have and are willing to sacrifice their lives for our country. As a sincere token of our appreciation, we invite Gold Star Parents, veterans and active members of the U.S. Military and National Guard to enjoy a free entrée on May 27.

Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub, May 27

Multiple locations in New England

Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub invites all veterans and active duty military to be their guests on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. Purchase any meal and enjoy a free entrée from the 9 Real Size Entrées for $9.99 Menu. Just present your proof of service. No coupon necessary. Military ID or proof of service to be shown to receive offer. One free entrée from the 9 Real Size Entrées for $9.99 Menu with every entrée purchased. Not valid with any other coupons, offers or promotions including Kids Eat Free or 10% Military Discount.

Twin Peaks, May 27

Participating locations nationwide

Military / Veterans eat FREE (from select menu)


7-Eleven, May 25-27

Locations nationwide

7-Eleven, Inc. salutes U.S. military veterans for their service by partnering with Veterans Advantage to offer members a free medium coffee or Big Gulp® Memorial Day weekend, May 25 - 27. Additionally, veterans can link the VetRewards account to the 7Rewards app to take advantage of offers from both rewards programs; Receive a welcome offer of 800 additional points for joining 7Rewards; Earn 1,000 7Rewards points per day for every $10 spent in any participating 7-Eleven store.

Alpha Industries, month of May


During the month of May, all active duty, retired and reservist members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible to receive 30% off and free shipping. Verification required.

Eyemart Express, May 13 - 31

Eyemart Express, a leading national optical retailer and fastest provider of quality eyewear, shows appreciation for veterans, active and non-active duty military personnel and their families with a nationwide 20% discount on eyewear purchases beginning May 13. A valid military, dependent, retiree, or DD214 card can be shown to receive a discount at all 199 Eyemart Express locations.

Happiest Baby, month of May

10% off SNOO smart sleeper rental.

Rosen Hotels, month of May

Locations in Orlando and Lake Buena Vista, Florida

A simple thank you can’t express the deep gratitude Rosen Hotels & Resorts has for the men and women in our military, so they open their “homes” in honor of our heroes. Present a valid military ID and enjoy 50% off the standard rate as well as 50% off at food and beverage outlets. This offer is available to active, retired and reserve members of the U.S. military, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard Reservists.

Sherwin Williams, month of May

Locations nationwide

In honor of Military Appreciation Month, military and veterans save an additional 10% on paints and stains during the month of May. To qualify for the additional 10% off in May, you must: Be currently serving, be a reservist or have served in the military, including the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard or the ROTC; Be able to provide an ID at the time of purchase validating military service OR be the spouse of someone who is currently serving, is a reservist or has served in the military in the United States as listed above and have a military ID card at the time of purchase.

Sleep Number, through June 2

Military families receive an extra $100 off select smart beds and adjustable bases with promo code. Get promo code on website. Valid through June 2.


Birmingham Zoo, May 25-27

2630 Cahaba Road , Birmingham, AL 35223

FREE admission to veterans as well as all active and retired military and their dependents.

Guests must show proof of military service (military ID card, dependent ID card, driver’s license, etc.).

Blue Star Museums, May 18 – Sept. 2

Begins on Saturday, May 18, 2019, Armed Forces Day, and ends on Monday, September 2, 2019, Labor Day. Free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve.

California’s Great America. May, 25 - 27

4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054

To honor our guests who serve in the military, all active or retired military members will receive free admission to Great America on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend. Just show valid ID at the ticket booths to participate in our military salute. Additionally, military members can purchase up to six tickets for family and friends for just $24 each.

Carowinds: May 26-27

14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273

FREE military days for active, inactive or retired member of the United States military with valid military I.D. Also included are June 29 - July 7. Carowinds’ special military offers extend beyond servicemembers to their families as well. Up to six immediate family members of military personnel can purchase tickets for only $39.99 each when purchased online.

Churchhill Downs, May 27

700 Central Ave., Louisville, KY 40208

Active members or veterans of the military are invited to enjoy a day at the races on Monday, May27. By showing a valid military I.D., military members will receive FREE general admission or a discounted ticket ($29) to Millionaires Row dining room. To purchase Millionaires Row tickets, please contact a group sales representative at 502-636-4450, or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Limit of eight tickets with military discount.

Cincinnati Zoo, May 27

3400 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH 45220

The Cincinnati Zoo offers FREE admission to all members of the military on Memorial Day, July 4th and Veteran’s Day. All members of the military — active and retired — will receive FREE admission to the Zoo on Memorial Day, July 4 and Veteran’s Day. The offer also allows military personnel to purchase up to six half-price admission tickets for members of their immediate family. Military personnel who qualify for the free admission ticket and discount offer for family members include active military, retired military, National Guard, veterans with honorable or medical discharge and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with government issued ID.

Colonial Williamsburg, May 25-27

101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, VA 23185

During Memorial Day weekend and Veterans Day weekend Colonial Williamsburg offers free admission to all active-duty military, retired, veterans, activated or drilling reservists, National Guard personnel, and up to three direct dependents.

Active-duty, activated or drilling reservists, and National Guard personnel, please select one complimentary day per year, total; either Memorial Day weekend, Veterans Day weekend, or another day of your choosing.

Active-duty military can either take advantage of the complimentary single-day admission for themselves and up to three direct dependents, or receive 50% off the purchase of up to five annual passes. Retired military and veterans qualify for 50% off single-day tickets or annual passes for themselves and up to three direct dependents. Military veterans who separated before retirement can bring a copy of their honorable discharge paperwork, DD Form 214, as identification of service.

Crayola Experience – Easton, Pa., month of May

30 Centre Square, Easton, PA 18042

Military get in FREE this May. All active, retired and veteran military members receive FREE admission this month - May, 2019. Plus, your immediate family (spouse, children and grandparents) receives 25% off admission. To take advantage of discount, simply present valid identification at our admissions counter.

Crayola Experience – Mall of America, month of May

Mall of America, Level 3, 300 South Avenue, Bloomington, MN 55425

All May, military (active, retired and veteran) get in FREE. Must bring an ID or proof of military status, past or present, to redeem at the admissions desk.

Crayola Experience – Orlando, month of May

8001 South Orange Blossom Trail. Orlando, Florida 32809

All month of May, veteran, active and retired military personnel receive FREE admission through the “True Blue Heroes” program. Must present valid ID at the admission counter. True Blue Heroes is offered four times a year: the weekends of Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

Every day, military and their families can save $3 off general admission tickets. Discounted tickets can also be purchased at your local ITT/MWR base.

Crayola Experience – Plano, Texas, month of May

The Shops at Willow Bend, 6121 W Park Blvd Suite A100, Plano, TX 75093

Military gets in FREE. Crayola Experience Plano invites active and retired military personnel to enjoy colorful fun through the “True Blue Heroes" program. Plus, immediate family members receive 25% OFF their general admission. Must show ID at admissions counter. Offer not available for purchase online. Valid onsite only.

Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, May 25-27

4000 Dorney Park Rd, Allentown, PA 18104

During Dorney Park’s Military Days, servicemembers are honored by providing free military tickets and exceptional military discounts. On May 25-27 and July 1-4 the regular admission fee is waived for active military, retired military, National Guard, veterans with honorable or medical discharge and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. What’s more, Dorney Park’s special military offers extend beyond servicemembers to their families as well. Up to six immediate family members of military personnel can purchase tickets for only $29.99. Just bring a valid government-issued ID.

King’s Dominion, May 25-27

16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, VA 23047

Memorial Weekend Salute: To honor our servicemembers during this Memorial Day event, all active and retired military will receive FREE park admission, and their family members can purchase tickets online for $39.99. Just bring a valid ID to receive our special salute to you.

King’s Island, May 24-27

6300 Kings Island Drive, Kings Island, OH 45034

On Memorial Day weekend, May 24-27, King’s Island will waive the regular admission fee for active military, retired military, National Guard, veterans with honorable or medical discharge and Reserve Officers' Training Corps. What's more, Kings Island's special military offers extend beyond servicemen and women to their families as well. Up to six tickets can be purchased for $35 each for immediate family members of military personnel. Just bring a valid government-issued military ID to receive these tokens of our military appreciation.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center - Boston, month of May

598 Assembly Row, Somerville, MA 02145

For the entire month of May, LEGOLAND will be offering FREE admission to all active, reserve or retired military members and 50% off admission for their friends and family visiting with them. Simply present a valid military ID at LEGOLAND Discovery Center's admission area on the day you plan to visit to redeem this admission offer.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center – Philadelphia, month of May

Plymouth Meeting Mall, Unit #1055, 500 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462

For the entire month of May, LEGOLAND will be offering FREE admission to all active, reserve or retired military members and 50% off admission for their friends and family visiting with them. Simply present a valid military ID at LEGOLAND Discovery Center's admission area on the day you plan to visit to redeem this admission offer.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center – Westchester, NY, month of May

39 Fitzgerald Street, Yonkers, New York 10710

For the entire month of May, LEGOLAND will be offering FREE admission to all active, reserve or retired military members and 50% off admission for their friends and family visiting with them. Simply present a valid military ID at LEGOLAND Discovery Center's admission area on the day you plan to visit to redeem this admission offer.

Magic Springs, weekends through May 27

1701 East Grand Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71901

Saluting members of the Military (active and veterans) as well as first-responders, including police, fire and EMT with FREE admission. Bring your military ID or badge to any ticket window between April 27 and May 27 for FREE admission. On May 11-27 family members are $35.99 plus tax when accompanied by a HERO. Our way of thanking you for your service.

Michigan’s Adventure, May 26-27

1198 W Riley-Thompson Rd., Muskegon, MI 49445

Tribute to the Armed Forces: On May 26 and 27, Michigan’s Adventure will waive the regular admission fee for active and retired members of the Armed Forces, National Guard and Reserve. What’s more, the special military offers extend beyond servicemembers to their families as well. Military personnel can purchase up to six discounted tickets for immediate family members for only $27 each. Just bring an active military ID, DD-214 papers or a veteran’s designated driver’s license.

Mystic Aquarium, May 25 – 27

55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT 06355

As a thank you United States military personnel for their service to our country, Mystic Aquarium is offering FREE admission for U.S. Military veterans and active-duty servicemembers May 25 to 27 with Military ID. Family members with U.S. Military ID receive $10 off general admission when each person shows his or her dependent ID. Admission discount available on general admission only. Must present United States Military ID, DD214 or Veterans Administration card at admission gate at time of purchase to receive free admission. Discount valid for family members with a U.S. Military dependent ID.

Schlitterbahn Waterparks, May 27 – June 2

Locations in Galveston Island, South Padre Island, New Braunfels, Corpus Christi, Texas and Kansas City, Kan.

American Heroes Week at Schlitterbahn Waterparks is Monday, May 27 to Sunday, June 2.

Members of the military, police, firefighters & EMTs are admitted FREE during this special week to all Schlitterbahn Waterparks. Tickets for spouses and dependent children are available for 40% off the gate price. On the day of visit, simply show military ID or proof of employment at the park entrance to receive a complimentary wristband valid for admission on that day. The eligible member of the military may purchase tickets for their spouses and dependents for 40% off at the park entrance on the day of their visit.

Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach, May 25-27

27843 US-95, Athol, ID 83801

American Heroes Weeken: All military personnel, veterans, police officers and firefighters (identification required) receive FREE admission to the park on these special event days and their immediate family members (spouse and children) also receive a special discounted rate ($24 plus tax, ages 8-64, $19 plus tax, ages 3-7 and 65+, a savings of up to $14) when purchasing tickets at Silverwood's front gate. For information call 208-683-3400.

Valleyfair, May 24-27

One Valleyfair Drive, Shakopee, MN 55379

On May 24-27 and July 4-7, Valleyfair will waive the regular admission fee for active military, retired military, National Guard, veterans with honorable or medical discharge and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. What’s more, the special military offers extend beyond service members to their families as well. Up to six immediate family members of military personnel can purchase tickets for only $37. Just bring a valid government-issued ID to receive these tokens of our military appreciation. To take advantage of this discount, present a valid military ID at the front gate turnstiles. If purchasing additional tickets, stop by any Valleyfair ticket window.

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Sundays and Mondays in May

717 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23451

The Virginia Aquarium is proud to offer 50% off Aquarium admission on Sundays and Mondays in May to guests who present a valid military ID. Valid form of military ID is required, and includes Military ID Card (active/reserve/retired); Veterans Affairs ID card; current Leave and Earnings Statement (LES); Driver's License with Veterans Designation; government (local, state, or national) ID with individual photographed in uniform; wearing your uniform (if your service permits); Veterans Organization Card (e.g. American Legion and VFW); Federal Veterans ID Card; DD214; discharge paperwork; or other form of identification showing military service and status.

Wet n Wild – Hawaii, May 1-31

400 Farrington Hwy Kapolei, HI 96707

In appreciation to all the brave men and women of the joint armed force, for the ENTIRE month of May show your U.S. Military ID at any Wet'n'Wild Hawaii ticket box office and get 50% OFF the $49.99 General Admission for you and your guest or visit your nearest Military Ticket Outlets on Oahu. Not valid with any other discount, coupon, offer, promotion or special event. Offer not transferable or exchangeable. Valid to all U.S. Military with ID and up to four (4) discounted admissions

Worlds of Fun, May 18 and May 27

4545 Worlds Of Fun Ave, Kansas City, MO 64161

Worlds of Fun wants to thank the men and women who have served and who are currently serving in our country’s military. Veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard receive complimentary admission to Worlds of Fun on the following holidays: Armed Forces Day (May 18), Memorial Day (May 27), Independence Day (July 4) and Labor Day (September 2).

Complimentary tickets are available for active duty, reserve, or retired military (with honorable or medical discharge) and government issued ID. Veterans or active military members only will receive complimentary admission to Worlds of Fun, with the option to purchase up to six discounted tickets for immediate family members. Please present valid government issued ID at any ticket sales window located at the Worlds of Fun or Oceans of Fun main entrance in order to receive your free tickets for military service, and to purchase military discount tickets for immediate family.

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GI Bill exhibit headed to Intrepid Museum

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The American Legion’s traveling GI Bill exhibit is headed to New York City and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex.

“The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 25-27 as part of Memorial Day weekend/Fleet Week activities at the Intrepid museum, on Pier 86 at 12th Ave. and 46th St. in Manhattan. All activities on the pier are free, including a Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. May 27.

The American Legion’s exhibit documents the story of the “greatest legislation,” which The American Legion originally drafted and pushed to passage in 1943 and 1944. It features illustrated panels, video kiosks and artifacts that show the dramatic story of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the massive effects it had on U.S. society and the ongoing effort to continue improving it for new generations, through to the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 – the “Forever GI Bill.”

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Episode 3: Economic opportunity

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Episode 3 of “To Strengthen a Nation: The American Legion Story” examines the organization’s long and continuing effort to help U.S. military veterans achieve education, training and business opportunity after service.

Hosts Jeric Wilhelmson and Lorna Duyn explain how the Legion worked to obtain over 500,000 jobs for veterans by 1922 and how the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 provided education and business opportunities for millions. The hosts, members of American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, Calif., also delve into the organization’s role in helping homeless veterans get back on their feet.

Watch this and previous episodes on YouTube and Vimeo.

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Boys Nation helped him find his voice

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In retrospect, Ryan Rippel thinks it was probably a good thing he didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for one of the biggest speeches of his life.

As president of American Legion Boys Nation in July 1999, Rippel’s responsibilities included introducing President Bill Clinton before Clinton spoke to the delegates from Boys and Girls Nation in the East Room of the White House.

Reflecting on the moment nearly 20 years later, Rippel estimated he had about four minutes to prepare a speech and track down a gift for Clinton, himself a Boys Nation delegate in 1963.

“I had a receipt in my pocket. I pulled it out, and I’m leaning over a table in the East Room while all these other folks are coming together and making small talk, and I’m trying to write down an introduction of President Clinton. Then all of a sudden, he walks into the room. And you cannot be huddled over a table writing a little speech on a receipt when the president of the United States is walking your way,” Rippel said. “And at that point, I thought, ‘whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.’

“… We get on the stage, and I’m seated right next to him. And Secretary (Richard) Riley is the secretary of Education, he’s introducing the Girls Nation president (Tia Frederick), they’re doing their thing, and I’m trying out still to figure out what I’m going to say, and President Clinton keeps leaning over and trying to have a conversation with me about Missouri and politics and who I am and all this stuff, which was exciting and thrilling, you’re talking with the president of the United States, at the same time he has no idea that I have absolutely no clue how I’m going to introduce him in the next 60 seconds.”

While noting that he still cringes at the C-SPAN video of the event, Rippel called it “a thrilling moment.”

“It’s extraordinary to meet the president, whatever your political ideology or affiliation, this is the leader of the free world. And it is an overwhelming experience, and especially for a young person who aspires to be in public service, is committed to government service and admires it, to then be in the company of the president of the United States, and to actually have a president paying attention and talking to you, it is indescribable,” Rippel said.

Two decades later, Rippel is Director of Economic Mobility and Opportunity at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He credits his experience at Missouri Boys State and Boys Nation for shaping him personally and professionally.

“These are programs that are shaped and supported by our nation’s veterans. And so the idea, one, of coming to know those veterans through those programs in a much deeper way — because certainly in the case of Boys Nation, they’re the counselors in many respects running the program — was very important to me in shaping the notion and the commitment to service and giving back to the country. And that has had a profound effect, and I still am oriented in that direction and think about my career in those terms,” Rippel said.

“The second was just the importance of relationships … . It is really how you show up and who you are and how you build relationships with other people, and that was an important lesson then and it’s one that I feel is even more important in my life today. It’s true of the work I do, it’s true of the way I think about the community that I’m a part of, that so much of what has been good and wonderful in my life has come through a desire to get to know other people and nurture relationships. And I have benefitted greatly from those.”

A guidance counselor at Hickman High School in Columbia, Mo., pointed Rippel toward the Boys State program during his junior year — “I had no conception of what it was actually going to be like or what would come after it, but I was thrilled to have a chance to go” — and he was “stunned” when he was chosen to represent the state at Boys Nation.

Randomly assigned to the Nationalist Party upon arriving at Boys Nation, Rippel remembers half the party initially seeking the nomination for president.

“I thought that was so funny, but maybe so reflective of the Senate, half of them want to be president,” Rippel said. “The thought that you would actually prevail in that was not anything that ever crossed my mind. I thought, ‘OK, you’re here for a week, you might as well try this and see how far you go.’ I was really trying to push myself to step out a little bit more, and I was as surprised as anybody to where it ended up in terms of the voting.”

That drive to challenge one’s self is, in Rippel’s estimation, one of the key selling points in attending a Boys State program.

“You’re going to understand the mechanics of how the system works and what’s at stake in terms of what does come out of this (political) system, but I think you will also be developing your own voice and finding a way for yourself to have influence, even at a local level, on issues that are important,” he said. “And I think walking away from it, what was so profound for me, was just the fundamental importance of what does happen in the vicinity around you. I work on issues of poverty and economic mobility today, and I know what’s happening in the half-mile radius around someone’s home has a lot to do with the kinds of opportunities that can exist later in life.

“And that is true of our systems of governance too, that we have to invest in those local ones, we have to find our voice and a role for ourselves in building those communities where we live. And whether that takes the form of government service or politics or military service or whatever it is, it does begin with you finding your own voice, and these weeks in the summer are ways to do that and to shape that and to build some extraordinary relationships that will stay with you over the course of a lifetime, which is hard to beat.”

And seeing the example set by the veterans who volunteer with the programs had a profound impact on Rippel as well.

“The sense of commitment they have to the country, that’s now translated for them into a role in which they are now creating a program to help a next generation of leaders be engaged civically and to understand how the government works and what it means to live in a democratic republic, what form of government we have. That is incredibly powerful as an example … . I felt we had a responsibility to carry that forward, that we too had to be investing in these institutions and working to strengthen and build them up, that it was not OK to just coast on by. I think that certainly stays with me,” Rippel said.

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