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Reagan, Thatcher teamwork focus of speech

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In an address clearly designed to bolster her bid for the U.S. presidency, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) summoned the memories of a former president and his British counterpart on the final day of The American Legion's 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis Thursday.

"There are those who want to tell us that our day as the free world's leader has passed," Bachmann told thousands of Legionnaires and their families in the Minneapolis Convention Center. "I don't believe that statement - and when we conduct our foreign policy apologetically (and) ‘leading from behind,' I believe that, in fact, weakens our credibility across the world."

Evoking the memories of President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Bachmann spoke of their leadership in the face of global threats.

In recalling Reagan's policies, Bachmann referred to the Iranian hostage crisis of November 1979 to January 1980. During that period, 52 Americans were held hostage after a group of Islamic militants captured the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The crisis ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords the day before Reagan was sworn in as President. Bachmann said that "rather than facing Reagan," Iran urgently released the hostages.

Bachmann then made reference to Thatcher's handling of her own foreign policy crisis in April 1982 when Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands in a long-standing sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom. Thatcher dispatched a naval task force to the South Atlantic territory and ultimately claimed victory after a 74-day conflict.

"These were the first victories of Ronald Reagan's presidency and of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as the prime minister of Britain," Bachmann said. "And we should keep the lessons that they hold for dealing with those who seek to wreak havoc on peace and democracy across the world today - because I believe for the sake of our own security and for the defense of our values, American leadership has always been critical to the peace and safety and prosperity of the world."

In addition to expressing her position on national security, Bachmann called for the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable (health) Care Act (PPACA) of 2010 and said she would repel fiscal policies that she views as threats to veterans' benefits.

"Those who serve today also deserve a country where, when their service is over, they know with complete and full assurance that they will also have the same opportunity for a good life. But our current economic path is making it less and less possible for our returning soldiers."

Toward the end her speech, Bachmann returned to her tribute to Ronald Reagan and, especially, Thatcher, who Bachmann calls a personal role model.

"They forged a powerful partnership," Bachmann said. "They turned their countries around. They restored them as military and economic superpowers, and the world was better for it. And, in the process, they defeated the Soviet Union without firing a shot, and they fundamentally changed the economies of both nations that ushered in a period of peace and prosperity that was unparalleled in the history of the world.

"We find ourselves today in search of another Margaret Thatcher to restore our great country to the thriving nation that I believe we can be again."

 


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Fourth Estate awards presented

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One broadcast station and two newspapers received The American Legion's Fourth Estate Award on Thursday, during the 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis. The award has been presented annually by the Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in journalism. This year, for the first time, nominations were invited in multiple categories: print, broadcast and new media (Internet). The expansion is meant to continue to celebrate the more traditional platforms of print and broadcast, while also recognizing the growing field of online journalism.

NewsChannel 5 WTVF in Nashville, Tenn., took the top honor in the broadcast category with its series "NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Veterans Support Organization." The reports exposed the practices of a controversial group that claimed to help needy veterans. The investigation found that just 16 cents of every dollar raised by the group went to programs for veterans. The unveiling of these deceptive practices led to the state ordering the organization to stop collecting donations in Tennessee, and to pay a hefty $50,000 fine for 10 separate violations of the state's Charitable Solicitations Act - one of the largest imposed by the state.

"What is especially impressive about the NewsChannel 5 team's work is that this is the second time their work has earned a Fourth Estate Award - a first in American Legion history," said National Commander Jimmie L. Foster. Investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus replied, "We cover all of middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky ... this includes Fort Campbell, the Alvin C. York VA Center, and countless veterans just like yourselves." She added, "They [at the station] realize and recognize the importance of investigative journalism ... Our goal is to continue to do work that you find worthy."

Watch NewsChannel 5's report here.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took top honor in the print category for its extensive exposé of veterans homes throughout Pennsylvania. The reports uncovered horror stories such as veterans being administered improper doses of powerful medications, and officials ignoring staff allegations of physical abuse of residents. In one case, a pajama-clad patient with dementia and work-related brain damage walked past a manned security desk and out the door on New Year's Eve. His body was found 10 hours later. As a result of reporting that spanned several months, commandants of some homes resigned or were fired, the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs promised to simplify the asset-seizure policy, and one home was eventually cited for violating regulations in the handling of patients' funds.

"The exhaustive and unrelenting search for the truth by the Tribune-Review team truly made a difference in the lives of so many veterans and their families," Foster said. "Reporter Walter F. Roche Jr. and his investigators provided a shining moment in the annals of great journalism." Metro Editor David Conti said of the findings, "We, as a society, as people, shouldn't treat anyone this way ... but especially not people who have already put their lives on the line." He continued, "Our job in the media is to ensure that those who deserve better get better ... We were doing our job." Conti then announced that the paper will donate its $2,000 prize stipend to OCW.

Read one of the Tribune-Review articles here.

In the Internet (new media) category, the Indianapolis Star used its website to present "Hoosier Veterans: Faces of War." Interviews with 21 Hoosier-state veterans from various U.S. wars, including World War II and the global war on terrorism, resulted in a 30-minute video posted on IndyStar.com.

"This website encouraged students to ask their parents and grandparents to talk about their military experiences," Foster said. "For many veterans, that's an important catharsis, and the first-person accounts of this critical history of our country should not be overlooked." Multimedia photojournalist Dawn Mitchell commented of the subjects, "They showed us how amazing their spirits are ... Everyone has a story." Watch the Star presentation here.

Previous winners of the award include "Dateline NBC," C-SPAN, United Press International, USA TODAY, The Detroit News, Fortune magazine, ABC News and Life magazine. "These outstanding journalists have utilized their extensive talents to make a significant difference in the lives of their neighbors," Foster said. "Journalism doesn't get any better than that."


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Back to glory

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In its 90-plus years, The American Legion has amassed a collection of artifacts and art from World War I on, much of it donated to the Legion for various reasons. One of the most striking pieces is "America," a towering 6-by-10 symbolic color portrait in the Greek style, painted in France and presented to the Legion as a gesture of appreciation for U.S. involvement in the Great War. After decades on the stage of the NEC Room at American Legion National Headquarters, the painting has gotten some much needed attention.

A team from the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Regional Services Program - Linda Witkowski, senior conservator of paintings and the project manager; Christina Milton O'Connell, associate conservator of paintings; and Morgan Hayes, a graduate summer intern in the Conservation Department who came to Indianapolis from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation - had been working on "America" since the Spring Meetings in May ended, hoping to restore to the painting much of its original luster.

Léon Reni-Mel was an officer in the French army and official artist for the French Ministry of War, a position he would hold through the 1960s. During World War I, he drew a pen-and-ink sketch of a U.S. doughboy assisting a wounded French soldier, which ran in the New York Herald. He then decided to reproduce that sketch in oils. Starting on Armistice Day, it took Reni-Mel nearly a year to complete. "America" was presented at a banquet in Paris in August 1921, attended by Legion officials and French dignitaries, at which it was announced, "The Symbol is so important that the French Government will present it to The American Legion in the name of Reni-Mel," as the French president wrote at the time.

"America" first reached National Headquarters just before Memorial Day 1922, then went on public display in Indianapolis. It was then shipped for display in the window of the D.H. Holmes Co. department store in New Orleans in October 1922, for the Legion national convention; Reni-Mel addressed the floor. He had written earlier that year that "it gives me the greatest pleasure ... to know that this painting is now in the hands of my American Comrades, whose service to Franch I have sought to portray and idealise in the painting." After that whirlwind trip, it returned to National Headquarters, where it has stayed.

The IMA team was first contacted by American Legion Library staff in late 2009 to look at white splashes on the lower part of the painting. The concern was that they had come from polish used on the brass railing that protects the piece. According to Witkowski, there was no damage, but the team determined that the painting was greatly in need of cleaning, which had last been done in 1998 by an outside company.

"We're taking a painting that is 80 years old, and in its lifetime, it had been subject to nicotine [smoking was only disallowed in the NEC Room in 2006, when an Indianapolis city-county ordinance went into effect], soot, dirt, resinous coatings applied to it back maybe in 1922-1923, had yellowed," Witkowski explained, "... with further investigation, we've been able to determine that from the subsequent cleaning attempts on this painting, not all of the old grime and dirt and varnish was completely removed." Actually, only the sky and part of the soldier's face had ever been touched. O'Connell offered that this is sometimes deliberately done by those caring for artworks, for a "more dramatic transformation - we can see evidence of that there; someone has really scrubbed the surface."

The team began drawing up a plan of attack, and in the meantime, Witkowski, O'Connell and another staff member tackled the cleaning of the seals that adorn each wooden desk in the NEC Room. "We went and sat at each of these desks ... that was a fun project," Witkowski said. "There's so much history in the drawers!"

Because of the issues involved in removing the painting from National Headquarters, it was decided to complete the work on site, moving "America" to a small room just outside the NEC Room. The team brought an exhaust system of their own from the IMA for the fumes, and Legion maintenance staff helped to set it up. Since May, the team had gone over the painting bit by bit, using special solvents and ultraviolet light to get rid of the accumulated grime and varnish without taking off any of the oil paint. Hayes, who came to the project after work had begun, stated that "it was a very dramatic change" already. "It's very satisfying."

Now, well over 200 work hours later, the cleaning has been completed, and the painting re-placed in the NEC Room. Aspects of the painting unappreciated for decades - such as the title along the bottom, and the signatures of Gen. John Pershing and Marshal Ferdinand Foch on either side of the title - have burst into life for viewers. Witkowski said that the painting has "a wonderful textural quality ... the soldiers almost become three-dimensional."

Conservation, not restoration, is the IMA's watchword. "We're trying, to the best of our ability, and in the materials that we may use ... to preserve and protect the painting as it was originally intended by the artist," Witkowski said. That means taking into account both the piece itself and its surroundings. "It's not just an image," she continued. "It's an artifact that has multiple layers - it has a back, it has a frame. We look at all of those layers." That means darkening the color of the wall the painting hangs on, and adjusting the light shining on it to the left - the sorts of things Reni-Mel included on a list of instructions he had sent to the Legion along with "America" for its best presentation and preservation. Witkowski is concerned with these, as well, and considers that part of the true nature of conservation.

The Regional Services Program has done similar projects for many different institutions in Indiana over the past 30 years - universities, historical societies, corporations, etc. - but Witkowski said the team is "proud to be a part of this project." The team has posted the first of several entries on their work with "America" to the IMA's blog. Future visitors to National Headquarters should take care to make it to the fourth floor and the NEC Room, where Witkowski concluded that "the public, for the first time in several years, is going to see the painting aged, but closer to how the artist intended it to look." And as The American Legion begins to gear up for its centennial in 2019, "America" will serve as a shining example of what brought it into being.


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Advocates of veteran employment honored

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Since 1969, The American Legion's National Economic Commission has sponsored an Employer of Veterans and Employment Service award program to recognize firms and individuals that have established an outstanding record in the employment and retention of veterans. The Economic Commission awards were presented during The American Legion's 93rd annual convention in Minneapolis.

The award categories and recipients include:

Large Employer of the Year - Eagle Systems and Services, Inc., of Fort Benning, Ga. The fast-growing company, headquartered in Oklahoma, provides integrated military logistics and training services for the Federal government.

Medium Size Employer of the Year - Millennium Security Services, LLC, of Alpharetta, Ga. Millennium, a security guard and surveillance company, is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business.

Small Employer of the Year - Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance of Doraville, Ga. Founded by Vietnam War chopper pilot Marvin Myers, the 500-member, five-chapter alliance offers Vietnam vets assistance in combating homelessness and substance abuse, aids those with PTS, helps unemployed vets, and administers leadership and scholarship programs.

Legion's Employer of the Disabled - The Veterans Employment Development Center at The American Legion Post 155 in Beverly Hills, Fla.

Employer of Older Workers - Point Security Company, Inc., of Youngwood, Pa.

Employment Service Office of the Year - The Georgia Department of Labor's Gwinnett Career Center.

Homeless Veterans Outreach - The Idaho Department of The American Legion.

Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist of the Year - Johnny Moreno of Twin Falls, Idaho.

Local Veterans Employment Representative of the Year - Robert Shoeman of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Joe Sharpe, the Legion's Economic Commission director, offered his congratulations to the award recipients. "The nation's stubbornly flagging jobs market is among the issues most concerning to Americans currently," he said. "With the unemployment rate among young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan often double that of the general population, the situation is particularly distressing to families of military veterans. So, it is very heartening to see the deep dedication to the welfare of our veterans being demonstrated by these inspiring companies and individuals."

 


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The American Legion: By the numbers

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Approximately 60 percent of American Legion posts submit annual reports to National Headquarters quantifying local activities that support the organization's mission and values. Across the country and beyond, the Legion helps hundreds of thousands of veterans, military families, schools and young people. The report presents that involvement in terms of dollars raised, volunteer hours put in, events coordinated and people affected.

A snapshot of that activity appears in the 2011 Consolidated Post Report, recently summarized by the Legion's Internal Affairs Division. "Every year, this report shows just how important The American Legion family is to local communities," immediate Past American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster said. "Even with only 60 percent of posts reporting, it's a very impressive set of numbers."

American Legion posts are encouraged to submit their Consolidated Post Reports online using myLegion.org. Paper report forms are mailed annually to departments' headquarters and distributed to local posts for completion.

Highlights of the 2011 American Legion Consolidated Post Report include:

• 3,899,125: Hours of community service performed by post members
• $4,249,713: Money spent performing community service by American Legion posts
• 159,187: Number of veterans benefits cases handled by American Legion post service officers
• $2,319,797: Money spent by posts providing emergency aid in their communities
• 968,233: Volunteer hours Legionnaires spent providing emergency aid
• $208,486: Money raised locally for the National Emergency Fund, which provides cash grants to veteran and military families who have suffered hardship due to a natural disaster
• $1,953,108: Dollars raised by local posts for VA hospitals
• 34,621: Number of Legionnaires who are registered in VA Volunteer Services
• 830: Number of local Heroes to Hometowns coordinators, who assist wounded warriors and newly discharged veterans as they adjust to civilian life
• 3,619: Number of veterans placed in jobs with help from the Legion
• 811: Number of veteran job fairs with local post involvement
• 80,097: Number of pints of blood donated by 45,457 Legionnaires
• 7,209: Number of ROTC medals presented by Legionnaires
• 21,074: Number of school medals presented to students by local posts
• 109,475: Number of funeral honors provided by local Legion posts for veterans and military personnel
• 16,105: Number of American Legion Boys State participants sponsored by Legion posts at a cost of $3,059,628
• $1,037,926: Local donations to The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, to help the children of military personnel killed on duty after 9/11
• 314: Number of citizenship and naturalization activities conducted by local Legion posts nationwide
• 2,058: Number of local posts with websites
• 2,786: Number of local posts with publications
• 47,508: Number of youths participating in Legion-sponsored Scouting units at a cost of $1,833,442
• 237,905: Number of competitors participating in local American Legion Oratorical contests
• 13,934: Number of college scholarships granted by local American Legion posts at a cost of $4,039,834
• 875: Number of posts that have Vets in the Classroom programs
• 39,048: Number of U.S. flag presentations by Legion posts
• 1,464: Number of local Legion events to recognize the anniversary of 9/11
• 4,401: Number of posts with local Flag Day activities
• 6,899: Number of posts with local Veterans Day activities
• 7,317: Number of posts with local Memorial Day activities
• 1,506: Number of posts with local Get Out the Vote programs to encourage registration and participation in the electoral process
• 2,272: Number of American Legion Baseball teams sponsored at a cost of $5,989,272.
• 6,943: Number of participants in post-sponsored Junior Shooting Sports clubs at a cost of $245,030
• 719: Number of posts with Family Support Network programs, which help military families during the deployment of a parent
• $211,946: Money donated locally for the Family Support Network
• $288,949: Money donated locally for the Legion's Temporary Financial Assistance program, which helps military and veteran families with minor children at home
• $202,486: Money donated by local posts to help children's hospitals
• 8,334: Number of American Legion posts submitting Consolidated Post Reports in 2011
• 13,807: Number of American Legion posts worldwide


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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