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Veterans Benefits Information

What you might not know about the Army

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June 14 is the birthday of the U.S. Army. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s website – at – it was on June 14, 1775, that “the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.”

The site also includes information about the specific birthdays of the Army's basic and special branches. Those are interesting factoids in themselves, but here are some other things you might not know about the institution.

1. Before World War II, 45th Infantry Division members wore a swastika patch on their left shoulder in honor of Native Americans. It was changed to a thunderbird in the 1930s. (via USO)

2. The Army was tasked with mapping America, including the Lewis & Clark expedition. Army officers were some of the first American citizens to see Pikes Peak and the Grand Canyon. (via USO)

3. The Army was the last service branch to adopt an official song. On Veterans Day 1956, “The Army Goes Rolling Along” was so declared. (via USO)

4. Twenty-four U.S. presidents served in the Army, including in state militias that supported it during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (via Mental Floss)

5. And two of them are connected: in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, the man holding the flag alongside future president George Washington is future president James Monroe. (via Mental Floss)

6. There are Army astronauts, who wear astronaut wings. One is retired Col. Douglas Wheelock, who logged 178 days in space after serving as the first active-duty soldier to command the International Space Station. (via Mental Floss)

7. If the Army was a city, it would be the 10th-largest in the United States. (via We Are the Mighty)

8. And it owns so much land that if it was a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined. (via We Are the Mighty)

9. In 2011, each soldier required 22 gallons of fuel per day on average; a soldier during World War II only required 1 gallon of fuel per day on average. (via Fact Retriever)

10. The oldest active-duty infantry unit is the famous 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Old Guard." Stood up in 1784, the 3rd is an official ceremonial unit and escort to the president of the United States, and is also in charge of the "Changing of the Guard Ceremony" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Old Guard received The American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2016. (via Fact Retriever)

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Going the distance runs in the family

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Elisa Zwanenburg vividly remembers cutting up orange slices as a child and going to pass them out to her dad as he ran by in the Marine Corps Marathon.

Today, she runs with him.

“It’s such a bonding experience, and I don’t know that I’d do it any other way,” Zwanenburg said. The Texas resident and her father, Al Richmond, have run the Marine Corps Marathon together for the past six years. In fact, in 1976, Richmond helped organize the first Marine Corps Reserve Marathon, as it was called then, and has participated in all 42 of them. He’s also completed another 10 marathons, including three Boston Marathons.

“It’s a lot of fun to have her with me,” said Richmond, a retired Marine Corps Reserve officer who lives in Arlington, Virginia. “It helps me get through it.”

According to Lindsay Buckalew, health promotion director for Air Force Space Command, there’s evidence to back up Richmond’s statement.

“When people exercise together, there’s a psychological component” and “a benefit to the mental health side,” said Buckalew.

He noted that many runners experience a “runner’s high” when their endorphins kick in while running. Buckalew, who runs at lunch to relieve stress, said that it improves his mood, and that running can also improve mental health and brain function.

Richmond agrees, adding that his muscles and mind are in good shape and his overall physical condition is also good.

“He’s 26 years older than me, and I can’t fathom doing marathons at his age and doing well,” Zwanenburg, a software project manager and the mother of three boys, said of her 79-year-old father. “He’s done amazingly well. It’s very inspiring.”

Richmond completed his last marathon in six hours, 50 minutes, but said he used to be able to run 21 miles in four hours. “It takes an awful lot of training,” he said.

The duo is celebrating Father’s Day a week early in Texas this year for Zwanenburg’s son’s high school graduation. And running together is at the top of the weekend’s agenda.

As a Marine, Richmond ran all the time. Today, he has to plan for it. With the geographical distance between them, Zwanenburg and Richmond can’t usually train together, so their Father’s Day run was extra special.

While training includes putting in the miles, the pace and character of a training schedule depends on the runner. From May to October, Zwanenburg engages in two short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend.

 “The longest run I do is a 16-miler,” said Zwanenburg, who was a sprinter in high school. “But my dad is always running a marathon before the marathon.”

One thing they do agree on is the “run walk run” philosophy of running, which includes running for minutes, then walking for 30 seconds. When you do this, Richmond says, the body doesn’t tire as easily, because you’re using a different set of muscles when you walk.

“It’s a psychological thing for me at my age,” he said. “Instead of knowing there’s two more hours of this, I know I can walk.”

Buckalew explains that since running is an impact exercise, it strengthens joints and muscles. For younger runners, he said, the focus is on cardiovascular conditioning, but as you get older, it shifts to maintaining muscle mass and bone density.

But regardless of a runner’s age, one thing is certain. “There’s not a single pill that does as many positive things as exercise does, and running falls into this category,” said Buckalew. “There’s plenty of evidence that show the positive effects.”

Richmond agrees, and credits the Marines with having taught him a “doggedness and tenacity” that enables him to keep going.

“(I learned that) if you’re supposed to do something, then you do it,” he said. And he’s passed that on to Zwanenburg.

“He’s instilled in me a ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ attitude and a stubbornness that you can get through anything – I definitely got that from him being a Marine,” said Zwanenburg.

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Legionnaire shares story of captivity and healing

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The Discovery Channel's show Operation: Fishing Freedom brings veterans from all war eras out on the open water to provide healing from the effects of war and to capture their wartime stories that are foundational to America's history.

Operation: Fishing Freedom launched its first season in 2017 with American Legion Post 534 member Darrell Krenz of McFarland, Wis. Krenz, a Korean War veteran, shared his story of joining the U.S. Army, being held a prisoner of war for more than three years, and his journey to healing.

Part of his healing came 37 years ago after joining Post 534. Krenz created a memorial behind the post that's dedicated to all veterans for their service and sacrifice. And hundreds of American flags wave above the hill that the memorial sits on.

On the day of his release as a POW, Krenz hugged a flagpole with the American flag. He said a lieutenant came over and told him, "'Son, someday you will have all the flags you want.' That's why I started the memorial. It's my way of giving back."

Watch the episode of Krenz here.

The shows co-founders are professional anglers Jay Garstecki and Ben Olsen.

“In a fishing boat, people tend to talk,” said Garsteck in a press release. “We launched Operation: Fishing Freedom to get veterans on the water, get them talking, and share their stories. Ultimately it’s about healing, letting go and moving on. It has been amazing what the veterans we’ve had the pleasure of fishing with have shared. Truly, it’s been an honor.”

The next season of Operation: Fishing Freedom is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel beginning in January 2019.

Learn more at

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'I always wanted (this flag) to fly over Boys State'

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The American flag Jonathan Leatherman Clason brought to Oklahoma Boys State had a lot of miles on it.

It’s the last few feet, up and back down the flagpole at NEO A&M College, site of Oklahoma Boys State, that meant so much to Clason.

“I knew carrying (that flag) around on all those missions, all those years, all those flight hours, that I always wanted it to fly over Boys State. I never knew when it would, but I’m glad that it did this year,” said Clason, a former Oklahoma Boys State delegate and a senior counselor now at the program.

A pilot in the Air Force, Clason was given the flag by a student who challenged him to take it around the world with him. So Clason did — “it has a permanent spot in my suitcase” — taking the flag to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Laos and more, 36 countries in all.

The American flag itself has meant a lot to Clason for a long time. He remembers being profoundly moved when, as a Boys State delegate in 1999, he noticed the veterans who would stop and salute the flag whenever they walked on or off the stage.

“I think about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. I think of my gratitude to being able to serve in the uniform and wear the cloth of the nation just like those who have gone before me and served under the same flag,” he said.

And while a dual member of the Legion and the Sons of The American Legion, Clason wore his SAL cap during his week at Boys State, a tribute to his grandfather.

“His stories just gave me more meaning and more gratitude for my service to my country,” Clason said.

Those thoughts — of the flag, the veterans who came before him, those who sacrificed their lives for freedom — struck Clason as he watched his flag rise above Oklahoma Boys State.

“As it was raised up the flagpole in the morning, I thought, man, that’s my flag. All the places that it’s been. And then I carried on throughout the day, but I found myself thinking about it throughout the day, as I would drive by, I would look up on the flagpole. I knew that was my flag. I know where that flag’s been. And then it hit home in the evening, when I stood in formation and they were bringing down the flag, and I stood with 400-plus boys saluting that flag, other veterans who had fought in war, other veterans who have retired, thinking of those who I had known before who had passed on.

“This is where I learned about patriotism, this is where I learned about government, and that flag was kind of a culmination. … I had gratitude that I could pass it on, I could share it and talk about it to my city, with my county, with other young men, and share my pride, share my patriotism, share some stories that I have that they can take and pass on, they can learn from, they can grow and they’ll know more about our great country and The American Legion program which got me to where I am today. And I couldn’t be more thankful for.”

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178 Legionnaires recruit 9,760 new members

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Nearly 9,800 veterans from across the nation are now members of The American Legion thanks to the recruiting efforts of 178 Legionnaires.

For the 2017-2018 American Legion membership year, 107 Legionnaires earned the Gold Brigade award and 71 earned the Silver Brigade award. See a list of the Gold Brigade recipients here and the Silver Brigade recipients here.

The 2018 National Recruiter of the Year is David Witucki of Post 490 in Houston; he recruited 578 new members. A Legionnaire for only three years, this is Witucki's second consecutive Gold Brigade award. Last year he recruited 70 new members by asking Post 490 visitors from Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base to join. Witucki's recruiting success for the 2017-2018 membership year was mostly due to acquiring a permanent pass onto Ellington base.

"When I became first vice commander last year, I told post members that I'll make sure everybody in the country knows who Post 490 is. And it turned out to be true," Witucki said. "I never thought that I would make National Recuiter of the Year, just maybe in the top five. It's outstanding. I was excited when (National Headquarters) told me I won the award."

As the National Recruiter of the Year, Witucki will receive an all-expense paid trip to the 100th National Convention in Minneapolis in August, and tickets to the National Commander's Banquet for Distinguished Guests.

Legionnaires who recruit 50 or more new members (transfers do not count as new members) into The American Legion by the May target date qualify for enrollment in The American Legion’s elite Gold Brigade. And a Legionnaire who recruits 25-49 new members (transfers do not count) into the Legion by the May target date qualifies for the Silver Brigade award.

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.