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World War I memorial in LA restored, rededicated

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The monument at Victory Memorial Grove in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles had nearly been forgotten. Inspired by the 100 Cities 100 Memorials project of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library and the United States World War One Centennial Commission, American Legion members have helped restore it and refresh the area’s memory, or initial understanding, of what it meant.

Volunteers chose Flag Day, June 14, 2017, for the rededication ceremony. Nearly 100 people, ranging from community volunteers to Disney executives to veteran organization leaders, unveiled a stone memorial tablet that looks as good as did 97 years ago. In 1921, the Daughters of The American Revolution held the original ceremony to present the memorial in conjunction with The American Legion and local residents honoring members of the community who served and fell in the Great War. It was an effort to unite the nation in a collective celebration of victory.

The memorial plaque reads: "Erected 1921 by Daughters of the American Revolution of Southern California to honor the service in the World War of all men and women from the families of the state society and in memory of twenty one who made the supreme sacrifice."

Victory Memorial Grove is a part of the oldest park in Los Angeles. Elysian Park is filled with trees, ponds, hiking trails and the Chavez Ravine, featuring Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Police Academy.

“This is a park within a park,” said Janice Gordon with the California Daughters of the American Revolution Regent. “Victory Memorial Grove was donated to the city by a DAR member from our chapter. Then they erected this monument and it’s kind of a forgotten part of the park.”

The American Legion, Daughters of the American Revolution, Disney and The Mission Continues were all a part of making this come together, with action and fundraising.

Lester Probst, a member of American Legion Hollywood Post 43 who worked closely with Courtland Jindra, a war historian and volunteer with the United States World War One Centennial Commission, brought the restoration project to The American Legion.

“You know, I got involved with this for one obvious reason: The American Legion’s history with World War I, and the other is my dad who was a poster boy in World War I,” Probst said.

Jindra described restoring the monument to its original luster. “It was a pretty intense process, and this one could've been forgotten,” he said. “This is one of those when we had the conservation people come out here, they had to run two paint treatments over it. Each took 20 layers of paint off. There were over 40 layers of paint they had to take off and even after both of those, they still had to spray it down.” The layers came from a local resident who repainted the monument every time it was defaced with graffiti.

Consulate General Henri Vantieghem of Belgium represented his nation’s gratitude for America’s involvement in World War I. “Without the help of the American people we couldn't have won,” he said. “It was impossible. When America went into war it was on the basis of asking the Germans to respect 14 points of the United States. Point 7 was about Belgium. I quote President Wilson’s words, ‘Belgium, the world would agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys incumbent with all free nations.’

“We still have there thousands and thousands of young people lined in the earth and we respect them and we praise them for their sacrifice. It is very important for my country to show up these days to thank the American people for what you have done for two world wars.”

“It was quite wonderful, and we really have to thank the Disney organization, The Mission Continues, (and) we have to thank The American Legion for (supporting) us and giving DAR a bit of muscle, which we really needed, and the Park and Rec Department and everybody really,” Gordon said. “Our rededication is not just for the monument but also the grounds around here.”

“Really it boils down to individuals and these three individuals here,” said Fernando Rivero, commander of Hollywood Post 43 in reference to Probst, Courtland and Jindra. “It took their passion for this cause and their leadership to really rally their people to their side.”

“Families got involved planting little butterfly plants,” Probst said. “It was a fun day on June 3, but it also included some hard work clearing an overgrown field and planting new drought resistant plants.”

There was a planting of remembrance poppies shortly after the Grove's establishment, and 17 trees, which were donated by Capt. Walter Brinkop of the 364th Regiment's Machine Gun Company. Today there are numerous stumps, possibly from the original trees. At that time there was also talk of installing a flagpole, so that the space would always be under the colors of the country, but there is no evidence or remains of such a pole. At some point there were Arbor Day events at the location, but they don't seem to have been conducted in a long time.

The United States World War One Centennial Commission is making great efforts nationwide to encourage the restoration and maintenance of monuments to the Great War. Thousands of them across the country have fallen into disrepair. “I found over 30 memorials to the Great War in the L.A. County area,” Jindra said. “Many around the area and across the state and around the country can be saved like this one.”

In observance of the centennial of World War I, 100 matching grants of up to $2,000 each will be awarded for the restoration of 100 World War I memorials across the United States.


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Help us illustrate the Legion's impact

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Throughout the year American Legion posts go about their community service with little fanfare. Legion Family members tidy up veterans’ gravesites, raise money for worthy programs and mentor children in their communities.

The impact of all of these activities is nearly immeasurable. However, the annual Consolidated Post Report is one way to measure the impressive impact American Legion posts have in their communities and beyond. Additionally, it assists in the report to Congress as we comply with our congressional charter.

The clock is winding down toward this year’s deadline for the Legion’s 13,000 posts to submit their annual Consolidated Post Reports (CPR). The 2016-17 reporting period (June 1-May 31) is over so now is the time for all posts to submit reports of their accomplishments for the community, state and nation over the last 12 months.

Most years about 67 percent of posts comply with filing the CPRs. This year, I would like to see 100 percent — every single post — complete the CPR.

It’s important for us to document all the great things that posts are doing in their communities so that we can get a better handle on our leadership nationwide. If we only receive two-thirds, it skews the reporting we do as a national organization.

For example, the most recent CPR indicates that 7,225 posts participated in Memorial Day services. I believe that every post plays a role in a Memorial Day event, making that number closer to 13,000.

The CPR deadline is July 1. All Legion posts should submit their CPRs by logging onto myLegion.org and completing the form. The online form allows posts to submit a short written narrative of their community activities to expand on their input or cover local programs not captured on the form.

At national convention this year, I will recognize American Legion departments with a 95 percent or better CPR reporting. My sincere hope is that we will have to allocate more time on the agenda this year than previous year’s to acknowledge all 55 departments.


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160 Legionnaires awarded for recruiting 9,601 new members

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For the 2016-2017 American Legion membership year, 107 Legionnaires earned the Gold Brigade award and 54 earned the Silver Brigade award for their exceptional recruiting efforts. Together, the Legionnaires recuited 9,601 new members into The American Legion.

See a list of the Gold Brigade recipients here; and the Silver Brigade recipients here.

Patricia Liddell of Post 333 in Columbus, Ga., earned her second consecutive National Recruiter of the Year award for recruiting 841 new members. This is Liddell's 14th Gold Brigade award; over the last two years she has brought 1,659 new members into the The American Legion. As the 2017 National Recruiter of the Year, Liddell will receive an all-expense paid trip to the 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., 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.

The Gold Brigade recipients will be awarded unique gifts that designate affiliation with the Gold Brigade of The American Legion. First-time members will receive a Gold Brigade patch, a special Gold Brigade cap pin, a Gold Brigade certificate, and a designer jacket, polo shirt or sweater with a Gold Brigade logo. Second time/repeat Gold Brigaders will receive a Gold Brigade patch and certificate, a hash mark for a jacket sleeve, and a designer jacket, polo shirt or sweater with a Gold Brigade logo. A Gold Brigader who has won the award for five consecutive years is eligible for a distinctive Gold Brigade blazer. A Legionnaire may only qualify once every five years. And a Gold Brigader who has earned the award for six consecutive years or more is eligible for a $150 check and a Legion cap with the inscription “Master Recruiter.”


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Post renovates home for veteran and his disabled son

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Andrew Smith had a Father’s Day he’ll remember for quite some time, thanks to American Legion Post 171 in Cripple Creek, Colo.

The post led an ambitious effort to return Smith, a disabled Marine veteran and single dad of an 8-year-old special needs child, to his home after mold and other problems made it uninhabitable.

“The weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Smith, who had estimated it would take him at least five years to be able to live in his home again. “I bumped into some people with The American Legion, some really good friends. They stepped in and they told me and my kid that we wouldn’t be out of our home for long. And they were right. It’s not even a year later and we are back in our home. It’s humbling to say the least.”

The 10-month transformation included completely redoing all of the plumbing and electrical, adding a back deck overlooking the picturesque town, and building a ramp for Laren, who has muscular dystrophy.

“You can’t hear the wind through the walls anymore. You can’t hear the wind through the windows anymore,” Smith said. “I used to be in constant fear of my kid falling down and getting hurt on a nail or something. He was always sick with some sort of respiratory infection. I feel like I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

There were at least 65 volunteers who worked on the house, combining for more than 2,500 volunteer hours. Over two dozen businesses and individuals contributed material donations.

In all, nearly 200 people from 32 states and Washington, D.C., donated money to the project.

“The community stepped up big time,” said Curt Sorenson, project leader and Post 171 senior vice commander. “Unreal how the support came in. And often, when we needed something (snaps his fingers) … it was there. This was a community — local, state and national — community effort.”

For example, Sorenson noted the donation from a widow of a World War II veteran from Corpus Christi, Texas. “She said she didn’t have a lot of money but wanted to contribute to this cause,” he said. “She sent us $35. If that doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what does.”

Among the donations from American Legion Family members was a check from Post 1034 in Wallkill, N.Y. “I can think of no deed more fulfilling than to reach out and help not only a fellow veteran in need but also a disabled child. It truly embraces what The American Legion is all about,” wrote post Adjutant Bob McDermott.

While the town of Cripple Creek is one of the world’s largest producers of gold, it’s resources are limited. Post members often had to drive 50 or more miles to connect with retailers that could help refurbish the home. That’s why the support was critical to the project’s success.

“Veterans help veterans and the nation at large wanted to be a part of this activity,” Sorenson said. “We’re thrilled. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this post, this town, this state and this nation, stepping up and helping this kid out.”

Among the key contributors was the Home Depot in Canyon City — 42 miles away — that provided a $10,500 grant for the deck and flooring and a $5,000 gift card for the kitchen cabinets. “They also brought in 20 people — in a snowstorm — to build the deck. Unbelievable,” Sorenson said.

Becky Nation, who during the project was the Home Depot store manager at Canyon City, jumped on the opportunity to assist.

“Being a disabled veteran hits my moral values, Home Depot’s more values,” she said. “It’s part of what we stand for as a company. Just knowing that he was out of his home, and his special-needs child was out of his home as well, really touched me as a parent.”

Department Commander Jay Bowen noted that licensed plumbers and electricians volunteered their time to repair the house.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Bowen said. “I still can’t believe that I was here just a few months ago. It was pretty much still gutted then. This is perseverance. This is a labor of love. This is everything we stand for.

“What a great way to spend Father’s Day.”

Bowen pointed out how the project reflects the values of the founders of The American Legion.

“Our organization is built on four pillars,” he noted. “First and foremost is taking care of veterans and their families. This exemplifies what that means. There is no better way of showing how we do that than what this post has done for Andrew Smith and his family.”

Post 171 Adjutant Rich Ingold says the community is supportive because of how the Legion has led by example.

“It’s all about having a mission,” he said. “In this case we had a mission, a worthy cause recognized by post members and the community. They all got behind it. When you are actually active in doing things, various projects, then other people want to become involved. It becomes infectious.

“We’re being branded as ‘doers,’ and that’s one reason why people who aren’t Legion members wanted to help.”

Post 171 will continue to do community service projects. Up next: cleaning up 124 veterans burial plots at a nearby cemetery. “We want to fence it in, put in walkways and put up a flag pole, make it a respectful place for American Legion members and their spouses,” Ingold said.

To close the chapter on the house project, the post coordinated a special Father’s Day celebration at the home. More than 50 community members showed up to support the Smith family. Department Chaplain Stan Hamamoto blessed the house. The town presented Smith with a framed certificate of occupancy. While some cosmetic work remains — painting the exterior — Smith and Laren are settling back into their community.

Looking back, Smith recalls the struggles he and his son had when mold was overtaking the home. “Two years ago, we were living on the side of a cliff. Now we are safe.”

They had been living with Smith’s mother in Oklahoma after the house was condemned. A few days ago was the first time that Laren had returned to Cripple Creek since work had begun on the house.

“He looked up at me and said, ‘Daddy, it sure is good to be home again.’”


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Legion applauds VA accountability bill passage

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The U.S. House of Representatives voted on June 13 to pass S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which will enhance accountability at the VA and provide the department with the tools it needs to improve the care veterans receive.

“On behalf of the 2.2 million members of The American Legion, we applaud the House of Representatives passing of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017,” said American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt. “This legislation, as currently written, will provide the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs the authorities to improve accountability and raise employee performance and morale. We are impressed by the speed by which Congress acted to move this critical legislation forward to the president’s desk in a bipartisan manner. We look forward to this bill becoming law.”

The bipartisan legislation, which received overwhelming support following a 368-55 vote, will help ensure that VA is accountable to the nation’s veterans by:

• Increasing VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department;

• Shortening the removal process and ensuring an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision; and also

• Making it easier for VA to remove poor performing senior executives and replace them with qualified candidates.

In addition, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline, according to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s (SVAC) website.

“It’s common sense – we need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a press release June 13. “This legislation will help us do just that.”

As SVAC noted, S. 1094 also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable:

• Requires VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;

• Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;

• Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and

• Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

Congress sent the bill to President Donald Trump on June 13 and is expected to be signed into law very soon.

During his visit to VA’s headquarters in April, The American Legion witnessed Trump sign an executive order authorizing the formation of an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. Trump said that the new office would not only investigate wrongdoing, but also enable Shulkin to hold VA employees accountable for misconduct.


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