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Legionnaires enjoy 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' at Super Bowl

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While millions watched on TV as Kansas City rallied past San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV, a pair of Legionnaires were able to watch the game in person. Dustin Maxfield was chosen to attend the game, thanks to The American Legion, USAA and Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill as part of USAA’s Salute to Service program.

A 16-year member of American Legion Post 233 in Oak Grove, Ky., Maxfield was allowed to bring a guest and chose his father: Air Force veteran, 46-year Legionnaire and current Post 233 Adjutant Rodney Maxfield.

What already was going to be a special weekend for Dustin was even more so because he was able to share it with his dad. “It was something we both didn’t take for granted,” Dustin said. “We understand a lot of people aren’t even able to spend the game watching it on TV with their families. We kept that in mind the entire time, and just really soaked it up and appreciated it for what it was: father and son, both veterans, getting to spend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity together.

“That was probably the best part of it: being able to hang out and do that together.”

After arriving in Miami on the Friday before the game, the pair was able to spend time at the NFL Experience and then USAA’s Salute to Service Lounge. On Saturday, Dustin and his father attended a meet and greet with Tannehill and then walked the red carpet into the NFL Honors awards ceremony, where they saw Tannehill receive the Comeback Player of the Year award.

On Sunday before the game, they attended a special tailgate that included food and music. “Once we got inside the gates and got something to eat … that’s when it kind of hit us: ‘Oh man, we’re getting ready to walk into the stadium and watch the Super Bowl together,’” Dustin said. “And then we watched the game from our really good seats.”

Maxfield – who was medically discharged from the U.S. Army in 2017 after suffering injuries to his legs, head and neck during a nighttime training operation – hasn’t let his injuries slow him down in the civilian world. In addition to serving as Post 233’s vice commander, Kentucky’s District 2 vice commander and the department’s POW-MIA chairman, he’s also the founder of the nonprofit Sheepdog Initiative. His organization’s programs include providing comfort items and camaraderie to veterans transitioning from homelessness, raising awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and veteran suicide, and raising funds to purchase service dogs for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

While Maxfield said the weekend was a whirlwind at times, it was an experience he and his father will never forget. “It was awesome,” he said. “USAA and The American Legion sure know how to make a couple guys feel special.”


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Drawing on experience

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Brian Prahl saw he was flying into big trouble.

Piloting an air ambulance in South Vietnam in 1970, the chief warrant officer was approaching a landing zone near Cai Be and saw an entire company of South Vietnamese troops hunkered behind a dirt mound to avoid enemy gunfire.

Moments after Prahl landed the Huey helicopter, a Viet Cong fighter leapt to his feet out of tall grass and began peppering the chopper and its American crew with rifle fire. A wall of napalm flames suddenly consumed the gunman.

Under fire, Prahl and his crew scrambled to load the wounded onto the chopper. At one point, Prahl hauled a wounded soldier on one shoulder and carried his .38-caliber pistol holster and radio over the other. He stepped into a muck-filled blast crater and found himself neck deep in water. He held onto his patient but lost his gun and radio.

Prahl was later told that he and his crew were being put in for a Bronze Star for their actions that day. That came to nothing, but a few weeks later Prahl received a bill for the pistol and radio he lost in combat.

Prahl’s firsthand account of combat is among those told in volume one of Full Mag: Veteran Stories Illustrated, which mixes graphic art and prose in each volume relating veterans’ war experiences. The 56-page volume one was published in fall 2017, followed by an 84-page volume two in spring 2019. A third volume is slated for release this fall.

“It’s more like a bookazine, if you were looking to categorize it,” said August Uhl, the 47-year-old father of three who conceived and edits Full Mag. “It’s on par with a thicker comic you’d call a graphic novel — but we don’t use the term ‘comic’ just because of the nature of the content.”

First-person narrators

The stories come from American combat veterans of wars from World War II through the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“To my knowledge, no one is doing what we’re doing, as far as nonfiction, first-person accounts of veterans’ stories in this kind of a format,” Uhl said during a telephone interview from his home in Bozeman, Mont.

In most cases, stories are based on interviews Uhl conducted with veterans, whose first-person narration accompanies the artwork.

Full Mag features art from a mix of emerging illustrators and top-level talent who have drawn for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse comics.

Volumes are published every 13-15 months, depending upon how quickly stories, art and advertising come together. It takes Uhl more than a year to pull together the advertising, artwork and prose for a single volume, which is printed on high-gloss paper.

He primarily markets Full Mag online at fullmagazinepublishing.com and at gun shows and comic conventions. A single volume sells for about $14.

“I try to pick artists who are going to have a decent attention to detail,” he said. “The military audience is going to rip you apart if you have something at all wrong. I’ve had artists who just don’t get that. That’s part of the process.”

Among the most notable artists is Russ Heath, renowned for his authenticity illustrating military comics, among them DC’s 1960s-era “All-American Men of War” and “Our Army at War,” the latter featuring the grizzled platoon leader Sgt. Rock.

Heath, who died in 2018, illustrated stories for the first two volumes.

“A lot of the folks I’ve interviewed have, sadly, passed away,” Uhl said. “I was the last person to interview David Thatcher, who was one of the last Doolittle Raiders.”

Thatcher, who lived in Missoula, Mont., died in 2016 at age 94.

Cheering beachgoers

In a Q&A in volume one, Thatcher described flying over a group of beachgoers as his bomber reached Japan’s coast during the April 1942 bombing mission.

“We were flying so low I could see the expressions on their faces,” he said.

“They were cheering,” he said with a chuckle. “We were over their heads and gone by the time they could recognize the Air Corps insignia on the bottom of the right wing.”

World War II veteran Obie Wickersham provides an account in volume two of the harrowing crossing of the Waal River, Netherlands, during the failed Operation Market Garden in 1944.

Wickersham and fellow soldiers of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were ordered to cross the Waal on makeshift plywood-canvas skiffs in broad daylight under withering fire from German defenses.

In a bird’s-eye drawing of the boats below, Wickersham narrates: “The river was rough and too many of our boats were out of control. Jenkins was in with Captain Burris in the boat next to mine. He got hit and so did Morris. Jenkins was hanging over the boat and making it go round and round. Morris pushed him out of the boat. We never found his body.”

Uhl, an Air Force veteran, works at Montana State University in a sector that provides supply-chain development services to U.S. armed forces.

“I’m not an artist,” he said. “I got my degree in history, so I’ve always had an interest in history and military history. When I was young, I was interested in comics during the comics boom in early 1990s.”

The origin of Full Mag began in early 2016 in Uhl’s campus office, where his boss noticed framed original art of the Marvel character Sgt. Fury.

His boss suggested promoting some of their sector’s products by using similar art.

Working artists

Uhl commenced communicating with comic artists for that project, and while reviewing some of their works in progress at home, his wife took an interest in them, he said.

“You should do veterans’ stories in this kind of art,” Uhl recalled his wife, Elizabeth, saying.

He took her advice.

“So, I decided to go out and start interviewing these veterans,” he said. Half the stories in the first two volumes came from veterans living in Montana, allowing Uhl to interview them in person.

Other interviews were by phone, a few by submission.

Uhl is now working on volume three, with artists commissioned for stories about an airman shot down over Italy in WWII who was captured and then escaped; a Marine who fought in the Battle of Saipan; and a Battle of the Bulge veteran who spent time in a German stalag. Other stories are set during wars in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Uhl prides himself on paying artists competitive rates for their work.

“I’ve never had to pay for any of the written content, but I wanted this to sink or swim by paying decent page rates to artists,” he said.

“It’s part of my philosophy — creating page-paying work,” he said. “If I am breaking even, well, I don’t see it like that, because look how much work I’ve created for artists.”

He expects it will remain a labor of love.

“There’s no way to support a family losing money on graphic novels,” he said with a laugh.

Full Magazine Publishing produces The American Legion Magazine’s monthly Lore of the Legion page.

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.


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Illinois post commander publishes book on state veterans monuments

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Lorenzo Fiorentino wears multiple hats. He is currently commander of American Legion Post 335 in River Grove, Ill., and he recently became an author with the publication of “Illinois Military Monuments” via Arcadia Publishing, which concentrates on neighborhood, local and regional histories through its “Images of America” series.

The retired Army major and 23-year Legionnaire began his research in 2018, and the book was published in 2019. According to Fiorentino, it is meant to showcase both the memorials and the veterans they are dedicated to. He has given a series of presentations on the book at area Legion posts.

Fiorentino talked with The American Legion about his project and what he hopes it will accomplish.

What was the reception to the book by your fellow Legionnaires?

My fellow Legionnaires loved the book. My goal continues to be to present a signed copy to every post member who is paid and attends at least one meeting or event. So far, it has gone rather well.

What made you decide to do this book?

I decided to write the book for several reasons. First, to document as many monuments as I could, because some are disappearing or falling into disrepair. Second, to honor Illinois' sons and daughters those monuments are dedicated to.

Does it cover all the veterans monuments in the state?

There are 85 monuments in the book. I had many more I wanted to include, but the book format limited me to 128 pages total. There are many in the state of Illinois. That is one reason I am so willing to do presentations on the topic/book – I discuss mostly monuments that are not covered in the book.

Why did you join The American Legion?

I joined the Legion in order to continue serving my community and my fellow veterans.

Do you see any parallels between your book and what you do for the organization?

The book, I hope, honors veterans, their deeds, and continues to keep them in the forefront of our collective consciousness.


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South Korea post helps quarantined servicemembers

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As the coronavirus outbreak in China continues to spread globally, American Legion posts are stepping up to help those who have been quarantined.

Lewis L. Millett American Legion Post 38 in South Korea purchased nearly $300 worth of food and other necessities for 15 active-duty servicemembers currently being quarantined at U.S. Army Garrison-Humphreys. Post 38 Historian Don Wong said that none of the servicemembers have the virus; however, it’s a precautionary measure for these servicemembers who have visited China within the last month.

The World Health Organization states that the coronavirus outbreak in China has spread to 25 countries, including the United States, with more than 24,300 cases of the virus confirmed.

Post 38 Commander William Wight delivered the care goods to Camp Humphreys for the servicemembers. In the process, two new members joined The American Legion.


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Membership Impact Report: Operation Comfort Warriors has big month

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The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program, fresh off a year of nearly $200,000 worth of comfort items and experiences for recovering troops and disabled veterans, delivered $40,000 worth of items in January 2020. The program had big television distributions at state veterans homes in Indiana and Illinois during the third week of January, to go along with four others in the year’s first month.

Meanwhile, The American Legion Veterans Employment and Education Division had five career events for veterans, military personnel and spouses during the month, helping nearly 4,000 find jobs. And, in this month’s report, see what community service and school outreach have done to boost membership for American Legion Post 178 in Frisco, Texas.

To see this month’s report and others, click here.


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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