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Legion Family part of naturalization ceremony of 99 new U.S. citizens

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Second-year pre-med student Dua Tariq led the Pledge of Allegiance in a room of more than 150 people. The 19-year-old student, who attends Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States with her parents when she was only a few months old. Tariq was one of 99 people becoming naturalized U.S. citizens during a special ceremony held in conjunction with the 101st National Convention of The American Legion in Indianapolis Aug. 27 at the Indiana Convention Center.

“I realized how privileged it is to be a U.S. citizen. I can vote, I can have a voice,” said Tariq, who wants to go to med school in Indiana and become an anesthesiologist.

The Hon. James R. Sweeney II presided over the ceremony that involved Legion Family members, the 99 citizens and their families.

Sweeney, a retired Marine colonel and Paid-Up-for-Life American Legion member, shared in his remarks how many in the room came from places such as Mexico, Zimbabwe and the Philippines, to name a few. “You are now citizens and part of the Indiana family,” he said. “All of you came for freedom. I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as my fellow Americans. You have the rights and freedoms to enjoy as Americans … there’s nothing you cannot achieve. With citizenship there’s also a profound responsibility. Each year over 700,000 naturalized Americans take the oath of allegiance and prepare for the same rights, liberty and justice of generations of Americans, including the Legionnaires who came to this convention who fought in the name of freedom. Freedom is not free. Nor does it come without sacrifice.”

Tuesday’s naturalization ceremony was the first one The American Legion National Headquarters has helped put on, which was made possible by the Americanism Commission.

“It’s very special today to welcome all of you as U.S. citizens … enjoy the fruits of this great country … liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Richard Anderson, Americanism Commission chairman.

Sweeney added in his remarks that “The American Legion was founded by war-weary veterans who were once an American expeditionary force who fought along foreign shores for American ideals of peace, freedom for all, of which their foundation of pillars includes Americanism. Coupling this naturalization ceremony) with The American Legion’s 100th year and 101st National Convention makes it that much more special.”

After the Oath of Citizenship was administered, additional remarks were provided by representatives of local dignitaries. Sen. Todd Young, a Legionnaire, was unable to attend the ceremony but provided written remarks that were read aloud.

“I know your journey to this day has been long and often difficult. America is called the land of opportunity because every individual, regardless of their background, has a chance to make a new life for themselves and their families,” Young wrote. “Not only am I proud to call you a fellow American, I’m proud to call you a fellow (Indiana) Hoosier.”

Obtaining U.S. citizenship was emotional for Adriana Hernandez, who is originally from Mexico. “It was a big day for me,” said Hernandez through tears. “I waited 16 years for this.”

For David Aramant of Sweden, who has lived in the United States for 32 years, he became a citizen to be more politically active.

After each new U.S. citizen received their certificate of naturalization from Judge Sweeney, they had an opportunity to register to vote.

“The magic of the United States of America is that we are all equal. We have equal voice, we have equal vote,” said Jeff Stranton, who was representing the Clarence Cook Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

After the new U.S. citizens and their families enjoyed refreshments following the ceremony, Sweeney shared why he loves his job.

“This is the best thing that I get to do, to welcome in new citizens,” he said. “It’s amazing to hear all of their different stories and what they have gone through to be here … they don’t take it for granted.”

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Reistad reflects on a year packed with achievements

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In the year in which The American Legion turned 100, National Commander Brett Reistad pointed to historical achievements during his remarks to delegates at the organization’s National Convention in Indianapolis on Aug. 27.

The LEGION Act — Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service — closed loopholes in congressionally declared war eras that prevented approximately 4.2 million veterans from joining The American Legion. Blue Water Navy veterans finally received the disability benefits they deserved. And implementation began on the VA Mission Act.

“We’ve always believed a veteran is a veteran,” Reistad said, referring to the LEGION Act, which was created to properly honor the approximately 1,600 servicemembers killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war. “It doesn’t matter to us whether you served in New Guinea or in New Jersey. The willingness to put your life on the line is inherent in your willingness to serve.”

Reistad also noted the VA Mission Act, another piece of major legislation fought for by The American Legion.

“The system needed a modernizing facelift to better serve veterans of all generations,” he said.

“By reforming VA health-care infrastructure, streamlining community care, expanding caregiver benefits, increasing access to private-sector care and recruiting quality health-care professionals, Congress and the White House are living up to President Lincoln’s mission to ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.’”

Additionally, a 1920s-era war memorial, conceived and erected by Legionnaires and Gold Star Mothers, was allowed to remain in place in Bladensburg, Md., thanks to a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Just as our predecessors ‘paid it forward’ to ensure that America’s future veterans are taken care of, we ‘paid it backward’ to ensure that they continued to be honored as their families and fellow veterans intended,” Reistad said, referring to the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial that honors 49 Prince George’s County men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The commander also noted how American Legion members came together to support the Coast Guard when the government shutdown cut off their paychecks. Temporary Financial Assistance grants were quickly processed and delivered.

“Families have always been important to The American Legion – especially military families,” he said. “That’s why when the government shut down, we stood up for the United States Coast Guard. Earlier this year we provided more than $1 million of financial assistance to Coast Guard families with children. Keep in mind this was $1 million more than the government provided during that same period. They were eventually paid, but it was immoral to delay the well-earned compensation to those who risk their lives defending our shores.”

Reistad noted that The American Legion is still pressing Congress to approve the Pay Our Coast Guard Act to prevent a similar situation occurring again.

All of these achievements and others are possible thanks to the size and influence of The American Legion.

“History is what we are doing every year,” Reistad said. "It’s what we are doing for the Blue Water Navy vets, the Cold War vets and the United States Coast Guard. It’s what we are doing to protect religious freedoms and the American flag. It’s what we are doing for the patients that desperately rely on VA and the caregivers that are sacrificing everything for the veteran that they love.”

The Legion’s centennial coins, authorized by Congress and approved by the U.S. Mint, are another example. The Legion’s centennial and NASA’s 50th anniversary of the moon landing are the only two coins selected this year for the special Mint program.

“That tells you something about the esteem and respect that Congress and the American people have for The American Legion,” he said. “So please support The American Legion by purchasing these rare and collectible coins. Time is running out and the unsold inventory will be melted down by the U.S. Mint at the end of the year.”

While the centennial celebration is winding down, contributions by The American Legion most certainly are not.

“History is being made by you at your local post,” Reistad concluded. “History is being made right here at this convention in Indianapolis. It is being measured by the lives that we touch. And it will continue to be made by the American Legion Family of tomorrow.”

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Pompeo: Americanism means recognizing America as 'an exceptional nation'

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“To foster and perpetuate a 100-percent Americanism” is one of the missions stated in the Preamble to The American Legion Constitution. It also was the subject of much of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s address to the organization’s 101st National Convention on Aug. 27 in Indianapolis.

Pompeo – a U.S. Army veteran, former Central Intelligence Agency director and a member of Thomas Hopkins Post 4 in Wichita, Kan. – said Americanism starts internally and expands worldwide. “Americanism means recognizing that America is an exceptional nation,” he said. “We’re the first nation founded on an idea that government’s proper purpose is to protect unalienable rights for each and every human being. And Americanism means our love of individual liberty and human dignity sets us apart. It’s not that these principles are unique to us, but we’ve shown a singular determination and courage in realizing them.

‘Americanism, in your founding and our founding, means pride in our recipe to create human flourishing – the rule of law, representative government, property rights. Things that we sometimes take for granted; as I travel around the world, I know that we should not. Americanism, too, means confidence in America’s unique role in the world. I see that as America’s most senior diplomat. It’s guided by our founders’ vision. So I’m honored to come before an audience that isn’t going to get squeamish when I tell you that Americanism is something we must be proud of each and every day."

Pompeo said Americanism is at the center of U.S. foreign policy. “At its core, it means honoring principles and returning to a foreign policy that had the vision of our founders at its very center,” he said. “George Washington had it right. He counseled us against ‘inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments’ to ‘others.’ He wanted us to look at the world dispassionately, for us to see it as it is, for what it really is.”

Pompeo noted that the U.S. has helped mobilize 54 other countries to support the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore democracy and prosperity to their country, as well as supporting the Iranian people in their struggle under a “brutal” regime.

“Americanism too means believing the right of people to choose their own leaders,” Pompeo said. “Americanism means getting leadership right around the world.”

That includes, Pompeo said:

• Working with 79 partners to bring down the ISIS Caliphate;

• Convening more than 60 countries in Warsaw earlier this year to brainstorm about the Middle East’s challenges;

• Galvanizing international support for sanctions on North Korea and Iran; and

• Joining with Australia and Bahrain in efforts to ensure freedom of the seas against Iranian aggression.

Pompeo said the United States also has been successful in stopping international courts from prosecuting U.S. servicemembers and bringing home dozens of Americans held hostage overseas.

Pompeo referred to those actions as “taking care of our own,” which he said also includes the administration securing the return of 55 boxes of the remains of U.S. servicemembers from North Korea.

“I know the significance of this to you,” Pompeo said. “And the Trump Administration is committed to making sure every last American soldier buried on Korean soil comes home.”

Turning his focus to Afghanistan, Pompeo said the U.S.’s longest war ever – 18-plus years – has helped transform Afghan society. “And we crushed Al-Qaeda,” he said. “That was our mission. That we shall do, and that we shall continue to do. But the truth is, America has never sought a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, and all sides recognize that time moves on.

“So for a year, and continuing today, we continue work to a clear-eyed engagement with all Afghans. We don’t know how these efforts towards peace and reconciliation will end. But President Trump is committed to make sure that we get it right. His clear guidance to me and to my military colleagues is this: We want to get our folks home as fast and in as large numbers as we can, and we want to make sure that never again is terror struck on the United States from that soil.”

Pompeo also praised the Legion for its help in starting and then continuing to support the Boys Scouts, for lobbying for creating of what become the Department of Veterans Affairs, for helping draft the original GI Bill and then pushing for updates to it, and for its advocacy on behalf of veterans.

“It’s very simple: you have contributed mightily to proud American achievements. By doing so you, your organization, each of you as individuals, is a proud American achievement unto itself,” Pompeo said. “In fact, America itself – the idea of America and her promise – is at the core of everything that you do. Keep supporting our veterans who come home – helping them with their career, their family, their education or health needs, and so much more in the ways that you always have, and I know you will. There is, as we say in Kansas, ‘no place like home.’ Help them make sure they return properly …

“And finally, and I suggested this early, every society, especially ours … filled with so much greatness, it needs heroes. Tell young people your stories, and the stories of others who served alongside of you. Because the only way … that the next generation will be proud of Americanism is if we proudly teach it to them and we pass it along.”

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Legacy Run donations nearly top $1 million

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The American Legion Riders and the entire American Legion Family again showed its dedication to take care of the families of our military, raising nearly $1 million for the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.

More than $554,000 was donated on the floor of the 101st American Legion Convention Aug. 27 in Indianapolis, bringing this year’s donation total to $975,208. The Legacy Fund provides college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.

The top donation on the national convention floor again was the Department of Minnesota, which brought with its delegates $175,000 and has raised more than $625,000 the past three years. The Department of Missouri followed with $86,109, while South Carolina raised $66,107. The Department of Illinois contributed $32,825 and the Department of Michigan $29,023, while the departments of Florida, California, Nebraska and Kansas all contributed more than $20,000.

Alaska American Legion Riders Chapter 35 donated $14,000, while Wintersville, Ohio, American Legion Post 557 gave $10,000.

The donations came on the heels of The American Legion Legacy Run, which left American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla,, on Aug. 18 with more than 240 motorcycles and another 47 passengers and traveled into Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky before ending up at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis. More than $292,000 was raised for the fund during this year’s American Legion Legacy Run, while more than $128,000 was donated prior to the ride.

“The Riders on this (Legacy Run) are passionate about what they do,” said Legacy Run Chief Road Captain and National American Legion Advisory Committee Chairman Bob Sussan. “The Riders adopted this Legacy Run 14 years to raise money for the children. We ride for the kids. Many of these Riders take two weeks out of their vacation time to come and do this.”

Sussan also took a moment to remember 80-year-old Wisconsin American Legion Rider Everett Johnson, a veteran of seven Legacy Runs who was involved in a motorcycle accident on his way to the start of the Legacy Run and succumbed to his injuries on the day the Legacy Run arrived in Indianapolis.

“Everett was a very dedicated Rider,” Sussan said. “He rode all of his in-state Legacy rides. Everyone on the (Legacy Run) knew Everett, and we’ll dearly miss him.”

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Medal of Honor recipient thanks, inspires fellow Vietnam vets

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Medal of Honor recipient James McCloughan brought a message to his fellow Vietnam veterans during his address on Aug. 27 to The American Legion’s 101st National Convention.

“We did not lose the war in Vietnam,” said McCloughan, a 26-year member of American Legion Post 49 in South Haven, Mich. “The fall of Saigon came two years after the Americans left Vietnam. To those here who fought in Vietnam, I would like to say, ‘Thank you for your service and welcome home.’”

He continued, thanking those who support servicemembers. “We could not do that without those back home, our friends and our families. Thank you so much. You are also part of that fighting unit that support us and inspired us to do what we have to do.”

McCloughan, an Army combat medic, was wounded by the North Vietnam army early in a two-day battle near Tam Ky where U.S. forces were outnumbered 2,000 to 89. He ran 100 meters through an open field with heavy fire to single-handedly rescue four wounded comrades and brought them to safety. For his actions in the May 13-15, 1969, battle, McCloughan received the Medal of Honor in 2017.

After returning home to Michigan from Vietnam, McCloughan took care of young men in a different way. “When I came home, I said my first job for (the Legion) would be running its American Legion Baseball program, which I did for 35 summers,” he said in an interview after receiving the medal. “That will be my service to you.”

McCloughan was also a high school wrestling coach in Michigan, a background he shares with one of the Spirit of Service recipients honored at the national convention. McCloughan accompanied each of the six recipients, including Kansas Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Benjamin P. Forsberg, as they received their awards. Forsberg was honored for his volunteer work, including serving as a wrestling coach.

“Yes, I do love the sport of wrestling, and I love the people who wrestling makes,” he said. “Through wrestling, I am able to teach someone how to win with humility and lose with grace. I am able to teach somebody how to improve upon their weaknesses and utilize their strengths. I am able to teach them that success is not made in front of spectators, but is made behind closed doors when they are working hard. And greatness cannot be achieved but it most always be pursued.”

During his 15-minute address to convention delegates, McCloughan credited The American Legion with its commitment to him throughout his life. As a teenager, he played American Legion Baseball for Post 49. After leaving the service, he received some financial assistance in 1970. And he used the American Legion-drafted GI Bill to advance his education.

“The GI Bill, written by veterans for veterans, allowed me to obtain my master’s degree in psychology from Western Michigan University, purchase a home and start a family,” he said, referring to the legislation authored by American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery and approved by Congress in 1944.

McCloughan also thanked the thousands of veterans in attendance for their service.

“When it was your turn to serve, you didn’t run and hide,” he said. “You joined and took the place alongside others to fight. You raised your hand, took the military oath and reaffirmed your commitment to America and its ideals. You signed your family’s name on a line and you agreed to die for our country, its people and our way of life, if it came down to that.”

McCloughan assigned an acronym to all his brothers and sisters who have made that vow.

“As a teacher and coach for 40 years, I’m here to tell you that you took the biggest test of your life and you aced it,” he said. “You played in the toughest game of your life and you won. You have officially become an ABA (American Bad Ass). You didn’t care about the medals and awards, as you passed that test and won that game, even though you earned them. You were just thankful to be home and alive.”

Referencing Vietnam War protesters, McCloughan told the audience that only the veterans know the truth about what occurred in the jungles overseas.

“Don’t expect those who haven’t walked a mile in your boots to know and understand what you have done,” he said. “Just know in your heart and in your soul that you are a savior of many, even those yet to be born.”

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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