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Colds temps don't stand in way of Veterans Day events

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Record cold temperatures washed over parts of the country this week. And although it may have altered some Veterans Day plans, it didn’t stop American Legion posts and districts from commemorating the sacred holiday in some way, shape or form.

American Legion National Commander James Oxford was in Birmingham, Ala., to participate in the National Veterans Day Parade which has taken place since 1947. National Vice Commander David King represented the national organization during the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. National Vice Commander Richard Heigert was on hand for a ceremony in Missouri (see below).

And across the country, American Legion posts hosted or took part in various ceremonies and events to commemorate Veterans Day. The following is a brief sample of those activities; Legion posts, districts and departments are encouraged to share stories and photos of their Veterans Day activities at www.legiontown.org.

California

In a ceremony conducted by American Legion Post 795 in South Lake Tahoe, approximately 200 veterans, first responders and area residents were present for addresses from veterans and Mayor Jason Collins. Before the ceremony, the approximately 560 veterans’ graves at nearby Happy Homestead Cemetery were decorated with U.S. flags.

Illinois

• Snow and freezing temperatures didn’t stop a group of veterans and community members from attending American Legion Post 247’s annual Veterans Day service at Hodges Park in Park Ridge. The performance included an honor guard salute and performance of Taps. “Today is very special,” American Legion Post 247 member Steve Starvrakas said. “To those who have paid the supreme sacrifice and died in battle, bless them. To those who are in military or other hospitals recovering from war wounds, bless them. From the minutemen of the Revolution, to the last military defender of the day, bless them.”

• In downtown Wilmette, single-digit wind chills did stop American Legion Wilmette Post 46 and Winnetka VFW Post 4831 from conducting a brief downtown ceremony. Post 46 Commander Andy Haszlakiewicz said the observance “was small but heartfelt.”

Missouri

In an Adair County ceremony, American Legion National Vice Commander Richard Heigert told attendees that Veterans Day belongs to anyone who has served. “It’s a time to honor all those who have served, those who are serving today, as well as those who have served at any time in the past,” Heigert said, adding, “Get with your fellow veterans and people who have served in the military, go talk to older veterans, let them teach you what it’s like to be a veteran.”

John Buckwalter, a member of American Legion Post 20 in Kirksville, added that “No veteran should ever have to be alone.” And the ceremony was the start of a new tradition. Rather than a moment of silence, the ceremony included the ringing of the bells of freedom, which will continue at future ceremonies.

Montana

The 14th annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Montana Veterans Memorial was moved inside to Centene Stadium because of cold temperatures. There, Montana National Executive Committeeman David Driver was the guest speaker at the ceremony, which also honored the 100th birthday of The American Legion.

Driver spoke of The American Legion’s legacy and how it has served veterans since 1919. "The American Legion portfolio has included acceptance of all effective treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury and not prescribed drugs alone,” he said. "Thousands of career fairs, business workshops and education forums to give veterans opportunities to succeed after service.”

The venue change didn’t stop dozens of community members from attending the ceremony, which also featured a color guard from Malmstrom Air Force Base and a national anthem performance from the Great Falls Symphonic Choir.

North Carolina

In Rockingham, members of American Legion Post 147 continued an annual Veterans Day tradition of visiting veterans who reside in area nursing and assisted living homes. The post members visited with around 30 veterans, something they have been doing regularly the past 20 years.

Ohio

In Brunswick at City Hall, area residents gathered for the annual Veterans Day ceremony, where several Silver Star recipients were recognized by American Legion Post 234 Commander Bob Prevost, who also recalled the horrors of war and the common bond found on the battlefield, where “you see people doing for others what they would not anywhere else.”

Tennessee

In Winchester, thousands showed up to line the streets and parts of the Downtown Square on Nov. 10 to attending the Veterans Day parade. The parade was sponsored by American Legion Post 44, a centennial post, and included at least six marching bands – including the Tennessee National Guard’s 129th Army Band – nearly 20 floats and 135 decorated vehicles from area schools, civic organizations and veterans groups. The parades grand marshal was Bill Robinson, a U.S. Air Force veteran who was held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

Veterans representing wars and conflicts ranging from World War II to the current war on terror were honored during the parade. American Legion Post 44 Commander Ray Cobb was quick to praise all the organizers, helpers, veterans and participants in the parade. “I want to thank (City Administrator) Beth Rhoton and the City of Winchester for all the work regarding the pre-parade organizing,” Cobb said. “I also want to thank Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller and everyone involved in escorting all of our veterans who participated in the parade. I also wanted to thank the AM Rotary Club, the Franklin County Kiwanis Club, and especially Director of Schools Stanley Bean for his support with the parade and for keeping American patriotism alive in our schools. I’m hopeful that next year’s parade will be even bigger.”

Virginia

Dozens showed up for Post 104’s Veterans Day ceremony in Appomattox. The ceremony included a bugle playing Taps, a ceremonial shot from a World War I cannon and a keynote address from Ret. Army Command Sgt. Major Gretchen Evans, a Bronze Star recipient.

"It is a story that thousands could tell. I just happen to be the one here telling it," Evans said. "When you become a person in service, when you raise your hand, you know your life is going to change. We are not broken. Things have happened to us, but we are not broken. I think giving us the opportunity to show you that is the best way to say thank you."

Wyoming

• In Cheyenne at American Legion Post 6’s ceremony, nearly 500 veterans and their family and friends, and community members were in attendance. Post 6’s honor guard presented the colors, while Post 6 Commander Bill Barnes asked the crowd to think about the story of each veteran in the room, stories that represented “the exceptional and the extraordinary. Every single woman and man who has raised their right hand and pledged to give their life if their country had needed, did so for a reason. Ask them why.”

• Kaysen Ray Bear was the first baby born on Veterans Day at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rock Springs. And to honor her birthday, the Legion Family from American Legion Archie Hay Post 24 provided the newborn with a big bath tub full of items that included diapers, baby wipes, some outfits, hand-crafted quilts, hand-crocheted stuffed animals, bath items, towels and more. “It’s a gift to the community and something for us to celebrate on Veterans Day,” said Department of Wyoming Auxiliary President Gina Dusel.


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Past national commander honored at WWII Museum

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Before the National WWII Museum even broke ground, American Legion Past National Commander William M. Detweiler was behind the scenes, standing strong for a vision that has grown into a national treasure.

Museum co-founders Stephen Ambrose and Nick Mueller called upon Detweiler in the 1990s to serve as a trustee of that vision. In those planning years and later, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Detweiler provided calm leadership, counsel and effectiveness. Today, the museum ranks third in the United States and eighth in the world, occupying four blocks of New Orleans, where it is the top-rated local attraction, with a brand-new hotel.

“There were a few people who hung in and believed,” National WWII Museum CEO and President Stephen Watson said Nov. 8 at the annual Victory Ball that Detweiler helped establish. “They understood the importance of the museum. Bill Detweiler was one of those leaders, one of those trustees in the 1990s, who knew how important it was to tell this story.”

Detweiler, who served as American Legion national commander in 1994 and 1995, passed away March 27, 2019. His memory was honored at the Veterans Day Weekend ball with words from the podium and a video that paid tribute to his work with The American Legion, the Southeast Louisiana VA Healthcare System and the museum.

“He was a great man – a good man – and a good friend,” Mueller said in the video. “He was a person who, once he made a commitment to you, he was loyal to that mission.”

“He was a role model for all of us, someone who really defines what service to our country means and defines what continuing to serve means,” Southeast Louisiana VA Healthcare System Director and CEO Fernando Rivera said.

Detweiler’s wife Maureen and other family members were recognized at the ball for their place in the museum’s development and in the past national commander’s career of service. Maureen Detweiler was one of two honorary chairmen for the Victory Ball.

“For the last 13 or 14 years, Bill was our consultant for military affairs,” Watson said. “If you came to a Memorial Day program, a Veterans Day program, an Armed Services Day program, a change of command, a retirement ceremony – anything that involved the veteran community and our military – Bill would be standing at this podium, and he would be the emcee. What you didn’t see was the work Bill put in behind the scenes to ensure that our museum not only gave proper tribute to our World War II veterans but all those that served, and all those still serving.”

Illustrating that spirit was the other Victory Ball honorary chairman, also a Legionnaire and Vietnam War veteran, Medal of Honor recipient James C. McCloughan of Michigan.

“Most of us Vietnam veterans are sons of a World War II veteran,” McCloughan told the sold-out crowd of more than 900. “My father was a World War II veteran. We both fought in our separate wars and came home. We both started careers. We both had a family, built a house and went on with our lives. In a lot of ways, we were similar. In some ways we were different. But I learned a lot from my dad. I learned hard work. I learned not to waste things. I also learned that you should save a little something for a rainy day. My dad also taught me you should put other people first.”

McCloughan said his father’s values guided him as a medic in the Vietnam War, particularly during the ambush May 13-15, 1969, for which he received the Medal of Honor on July 31, 2017. Bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds, McCloughan refused evacuation. Outnumbered by about 2,000 to 89, the combat medic told his commanding officer, “You’re gonna need me.”

He was right. Over those days of heavy fire, the wounded specialist five is credited for saving 11 lives and fighting off multiple enemy attacks. “I could hear my dad saying, ‘Never do anything halfway. Do it to the best of your ability, and you do it until the job is done.’ I would rather be dead in a rice paddy than in a hospital being taken care of and find out that one of my men died in battle because I wasn’t there to do my job.”

Following the war, McCloughan began a 48-year career as an educator and coach, including more than 30 years as an American Legion Baseball coach. His commitment to young people was driven by his experience in the war, trying to save others who would not have the chance to come home and live out their lives. “They gave up the ultimate – they gave up their life,” McCloughan said. “Believe me, as a combat medic, I held 18-, 19- and 20-year-old boys in my arms. I heard their last words. And I saw them take their last breaths. And I can tell you the freedom we enjoy in this room tonight has been paid for, in full.”

McCloughan also told the crowd that places like the National WWII Museum ensure that those who made the ultimate sacrifice will “never die because we will speak of them for generations to come… A man never really dies until we no longer speak his name, until we no longer look at the deeds he accomplished for our freedom. That’s what this museum is all about. The World War II Museum is about looking at all of the memories that we have of the greatest generation, to follow their deeds and actions. These great warriors need to be preserved by this particular World War II Museum, so that we never forget them.”

Such was the message printed in the Victory Ball program, in reference to Detweiler: “Through Detweiler’s life’s work as an activist for veterans of all conflicts in both the local and national community, as well as through his essential advocacy for the growth of the National WWII Museum, his legacy will continue to live on.”


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Veterans outreach coming to Washington

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Department of Washington Legionnaires and national staff are conducting a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort in and around the Seattle, Lacey and Vancouver areas Nov. 15-20. Legionnaires will be on hand to discuss veterans benefits, the Legion’s legislative efforts, membership opportunities and service to the community.

All veterans in the area are invited to attend the event, which will take place at the following locations:

• Seattle: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 15-16, Ballard Veterans of Foreign Wars, 2812 NW Market St., Seattle.

• Lacey: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 17-18, Lacey Veterans Hub, 4232 6th Ave., SE, Lacey.

• Vancouver: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 19-20, Smith-Reynolds American Legion Post 14, 4607 NE St. James Road, Vancouver.

A veterans service officer will be available to discuss claims and other Department of Veterans Affairs benefits-related questions.


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Oxford, Clapp extend holiday greetings in new PSA

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American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford and American Legion Auxiliary President Nicole Clapp extend holiday greetings to the Legion Family in a new video PSA.

The minute-long PSA is intended to be played at American Legion Family Thanksgiving meals, Christmas celebrations and other year-end events. In it, Oxford and Clapp thank American Legion Family members for a successful year, extend holiday wishes and look ahead to 2020.

The PSA is available for viewing at the Legion’s YouTube page.

Visit The American Legion’s Vimeo channel, where the PSA can be downloaded to a phone, laptop or tablet and then played anywhere.


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Chattanooga armory named for Tennessee Legionnaire

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On Nov. 13, one of Tennessee's most esteemed veterans received yet another honor, when the National Guard armory in Chattanooga was redesignated with his name.

Retired Brig. Gen. Carl Levi, a 65-year member of The American Legion and former city treasurer, says he was surprised last spring when he heard the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that would add his name to the historic facility at 1801 S. Holtsclaw Ave. Built by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1941, the armory continues to be used as a readiness center and recruiting station.

"I am humbled," said Levi, 89. "I think of the thousands of people who have gone through that armory and that I'm the lucky one who got his name on the building."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee joined Levi at the armory to sign the bill officially changing its name.

"General Levi is an outstanding Tennessean and exemplary public servant," Lee said. "We are grateful for his years of service to our country and are pleased to honor his legacy through the BG Carl E. Levi and CSM Bobby G. Davis National Guard Armory."

Levi enlisted in the Army as a private in 1952, attending basic and advanced training at Fort Sill, Okla. Three years later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Tennessee Army National Guard, going on to hold command and staff positions at the battery, battalion and brigade levels. He served as inspector general and S-1 adjutant at the Guard's state headquarters in Nashville and as comptroller for all Tennessee National Guard units.

Levi also served as commander of the 196th Field Artillery Brigade from 1982 until his retirement in 1987. During those years, he did a lot to improve the Chattanooga armory: improved parking, roof repairs and extensive remodeling of the drill hall, including a concrete floor, new windows and doors, a latrine for women, and a heating system. Later, the drill hall was named for Levi, whose career in the Tennessee National Guard spanned three decades.

"I had no idea I'd stay in as long as I did and do as good as I did," Levi said. "God has a way for doing things for you, and I can't take all the credit. My success in the National Guard was all the people surrounding me. We were just a good team. There are so many who ought to share in this honor."

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, introduced a bill last February that would add Levi's name to the local armory. State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood sponsored the bill on the House side.

"Carl’s done a lot for that armory over the years, using his influence in town to get a lot of things done for free that normally would have cost the National Guard money, little things fixed here and there," Gardenhire said. "It’s been his life. I thought, 'Let’s do something to honor him.' He's a great guy, and every veteran I know looks up to him."

A graduate of the University of Chattanooga, Levi served as the city's treasurer for 24 years, retiring in 2001. He also served two terms as Hamilton County trustee. Some of his honors include the 1988 Treasurer of the Year award from the International Municipal Treasurers Association of the United States and Canada, the 1995 Chattanooga Veteran of the Year and the 2008 Tennessee County Trustee of the Year.

Levi is deeply involved in several civic, military and veterans organizations, including The American Legion. He was commander of American Legion Post 14 in Chattanooga for 25 years, and was recognized as 1968 Legionnaire of the Year. He is a past commander of the American Legion Department of Tennessee and currently serves as vice chairman of the Legion's National Finance Commission.

As a member of Post 14, Levi was a close friend of Medal of Honor recipients Charles Coolidge and Desmond Doss. He delivered the eulogy at Doss' funeral in 2006.

In a 2018 video interview, Levi said, "I've been a very fortunate person. I served my country, I enjoyed it, and I've enjoyed The American Legion. It's been a wonderful thing for me."


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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.