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Legionnaires in Europe: Tomb centennial events are near you

In late October, a flurry of events will take place in France as part of the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. In keeping with The American Legion’s long history of involvement with the Tomb, and France’s with the selection of the Unknown Soldier, Paris Post 1 will have an active presence at these events; individuals interested in attending should RSVP or inquire, where applicable.

The list of events, subject to change, is below. Times are local. For updates, visit on the web.

Oct. 19, Paris. A Never Forget Garden at the American Cathedral will be dedicated at 5 p.m.; the Memorial Cloister is the first memorial in France to Americans fallen in World War I. See for more information. RSVP required to

Oct. 21, St. Mihiel Cemetery, France. Educational walking tour by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), discussion of the Unknown Soldier selection process in 1921, and wreath-laying ceremony at 2:20 p.m. RSVP required to

Oct. 22, Aisne-Marne Cemetery, France. Wreath ceremony at 9 a.m. and educational walking tour by the ABMC, focusing on the associated battlefield and the World War I Unknown Soldier candidate selection process in 1921. RSVP required to

Oct. 22, Somme Cemetery, France. Wreath ceremony at 2:30 p.m., and educational walking tour by the ABMC focusing on the associated battlefield and the World War I Unknown Soldier candidate selection process in 1921. RSVP required to

Oct. 23, Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, France. Wreath ceremony at 9 a.m., and educational walking tour by the ABMC focusing on the associated battlefield and the World War I Unknown Soldier candidate selection process in 1921. RSVP required to

23, Hôtel de Ville, Châlons-en-Champagne, France. Commemoration on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the four World War I Unknown Soldier candidates in 1921 from American cemeteries in the region, and the honor guard of French soldiers that assumed the death watch, when six American soldiers from the Army of Occupation joined them to conduct a joint honor guard through the night until the ceremonies the next day. Vigil begins at 5 p.m., open to the public. For more information, please contact or

Oct. 24, Hôtel de Ville, Châlons-en-Champagne, France. Commemoration and tribute on the 100th anniversary of the selection of the World War I Unknown Soldier by Sgt. Edward Younger, while honoring our allies and the citizens of France who embraced him as their own. Ceremony starts at 11 a.m. with speeches, followed by a parade to a war memorial, and concluding with a wreath ceremony. Open to the public. For more information, please contact or

Oct. 25, Quai Roger Meunier, Le Havre, France. Ceremony on the 100th anniversary of the departure of the World War I Unknown Soldier from Le Havre to the United States in 1921 and USS Olympia’s mission to bring him home. The city will dedicate a special plaque on the site where the Unknown Soldier left French soil. Ceremony begins at 3 p.m., open to the public. For more information, please contact or

Oct. 25, Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Wreath ceremony at 9:30 a.m., followed by educational walking tour by the ABMC, focusing on the associated battlefield and the World War II Unknown Soldier candidate selection process in 1958. RSVP required to

Oct. 26, Arc de Triomphe, Paris. Members of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will render honors and pay tribute to the French Unknown Soldier, standing with French and American veterans, at 5:30 p.m. RSVP required for ceremony participation to; open to public for viewing.

Oct. 26, Paris. Unknown Soldier Centennial Gala at École Militaire. Join the Society of the Honor Guard and our other guests from the United States who took their first pilgrimage to France for the centennial of the Unknown Soldier. Ceremony will start at 7 p.m. Dinner tickets are available here.

PNC’s advocacy for Operation Comfort Warriors keeps program viable

In 2012, American Legion Past National Commander James E. Koutz raised over $1 million for the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program. He made OCW his primary fundraising goal as national commander, which helped put the program and its cause at the forefront of departments, districts, posts and communities nationwide. This awareness increased donations, as well as assistance requests from injured and ill veterans.

And his commitment to the program over the past nine years hasn’t wavered.

The American Legion reached out to Koutz to hear about his “why” for keeping OCW an ongoing priority. During the phone call, his support for the program was in action – Koutz was finalizing details for an upcoming softball tournament in his hometown of Boonville, Ind., that will benefit OCW.

OCW “is something we have to do. Because it’s taking care of our troops,” Koutz said. “We are always going to have injured troops and veterans that need help. VA hospitals are not going to buy them comfort items. But The American Legion can.”

Operation Comfort Warriors provides items that aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded servicemembers and veterans whether they are recovering in military hospitals, transition units and VA medical centers, or at their home. When Koutz traveled as national commander to warrior transition units, he spoke with commanding officers about the items servicemen and women needed to “make them comfortable, try to get them rehabilitated faster. (And the requests of needed items) just went from there.”

OCW grant items have ranged from socks, clothes, video games, arts and crafts, televisions, iPads, sporting equipment, winter kits for homeless veterans, food, rehabilitation equipment such a recumbent bike or elliptical, tickets to baseball games and more. A recent $32,000 OCW grant to the Head of the Cuyahoga Regatta in Cleveland sponsored an eight-person shell boat, the oars and rack for its veteran race, along with a trophy that will be presented each year indefinitely to the winning team in the veterans race. Koutz attended this event and was elated with how OCW supported these veterans.

“It was great. The people couldn’t thank us enough for being there,” he said. “(Seeing amputees and visually impaired veterans rowing) was amazing. That’s the kind of things that we want to do. We want to help our active duty plus the ones that are needing help at these VA hospitals.”

To keep providing grants OCW relies on donations. And fundraising efforts for the program have remained strong over the years thanks to Koutz and his continued advocacy for OCW.

“I get excited when departments get in touch with me and ask if they can have Operation Comfort Warriors as their fundraiser. I say, ‘Yeah!’” Koutz said. He will be accepting an OCW check donation next weekend from the Department of Kentucky Auxiliary at their fall conference. “There’s been a lot of departments that have really rallied behind OCW. There are certain posts and districts that fundraise every year for OCW because they really believe in it.”

American Legion posts and districts within his home state of Indiana have been behind Koutz and believed in the cause of OCW since 2012. American Legion Post 64 in Indianapolis has held an annual OCW fundraiser since Koutz was national commander, raising hundreds of thousands for the program.

“Normally people stop fundraising after the commander’s year,” Koutz said. “OCW has caught on and it’s staying that way because we work it. We keep it going. And the more PR we get out about it, the better we are.”

Another reason why Koutz believes OCW remains a strong program of The American Legion is because 100 percent of donations go directly to supporting wounded and ill veterans and servicemembers.

“I think this is why people like OCW – they know that 100 percent will go to the troops. That’s why they stick with it. Money is going to stay with OCW,” he said. “And as long as we are serving active-duty soldiers and veterans, we will have OCW. That’s what The American Legion is about.”













American Legion supports key legislation impacting veterans

The House Subcommittee on Health for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing Oct. 13 on pending and draft legislation impacting the nation’s veterans.

The American Legion submitted a statement for the record to present the organization’s positions to members of Congress on legislation, including enhancing peer-support services, improving suicide prevention efforts, and increasing accessibility to mammography services.  

H.R. 2819: Solid Start Act of 2021, would improve and expand the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Solid Start program. An estimated 20 veterans die by suicide each day, and on average 60 percent have not had consistent contact with VA. A 2019 survey conducted by The American Legion showed that 40 percent of veterans were not sure whether they were eligible for VA mental health services.

The Solid Start Program was launched in December 2019 to proactively engage all newly separated servicemembers at least three times during their first year of transition from the military. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association on 2 million servicemembers recently separated from service found those who identified as male, younger, and with shorter lengths of service, or were separated from the Marine Corps or Army, had a significantly higher risk of suicide after separation.

“Transitioning from military to civilian life can be extremely stressful for new members of the veteran community,” wrote The American Legion. “Any period of uncertainty elevates the risk of suicide. Passing legislation such as the Solid Start Act of 2021 will help ensure that risk is as low as possible.”

The American Legion supports H.R. 2819.

H.R. 4575: Veteran Peer Specialist Act of 2021, would amend the VA MISSION Act of 2018 to expand the peer specialist support program of VA to all its medical centers.

“Peer Specialists play a vital role at VA in assisting their fellow veterans who also struggle with mental illness, chronic pain and substance abuse disorders,” said The American Legion.

Studies have shown that peer support is mutually beneficial for those experiencing transitions, mental health crises and readjustment issues, and that peer specialists are better at sympathizing with fellow veterans.

“The work of (peer specialists) is critical now more than ever,” continued The American Legion. “Just this past month, September 2021, the Pentagon reported military suicides had increased by 16 percent.”

This act would establish an additional 25 medical centers per year over the course of five years until the program is available at each VA medical center. Priority would go to medical centers in rural areas, areas that are not near a military installation and those representing different geographic locations.

“By increasing the number of VA medical centers that have (peer specialists), more veterans will have access to the health-care resources they have rightfully earned and may urgently need,” concluded The American Legion in support of H.R. 4575.

Another piece of legislation is focused on breast cancer treatment for veterans.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women under the age of 40. According to a VA study published in 2021, female cases of breast cancer tripled between 1995 and 2012. Oncologists at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center conducted a study which showed between 1975 and 2010 male breast cancer diagnoses had increased by 26 percent.

“Women who have served in the military are 20 to 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who have never served,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Julia Brownley, D-Calif. “It is therefore critical that VA ensure all veterans have access to prompt, high-quality breast imaging services to detect breast cancer early and access to genetic testing to identify individual breast cancer risk.”

H.R. 4794: Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act, would require VA to submit a strategic plan to Congress for improving breast imaging services to veterans and expand access to more modern technologies. This includes a three-year pilot program that would provide tele-mammography services for veterans who live in states where VA does not offer breast imaging services.

These statistics indicate early detection is critical in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

“Ensuring veterans have timely access to mammography services will facilitate early diagnosis, increase treatment options, and improve survival chances for a veteran population with a significantly higher risk of breast cancer,” wrote The American Legion.

You can read The American Legion’s full statement for the record here and the full hearing here

Post in need of repairs finds a solution through art

Decades ago when Eugene M. Connor Post 193 in Winchendon, Mass., was looking at building a new post home, its members went into the community to solicit donations. One of those donations will soon bring the post millions of dollars.

What was thought to initially be a reprint of a Norman Rockwell painting was revealed an actual original painting. Post 193 found out in the early 1970s and loaned it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge for the next five decades. But now, and in need of repairs to its nearly 60-year-old building, the post membership has decided to have the painting auctioned off, with an anticipated sale price surpassing $4 million.

“It’s pretty thrilling, really,” said Post 193’s Ken LaBrack, a 55-year Legionnaire who served as commander of the post in the 1970s and now is chairman of its Housing Board. “We’ve held onto it for a long time, but it’s time to sell it.”

LaBrack said that when the post was seeking donations for its new building, one Legionnaire visited Father Wilfred A. Tisdale, a local priest who also collected rare works of art. Tisdale offered the Legionnaire a painting of his choice to help with the building purchase. The Legionnaire chose Rockwell’s Home for Thanksgiving, which had appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in November 1945 and featured a mother and her soldier son peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner – fitting just months after World War II came to a close.

”He never told us it was an original,” LaBrack said. “He just said ‘hold onto this painting for as long as you can.’ So they took that to heart and held onto it.”

The painting was hung in Post 193’s hallway where “anybody could have walked out with it,” LaBrack said. “One day, somebody happened to come downstairs and said ‘hey, I don’t know who’s in charge of that painting, but I’m willing to offer $500 for it.’ Once that word got back to the (post) officers, they decided ‘we need to look into this.’”

After that, the post pulled down the painting and drove it to the Norman Rockwell Museum, where staff there examined it and determined it was an original painting. In order to keep the painting safe, Post 193 loaned it to the museum, where it was displayed and sometimes toured around both the nation and the world. The painting also has appeared in several Rockwell books and compendiums, including Telling Stories, a collection of essays accompanying an exhibition of Rockwell works owned by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

“Back then the value wasn’t really that high,” LaBrack said. “But it was still nice to find out it was an original. So we just kept it (at the museum) for as long as we could.”

But in an aging building and not having the funds to make necessary repairs, the post voted to sell the painting. “The building’s close to 60 years old now,” LaBrack said. “It’s a fairly big building, but it needs a lot of major projects. We just don’t have the money to do it. So we said ‘we held onto that painting for this long, and it really hasn’t done the post any good, other than bragging rights that we own a Rockwell.’ So that’s when we put it to a vote.”

In addition to performing facility repairs, the post is setting up a trust with a limit on how much of the interest gained from the principle can be used. The interest income will be used to assist the post with expenses, as well as to support both post and national American Legion programs.  

The painting will be the featured item in Heritage Auctions’ Nov. 5 American Art Signature Auction, where it is expected to fetch more than $4 million. “It stopped my heart the minute I saw it,” Heritage Auctions’ Director of American Art Aviva Lehmann told Intelligent Collector. “Anyone who sees this painting stops in their tracks, not just because it’s a classic Rockwell, but because it pulls on their heartstrings. And it feels very fitting that America’s auction house can broker this sale of an American icon on behalf of American heroes.”

Click here to watch a video created by Heritage Auctions about Home for Thanksgiving and the upcoming auction.

INDYCAR champ took American Legion along for the ride

Although its primary focus was with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Honda, The American Legion played a key role in Alex Palou’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship season.

The American Legion was the primary sponsor for five of Palou’s 16 races in the No. 10 Honda. NTT DATA was Palou’s primary sponsor for nine races, PNC Bank for the Grand Prix of Portland and Segi TV for the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Palou proudly drove The American Legion livery to a third-place finish in the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 15. The American Legion was back on the car for 15th- and third-place finishes in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on June 12 and 13.

The highlight for Palou and The American Legion was a trip to Victory Lane for his second win in 2021 in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on June 20.

The fifth race for this combination was the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Aug. 21. In that contest, Palou was involved in a crash with Rinus VeeKay and teammate Scott Dixon on Lap 65 and finished 20th.

Palou and his No. 10 Honda crew at Chip Ganassi Racing were honored at the IndyCar Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Oct. 1. Palou, the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion, was awarded with a miniature version of the Astor Challenge Cup.

“What an amazing year we had,” Palou said during the celebration. “I have to thank Chip personally for giving me the opportunity to drive the No. 10 Honda for the team. Chip doesn’t realize the amount of energy he brings to the team. I have to thank a lot of people. It’s been 19 years since I started racing and I have to thank a lot of people.

“My teammates were a huge help this year. Josef Newgarden made it exciting at the end when he won the pole and was leading those laps. And Pato O’Ward, you’ve been amazing. Good job. Last but not least, I have to thank my girlfriend, Esther, and my family. I’m driving in the best series with the best teammates. It’s like a dream that I never want to end.

“Let’s bring on 2022.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi also received his own Astor Challenge Cup and thanked The American Legion for its role in the team’s 14th INDYCAR championship.

“You can’t be in this business without sponsors, and I want to thank NTT DATA,” Ganassi said. “I want to thank everybody at NTT and other people along the way like The American Legion, PNC Bank and Firestone. I want to thank each and every one of those.


“How about this guy, Alex Palou? What an impressive season. For this being his second year in the series, he drove like a wily veteran. With guys Pato O’Ward, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden chasing him down all year, he never flinched. He never even flinched when he hit the wall here at Indianapolis.

“I can’t tell you in strong enough words how proud I am of Alex. That being said, drivers win races, but teams win the championships. I’m really, really happy with the guys on the 10 car and what they were able to accomplish with this championship. Alex also had mentors to lean on like Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Kanaan.

“I also want to thank the captain of this ship, Roger Penske. In the past two years, this sport has been thrown some curveballs. Roger and his staff with Jay Frye, they were ready for those curveballs and the entire series thanks Roger for that.”

The full-sized Astor Challenge Cup is a permanent trophy that is kept at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Also honored were Barry Wanser, champion team manager, and Ricky Davis, who won the IndyCar Championship Chief Mechanic Award presented by Pennzoil.

The celebration has continued through October for Palou and his team. Palou got to meet “The King” and James Bond in his trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, October 10.

The 24-year-old driver from Spain along with his girlfriend Esther were invited to attend the NASCAR Cup BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 by team owner Chip Ganassi.

Shortly after Palou arrived in the NASCAR Cup Series garage area, Richard Petty heard the 2021 IndyCar Series champion was there. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and seven-time Daytona 500 winner went over to Palou, introduced himself, shook his hand and welcomed him to NASCAR.

A few hours later, Palou met actor Daniel Craig, the most recent James Bond in the highly successful James Bond movie franchise. Craig, one of the world’s most sought-after movie stars, was the honorary starter of Sunday’s NASCAR Playoff race. He reprises his role as James Bond in the upcoming film “No Time to Die.”

Palou’s brush with fame actually began Saturday night when he attended his first-ever concert headlined by “Pitbull” at the nearby PNC Music Pavilion last Saturday night.

On Monday, Palou toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte to learn more about the history of stock car racing.

Palou watched Sunday’s race from the Chip Ganassi Racing’s pit box and was surprised that he was recognized in the NASCAR Cup Series garage area by many people.

“It was more than I thought and that is good,” Palou said. “I think that is part of what comes with being the INDYCAR champion. I’m happy to be here enjoying a NASCAR race.

“As the champion, I get recognized a bit more than I used to. I’m happier than normal, but that’s about it. It didn’t change me much. I’m feeling super comfortable and confident for next year because I will have more experience.”

INDYCAR owner: Addition of Jimmie Johnson, American Legion and Carvana sparked renewed interest in racing series

INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske believes the addition of Jimmie Johnson, The American Legion and Carvana to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES lineup helped ignite a spike of interest in the series in 2021.

“There is no better guy in racing than Jimmie Johnson,” Penske said. “He is the best at what he has been able to accomplish in NASCAR, and for him to come over here and try INDYCAR is very important. He is a quality guy and for him to bring The American Legion, and what they do for the country, along with Carvana, you couldn’t ask for a better combination.”

A legendary industrialist and racing team owner, Penske guided an outstanding revitalization of the high-speed racing series. Television ratings were up over 30 percent, and since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on-site attendance was very impressive in 2021. Season-long ratings and other data released by NBC prove that 2021 was a positive sign of growth as an average of 1.2 million fans tuned in to each race.

“INDYCAR is delighted with our TV progress during the 2021 season,” Penske said. “During the 2021 season, our results were driven our people and partnership with IMS Productions and NBC.”

Many of those new viewers included members of The American Legion, who had a team and driver to cheer for – Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Members of The American Legion could be seen at nearly all of the INDYCAR races in 2021. Many more watched on television at their local posts, enjoying the fellowship and comradery of being a member of The American Legion.

As a NASCAR team owner, Penske’s drivers competed against Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports as the driver won an astounding 83 races and a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships.

This year with backing from The American Legion and Carvana, Johnson was an INDYCAR rookie at Chip Ganassi Racing. Johnson was able to experience racing in a series that spawned his love for auto racing.

Johnson’s arrival has been important for INDYCAR. By representing The American Legion and its more than 5 million members, it has created another avenue of support with a dramatic increase in fans for INDYCAR. Also, Carvana and its unique marketing and brand campaign has captured the interest of television viewers, with Johnson featured on both INDYCAR and NASCAR telecasts.

Johnson is a hero on the race track, but members of The American Legion are the true American heroes, as they help support its members and veterans throughout the United States that have served the country.

And so far, this season, Johnson has helped give The American Legion a driver to cheer for in INDYCAR, creating new fans for the rejuvenated series.

“It’s been a great season,” Penske said. “We’ve had different winners, a tight points race and a stacked field. We have some great sponsors like The American Legion and Carvana, and we have some great teams.”

‘Made of steel’: Korean War vet awarded Medal of Honor for smothering grenade blast dies at 89

Korean War veteran Duane Dewey, whom President Dwight Eisenhower described as “made of steel” when he presented the machine-gunner with the Medal of Honor in 1953, died Monday at age 89.

The Marine Corps corporal earned the medal for smothering an enemy grenade with his body and sheltering his squad members from the blast as they fought near Panmunjom on April 16, 1952.

Dewey spent several months in the hospital recuperating from the blast to his hip. His death in St. Augustine, Fla., was announced Tuesday by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Dewey was born Nov. 16, 1931, in Grand Rapids, Mich., into a family that was greatly impoverished during the Great Depression, he said during a videotaped interview posted on the Veterans History Project’s website.

He and his cousin drove to Kalamazoo and enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1951. During the first day of special training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dewey volunteered for machine gun training. By October 1951, he was fighting north of the 38th Parallel on the Korean Peninsula.

On April 16, 1952, Dewey was with 3rd Squad, Weapons Platoon, Company E, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He and his machine gun squad were among about 80 Marines who found themselves surrounded by a force of roughly 600 Chinese troops, he said during the interview.

Cpl. Duane Dewey received the Medal of Honor for saving fellow Marines' lives by shielding them from a grenade blast during the Korean War, April 16, 1952. (Congressional Medal of Honor Society)He had used up almost all his ammo when a grenade whizzed by him.

“A grenade went off behind my left heel, got me three places in my left leg and put me down,” he said. A corpsman – on his first night on the battle line – lay Dewey on his back and began cutting his trousers to patch him up.

A second grenade plopped down beside Dewey.

“I grabbed that, and my first impulse was to throw it, but I’m lying flat on my back, and I don’t know if I can get it out of reach of my own men,” he recalled in the video. “So, I scooped it under me and grabbed [the corpsman] and pulled him down on top of me. It went off and took us both a couple feet off the ground. Then I told him, better get me out of here. I don’t think I can take any more of this.”

Duane Dewey received the Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower for his heroic actions near Panmunjom, Korea, April 16, 1952. (Congressional Medal of Honor Society)Roughly a year later, Dewey was standing in the Oval Office, where the newly inaugurated Eisenhower presented his first Medal of Honor. The citation read in part that the Marine had “bravely smothered the deadly missile with his body, personally absorbing the full force of the explosion to save his comrades from possible injury or death.”

“Mr. Eisenhower looked at me after he heard the citation,” Dewey recalled in the video, “and he says, ‘You must have a body made of steel.’”

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 and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.

Nebraska SAL donates to Medal of Honor Highway project

A donation from the SAL Detachment of Nebraska will help place two signs along the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.

Detachment Commander Chris Casey and others presented a $4,000 check to Tom Hansen, treasurer of the Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation, at an event in Omaha, Neb., on Oct. 10.

Tom Hansen is the great-nephew of Medal of Honor recipient Dale Hansen. A native of Wisner, Neb., Dale Hansen earned the Medal of Honor for his actions against Japanese troops on Okinawa on May 7, 1945, dying four days later.

On Jan. 31, 2020, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed paperwork renaming the 432-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 20 running through his state the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.” The renaming is the continuation of an effort that began in Oregon in 2018 and has since moved into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Similar efforts have begun in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, with the hope the designation eventually extends all the way to the end of Highway 20 in Boston.

“For us Sons that may not have served, I mean it’s everything for us to be able to give back to our communities so to know we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, it’s huge, it’s a huge feeling, a big sense of accomplishment and honor to do things,” Casey told WOWT-TV.

Veterans outreach effort coming to Maryland

Department of Maryland Legionnaires are staging a revitalization and veteran outreach effort Oct. 15-16 in Baltimore.

Veterans in the area are invited to the effort to learn about American Legion programs and potential veterans benefits. The effort will take place from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. both days at American Legion Post 285, 2324 McElderry St., Baltimore.

A veterans service officer will be available to assist with Department of Veterans Affairs-related issues and other veterans benefits-related questions.

‘He’s one of our own’

For decades, members of U.S. Army Air Force 2nd Lt. George M. Johnson’s family awaited word that his remains would be returned home to Seaford, Del. When they finally were, members of Nanticoke Post 6’s American Legion Family were there to help ensure he got the return he’d earned.

Johnson was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron’s 30th Bombardment Group and was one of 10 servicemen killed Jan. 21, 1944, when the bomber he was co-piloting crashed into a Tarawa lagoon in the South Pacific shortly after takeoff.

Five individuals’ remains were recovered, three identified, while Johnson was still listed as missing in action in 2019 – until it was realized that Johnson’s remains had been sent stateside and buried in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., in a grave marked for Staff Sgt. John Roland “Jack” Busch. When Busch’s remains were identified in a coffin buried in Cemetery 33 on Betio Island in the South Pacific, permission was given by the Busch family to exhume the remains in New York for testing.

A DNA revealed that Johnson’s remains were in the Buffalo gravesite in December 2019, but any hopes for a May 8, 2020, homecoming ceremony and military burial in Seaford were put on hold because of the pandemic. It wasn’t until Oct. 2 that Johnson’s family was able to watch him be interred near his mother and other family members at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Seaford, just across from Post 6.

The post’s location was by no means how involved it became in Johnson’s homecoming. From an escort from Baltimore to Seaford to a post-funeral event, Post 6 did its part in welcoming home Johnson and honoring his surviving family.

“I said ‘we’ve got to get in front of this, and (Post 6 Service Officer Bob McClain) said ‘I’ve called the people already and they want us to be involved,’” said Roy Lamberton, Post 6’s historian and public relations officer. “And it just went from there. When they finally said they were going to fly (Johnson) in, the Riders just jumped on it. It was a true (Legion) Family deal.”

McClain, who also serves as post chaplain, said he was contacted by Johnson’s family almost 20 months ago after they were notified Johnson’s remains had been properly identified. McClain said the post wanted to do something special for Johnson’s two surviving nieces – Janet Starr DeCristofaro and Judi Thoroughgood – and their families

And it did. Johnson’s remains were flown from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii to BWI Airport in Baltimore on Sept. 28, where members of American Legion Riders Chapter 6 were waiting on the tarmac to salute as the flag-draped casket was escorted off the plane and to the hearse. The Riders then provided an escort from the airport to the Cranston Funeral Home in Seaford.

Post 6’s Riders also organized an escort for Johnson’s hearse from the funeral to Odd Fellows Cemetery for the burial. “It was an incredible honor to be able to have some involvement in bringing him back,” ALR Chapter 6 Riders Director Jack Thomas said. “We were all totally humbled by it. It was very emotional. We just wanted to do it. He’s one of our own. We didn’t know him personally, but his story was over eight decades. It was against all odds he would eventually wind up right next to his mother in the (cemetery). And the fact we were able to have a hand in that, and to bring him home with honor, that humbled us.”

Members of Post 6 went to the viewing at the funeral home, and then attended the funeral, which included full military honors and a flyover by a B-25 Mitchell bomber. The post hosted a repast following the funeral that included a sit-down dinner prepared by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 6. Members of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 6 placed U.S. flags every six feet around the post’s front lawn to honor Johnson and his family, while the post’s sign read “Welcome Home Lt George M Johnson USAAF WWII.” State senators also attended the repast, reading proclamations honoring Johnson.

“To us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime happening, and we wanted to do our best,” McClain said. “And it was such an honor to be part of it.”

Lamberton said he kept getting thanks from Johnson’s family during the course of the day. “I told them ‘this is what the Legion does. This is in our charter. It’s in the Preamble,’” he said. “This is what the Legion really is.”

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