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THE AMERICAN LEGION

DEPARTMENT OF MISSISSIPPI

Legion News

American Legion museum launches online exhibit space

The Emil A. Blackmore Museum of The American Legion is excited to announce the launch of a completely online exhibit space. Designed to highlight key facets of the American Legion story, the museum’s online exhibits display materials from the library and museum collections, focusing on the national level of the organization. Museum staff developed the exhibit space using tools from Omeka, an open-source web-publishing initiative designed to display library, museum and archive collections and exhibitions online. Through new exhibits Legionnaires and interested members of the public will gain a fresh appreciation for and understanding of the history of The American Legion.

The museum's first exhibit explores the life and service of Franklin D'Olier, a founder of The American Legion and the first national commander, as well as the great-grandfather of “Superman” actor Christopher Reeve. The exhibit includes newly digitized historic photos, correspondence from the Legion's early years and photographs of rarely seen artifacts. The online exhibit space is a work in progress, and construction of future exhibits is already underway.

World War I genealogy webinar April 10

On Friday, April 10, the Doughboy Foundation will present the latest in its World War I webinar series: "Finding Your WWI Ancestors." Author Debra Dudek will lead this introduction to World War I genealogy research for American military and noncombatant forebears starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. Topics include resources, tips and tricks, and more. The webinar will close with a special screening of the seven-minute educational short "They Deserve to be Remembered” on the war and those who fought it, narrated by Gary Sinise.

Participants will receive a digital copy of the 100-page "WWI Genealogy Research Guide,” authored last year by Dudek with a foreword by Col. Gerald York, grandson of Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York. It is provided courtesy of the Doughboy Foundation and the World War One Centennial Commission (WW1CC).

Register for the webinar here. If you cannot participate, "WWI Genealogy Research Guide” is available for sale in book form. Click here to see more of WW1CC’s communications menu, from weekly podcasts to a video library and more.

Idaho coach reflects on historic 2019 ALWS title run

Before Idaho Falls Post 56 qualified for the 2019 American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., eight teams from the state of Idaho had advanced to the event and none of them had ever won the championship.

That all changed last August as the Post 56 Bandits overcame that obstacle while also surviving a rain-soaked series to set history.

"It was an experience unlike any that we've ever had," Idaho Falls coach Ryan Alexander said when asked to reflect on what it's meant to become a first-ever World Series champion from Idaho.

The Bandits finished with a 61-6 overall record behind a talent-laden squad that won an Idaho state tournament title and Northwest regional title before they arrived in Shelby to pursue a Legion World Series championship.

There, unlike six previous teams from Lewiston and one each from Pocatello and Meridian, Post 56 became Idaho's first-ever World Series winner.

That previous history was nothing more than something for the team to overcome, according to Alexander.

"Throughout the year, we had dealt with some adversity, whether it was travel issues or other things and the kids handled everything that came their way like pros," Alexander said. "One of the things that we talk about in our program a lot is trying to control what we can control. Those kids did a masterful job of doing that. And it's something that we actually talk about and preach."

Dealing with weather was an added obstacle during Idaho Falls' championship run.

A rain delay meant a 4-3, nine-inning semifinal victory over Danville, Ill., didn't end until 1:16 a.m. EDT on Aug. 20.

And the Bandits’ 5-3 championship game victory over Fargo, N.D., came after they lost their ace pitcher due to pitch count regulations once torrential rains forced a suspension of a contest that started at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 20 to a 10 a.m. EDT start on Aug. 21.

For the Idaho players, who live in the Mountain Time Zone, that meant an 8 a.m. start locally.

"You know, we come from an area of the country where our spring seasons have crazy weather," Alexander said. "We usually start our spring season with snow on the ground and a shovel in our hands. So we have a lot of early-season weather situations, and the kids are kind of used to that.

"But I'll tell you this: That Shelby rain was like nothing that we had ever witnessed. I don't think I've ever seen rain that hard. The grounds crew at the Shelby stadium did a phenomenal job in getting that field ready."

The loss of Randon Hostert to pitch count rules meant Post 56 would resume the title game without a pitcher who was drafted in the 15th round by the Texas Rangers. (Hostert eventually chose to honor his college scholarship and play at the University of Utah.)

"That was kind of a test for us," Alexander said. "And we passed it. They came in that next morning and dealt with what was in front of them."

Andrew Gregersen replaced Hostert on the mound and limited Fargo to five hits and one run as Idaho Falls rallied to take Idaho's historic title; Lewiston had advanced to the 2001 title game and Pocatello lost in the first Legion World Series title game in 1926.

"It was a good group of kids that played well together," Alexander said. "Several of them had played together growing up in club ball or travel baseball over the years. That was kind of an exclamation point and a last hurrah for some of the kids. So to go out that way was a dream come true."

Another perk for their success was in being honored by Major League Baseball before a 2019 World Series game between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

"It made it more real and more special," Alexander said. "And the greatest thing about doing the D.C. trip and watching the World Series was seeing the guys again. Just bringing them back together and witnessing a World Series game in person was phenomenal. I had never been to a World Series and none of the guys had been to a World Series game.

"It definitely made you realize how the American Legion program honors their teams and made the accomplishments all the more special and phenomenal. One of the best parts was the youth camp that we did. To see the boys interact with the young kids was awesome. That was one of my highlights."

Post 56 players went to an Army base in Northern Virginia as part of MLB's Play 360 program to conduct a youth camp featuring Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco.

Help us observe Memorial Day virtually

The coronavirus pandemic already has led to the cancellation of Memorial Day events, including some coordinated by American Legion posts. As social distancing has become the best defense against the virus, more cancellations are expected, limiting how Americans can honor those who died while in service to our nation.

Because of that, The American Legion will provide a safe venue to observe Memorial Day: social media. We’re asking our American Legion Family members – and those outside of the organization – to share with us the names of those you will honor and remember on Memorial Day. Our plan is to compile a list and then begin sharing them regularly via our social media channels over Memorial Day Weekend.

Here’s what we need:

• The servicemember’s name, along with the submitter’s relationship to the servicemember;

• Year entering and year leaving the military;

• Branch of service; and

• A photo of the servicemember, either in uniform or civilian clothes.

Information can be submitted via Legiontown through the category Virtual Memorial Day. Submissions will be shared via Facebook and Twitter starting May 22. Follow along either social media platform using the hashtag #VirtualMemorialDay.

National Commander Coronavirus Updates

8 April 20, afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

After consultation with our National Americanism Commission, I have decided to cancel the American Legion Baseball World Series, as well as the regional baseball tournaments for 2020. While the World Series wasn’t until August, the season’s games were scheduled to begin in May.

We are also suspending Samsung Scholarships to be awarded in 2020 due to the cancellations of many Boys and Girls State programs. Those who were awarded previous Samsung Scholarships will still have access to any unused funds that they may need.

The American Legion is justifiably proud of its outstanding youth programs and we look forward to bringing them back in future years. But National Americanism Chairman Richard Anderson explained the situation perfectly.

“These times are unparalleled,” Chairman Anderson said. “And while it’s distressing to think of all those youth across the nation who are disappointed to learn of the cancellation of American Legion programs this year, it would be a much greater tragedy if even just one of those youth were to fall ill during a program. The Americanism Commission feels this is the right thing to do.”

I agree.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

8 April 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Among the many shortages we are experiencing lately is fresh produce. Leave it to the Legionnaires of Post 301 in Austintown, Ohio, to overcome and adapt. According to WKBN-TV, the post worked with the Youngstown Community Food Bank and the Feed the Children Network to collect enough food to provide nourishment for 200 families. They even had food left over, which was donated to a local church. Another great example of how Legionnaires and their friends in the community serve their neighbor.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

7 April 20, afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Since day one of the current national emergency, I’ve been advising American Legion departments, posts and Legion Family members to listen to their local authorities. Our organization has believed in maintaining law and order since our founding and included it in the Preamble to our constitution.

As national commander, it’s only fitting that I respect and share with you the national guidance set forth by our elected leadership. The White House and Center for Disease Control have issued guidelines titled, “30 Days to Slow the Spread.”

You have probably heard most before. They include:

• Listen to and follow the directions of your state and local authorities

• If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work. Contact your medical provider.

• If your children are sick, keep them at home. Do not send them to school. Contact your medical provider.

• If you are an older person, stay home and away from other people.

• If you are a person with a serious underlying health condition that can put you at increased risk (for example, a condition that impairs your lung or heart function or weakens your immune system), stay home and away from other people.

For more information, please visit, CORONAVIRUS.GOV.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

7 April 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

It’s easy for me to provide frequent updates on the coronavirus. A quick scan of the day’s news usually provides new reports of American Legion posts serving their communities.

Today, I offer a salute to Post 159 in Kennebunkport, Maine. Legionnaires there are offering ongoing errand assistance, including pickup of groceries or prescriptions, rides to the doctor or help making other needed appointments. If you’re in the area and need some help, call Post Finance Officer Chris Meyer at 207-956-2056. The assistance, Chris says, is being offered to everybody, regardless of veteran status. You can also learn more about this great post by visiting the Post 159, Kennebunkport Facebook page. And while you’re there, give them a “Like.”

Bill Oxford

National Commander

6 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion firmly believes no veteran should ever be left behind. We are concerned that the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is too reliant on federal tax returns in identifying Americans receiving rebates. This would leave out a significant number of Americans, including many disabled veterans and their families with little incomes, who are not required to file a tax return.

I was happy to join leaders of other veteran service organizations Friday in writing a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. We pointed out that the federal government has many other ways to identify VA beneficiaries including disability compensation, pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and other non-taxable payments. Not only can they cross reference records that they already they have, but they also have records for Social Security recipients.

We should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The legislation that was passed is needed to quickly help millions of Americans who have been devastated by the economic downturn. Now it’s time to improve the delivery process.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

6 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

They make them tough in Oregon. Various media outlets have reported that 104-year-old World War II veteran William Lapschies has recovered from COVID-19. He first showed symptoms on March 5 and was one of the first residents of the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ home in Lebanon, Ore., to test positive. But days after he experienced a spiked temperature and heavy breathing, VA spokespeople reported that he had recovered.

Fellow World War II vet Bill Kelly, 95, of McMinnville. Ore., also reportedly recovered from the virus. His granddaughter wrote on Facebook that Kelly said, “I survived the foxholes of Guam, I can get through this (coronavirus) bull----.”

Well said. The American Legion salutes your service.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

3 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Social distancing requirements have presented a new set of obstacles that American Legion posts have never faced during prior national emergencies and disasters. But the current crisis has proven that Legionnaires are as creative as they are tenacious.

In Dover, Mass., Post 209 has launched a food drive to benefit local agencies, a pantry and a church. Post 335 in South Gate, Calif., is providing care packages to senior citizens sheltered at home. American Legion Post 328 in Riley, Ind., will hold a free drive-thru cookout on April 4. These are just a few of the many reports that we are receiving every day of American Legion Family members serving their communities during these tough times.

As this continues, we may look back at this time as perhaps The American Legion’s finest hour.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

3 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

During a conference call with major veteran service organizations on Wednesday afternoon, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie implored veterans who are not feeling well to call their local VA centers before coming in. Dropping in unannounced endangers the veteran and others around the veteran. While VA is seeing nonveterans in New York City, it has not had to open beds to nonveterans in other areas at this time. As the numbers rise in other cities, you may see the VA expand its fourth mission – which is to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense during times of national emergency or war.

Not all veterans are comfortable receiving telehealth, but it is an option that many should consider and would reduce exposure opportunities for COVID-19.

While calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline have understandably increased at a time like this, I was pleased to hear Secretary Wilkie say that they have also the increased the staff who answer those calls. Once again, if you are a veteran who is feeling stressed or have thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 if you’re a veteran).

Bill Oxford

National Commander

2 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I can think of no better way to observe Children & Youth Month , or month of hope as we have been calling it recently, than to make a donation to The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation.

The donations are used to train our outstanding service officers and provide temporary financial assistance to Legion Family members in need with children at home. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic downturn, which only heightens the financial uncertainty many families face. Last year, our TFA grants provided more than $1 million of assistance to Coast Guard families that were impacted by the government shutdown. Those nonrepayable grants took their toll on the Foundation’s balance, but the donations were delivered to the people who needed them. The current crisis will also test the resources of this outstanding charity.

Administrative costs for this great foundation are paid by national headquarters, so you can be sure that your entire donation will go to the stated cause. In addtion to making a donation, feel free to share my video message on social media.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

2 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The COVID-19 crisis is taking its toll on America’s blood supply. While many Americans are wisely staying in their homes, blood donation is considered an essential service. It is perfectly appropriate to leave your home to make a donation. We are aware of many American Legion posts that have held or are planning blood drives. But regardless of where the donation is made, if you are healthy, please do so. If you enter your zip code here , the American Red Cross will direct you to a drive in your vicinity. And you can also help get the word out by sharing this video message on your social media page or post website:

Bill Oxford

National Commander

1 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Shutdowns should not be interpreted as closed for business. Your national staff of The American Legion is working remotely from the safety of their homes. The same could be said for our dedicated American Legion service officers.

While an office visit is not a safe option for the time being, if you would like to file a claim or have questions about your benefits, visit www.legion.org/serviceofficers While there may be some delays, many service officers are still responding to emails and calls.

1 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

April is Children & Youth month and this year it is being observed in a way that nobody could have anticipated even a month ago. While many of our programs have been postponed or cancelled, The American Legion’s devotion to the current generation of young people remains steadfast.

Most schools are closed because of the COVID-19 crisis. If you are sheltered in with your children, it is a perfect time to remind them of our country’s great history. Talk about how after America prevailed in the first World War this country persevered through an influenza epidemic in 1918. Talk about the Greatest Generation that battled through an economic depression before fighting the deadliest war in world history. More than 18 years ago, Americans were stunned to see New York’s tallest skyscrapers levelled by hijacked airplanes. The attacks also struck the headquarters of America’s military might. Yet we rebuilt, recovered and prospered.

This crisis, unique as it is, will ultimately result in a stronger, better and more prepared America when the emergency ends. Yes, there is much sadness. But from the grocer to the surgeon, we are surrounded by heroes.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

31 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Lost in all of the coronavirus coverage are people who we can’t afford to lose. I’m speaking of the twenty-plus veterans per day who commit suicide. Fortunately, the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) has not forgotten.

The national emergency has only exacerbated feelings of isolation, economic despair and depression. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line have experienced an increase in call volume.

In addition to increasing our Buddy Checks, there is more that we can do. PREVENTS is trying to increase public awareness and perceptiveness to this problem by offering shareable materials on its Facebook page. You can follow PREVENTS on Twitter at @WeArePREVENTS and through various social media platforms using #MoreThanEverBefore.

Most important, if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or expressing the slightest suicidal thoughts, call the Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 if you’re a veteran).

Bill Oxford

National Commander

Coronavirus Update 31 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

There is never a bad time to fly the flag of our country. We saw a huge spike of Old Glory being displayed during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. We also see the flag commonly flown on patriotic holidays. It is wonderful to see Americans rally around the flag during times of national crisis or emergency – though The American Legion has always championed the patriotic display of our flag.

If you don’t have an American flag, you need not leave your home to purchase one. Simply visit www.AmericanLegionFlags.com or call 1-888-453-4466. The flag can be delivered to your home and is competitively priced. Moreover, they are 100 percent made in the United States, with some of the proceeds being used to support American Legion programs which are assisting veterans and military families in your community.

If you are reading this message you clearly love your country. This is an opportunity to let your community know that you are also proud of it.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

30 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was opening 50 beds in New York City for nonCOVID-19 patients who are nonveterans. The request to do this came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will allow other hospitals to better serve the growing number of coronavirus cases.

Under normal circumstances, The American Legion would not support using VA resources for nonveterans. However, these are not normal circumstances. In fact, delegates at The American Legion National Convention in 2016 wisely anticipated emergencies such as the one we are now facing when they passed Resolution No. 188, which calls on Congress to fund VA’s role as a back-up to FEMA in response to national emergencies. While The American Legion believes in a strong VA health system for veterans, we also recognize its vital “fourth mission” to serve as a back-up for FEMA and the Department of Defense in response to national emergencies.

“VA is proud to assist the City of New York while continuing its primary mission of caring for our nation’s veterans.” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in an official statement.

The American Legion has been saying for years that VA offers the best healthcare anywhere. Now, other Americans will see why.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

30 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Buddy Checks have been around long before the coronavirus. In fact, I could argue that Legionnaires have been checking on their fellow veterans since our founding in 1919.

But COVID-19 is a unique emergency requiring a different type of response. Social distancing is needed to protect not only the people we are trying to help but the person conducting the buddy check as well. Moreover, economic uncertainty and health concerns have added to the stress and hardships that many veterans face.

With this in mind, The American Legion is offering a new toolkit for you to download: How to Perform A Buddy Check During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Included are sample scripts, along with tips on how to organize a team. It’s only five pages so it should be easy to print from your home. It’s just another example of how The American Legion is a true brotherhood and sisterhood.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

27 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I had a conference call with our department adjutants Wednesday afternoon. Many departments have cancelled Boys State, Oratorical Contests, American Legion Baseball games and department conventions. Others are delaying decisions and hoping that conditions improve to a point where these events can either take place or be rescheduled for a later date.

Please be understanding with those who have to make these difficult decisions. They are made with the safety of the participants and the public in mind. Please refer to your American Legion department websites frequently to learn the latest about these events.

Although American Legion departments are keeping their social distance, there is no doubt that they are very much engaged with what is occurring and anxious to continue to serve you – our American Legion Family.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

27 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion was only ten years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. Although today’s volatile stock market is the result of a world health crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1933 included some inspirational words that still ring true today.

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work,” FDR said. “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.”

And, of course, Roosevelt’s most famous passage from that address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The American Legion has always been an active sponsor of job fairs and career training for transitioning veterans. Once society re-opens, you can count on your American Legion to once again be on the frontlines of this important effort.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

26 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I’ve been hearing many great reports about The American Legion’s response to COVID-19 in communities across the country.

Legionnaires in the Blue Grass State have been making people feel, well, less blue. American Legion Post 23 in Bowling Green, Ky., teamed up with our friends in the Good Deeds Club and the Marine Corps League to provide a free hot breakfast by setting up a drive-through in its parking lot earlier this week. According to a report by local station WNKY, the first 200 drivers received sausage, biscuits, coffee donuts and toilet paper. These volunteers did it once again this morning.

Feel free to share these great stories by submitting them to www.legiontown.org or jraughter@legion.org.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

26 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion is full of knowledgeable experts but our organization does not offer medical advice. That is best left for your personal physician.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is including much of its response information and services on its va.gov website. Included is this piece of advice:

“If you’re a Veteran seeking medical care, call your VA health facility if you have symptoms of the virus. Or sign in to My HealtheVet and send a secure message. You may be able to get diagnosed and receive care through VA telehealth without having to come in at all.”

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Many times I have mentioned the importance of conducting Buddy Checks throughout this crisis. It is especially vital that we check on senior citizens. Legion College graduate Jennifer Gedney Havlick (Class of 2018) has brought it to a new level. A member of Post 109 in Twin Harbors, Minn., she has formulated a plan called Enhanced Buddy Checks. (click here)

It includes organizing response teams with captains, daily morale calls, and shopping for those who are self-quarantined. Even tasks such as bringing trash cans to the curb are not overlooked. Performing these tasks for others can save lives to those who may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

In its early stages, Buddy Checks were seen as a way to improve communication. During this national emergency, it is more important than ever before.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Your national headquarters is still operating, albeit quite differently, during this national emergency. The staff is complying with local authorities and working remotely from home. Many are still learning to use recently acquired communication tools such as Vonage and Office-365, so please patient if the service and response isn’t as prompt as it has been in the past.

The Emblem Sales call center is closed but customers can email emblem@legion.org and available staff will respond as quickly as possible. Orders may be placed online at emblem.legion.org but shipping delays can be expected during this time. Our printing and production shop will still process membership cards on time.

Thank you for your understanding.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

A review of our 101-year history offers convincing proof that The American Legion does not decide to cancel national meetings or programs lightly. We understand their importance. The meetings are used as a forum for our membership through their National Executive Committee members to set policy, agendas and vision. Our programs build character.

However, the safety and health of our participants, volunteers and staff must be our top priority. The staff at our national headquarters in Indianapolis has been complying with a directive from the state’s governor to stay home. They have been working remotely so they can continue to serve our members. The same for our Washington, D.C., office.

The decision to cancel the spring meetings of the National Executive Committee is a safety measure intended to limit the exposure and spread of COVID-19. I intend to continue regular communications with the National Executive Committee and the 55 departments through telephone, email and other means.

The cancellation of the National Oratorical Finals, the Junior Shooting Sports championships and Boys Nation should not be interpreted as our assessment of how conditions will be in the coming months. It is intended to remove pressure from the departments and posts who normally conduct earlier local competitions and Boys State programs, which feed into the national programs.

We are still assessing plans for the American Legion Baseball World Series and the national convention. Rest assured that decisions for those events will not be made prematurely but only after thoughtful deliberation based on what occurs in the coming months.

We will get through this because we are The American Legion and we rise to any challenge.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

When a crisis faces a community, The American Legion has an amazing record of response. We’ve seen this in natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other tragedies. The current national emergency offers unique challenges that we have not faced in modern times. Yet, there are American Legion posts still providing support that can make a vital difference.

Post 28 in Spartanburg, S.C., has become a relief center of sorts. By providing coloring books and board games, they are helping families battle cabin fever that is likely to grow as the pandemic continues. Even more importantly, the post has a food pantry directed toward those who may have lost their jobs or incomes due to the economic shutdown.

The post isn’t limiting its assistance to Legionnaires or even veterans. “If you have a need, we’ll feed you,” Mike Fowler, the activities and chef for Post 28 told the Spartanburg Herald Journal.

We live in an amazing country. And I am humbled to lead an amazing organization.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

As you may have heard, The American Legion has cancelled its 2020 National Oratorical Contest. Cancelling such a great and worthy program is difficult but when it comes to the safety of the competitors, volunteers and staff, it is a no-brainer.

Today, the Indiana governor recommended all non-essential personnel “stay home.” Many other states are operating under similar orders.

If you are able, please donate blood. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”

President Trump has compared this pandemic to a war. Given the seriousness, it seems appropriate. Giving blood is another way for American Legion Family members to contribute to the war effort.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Late last week Congress passed emergency legislation ensuring the continuation of GI Bill benefits through the current COVID-19 crisis. The temporary shutdown of schools does not mean that the needs of the student veteran are also suspended. These veterans will still need to eat. Rent will still need to be paid along with other essential living expenses. Online learning will still occur at many of the traditional universities and colleges.

It was The American Legion that created the original GI Bill and we have championed all of the later versions that have occurred in the 76 years since the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. While the original was widely credited for helping America prosper following the Great Depression and World War II, the current generation of veterans may also rely heavily on this benefit due to the economic hardships that are already being inflicted as a result of this global pandemic.

Many of our fellow Americans will face financial difficulties in the coming weeks and months. Our programs will be needed but even those funds have limits. Small gestures help. I often hear about posts that have helped pick-up the dues for struggling members. Some do so for World War II veterans. Others award complimentary memberships to active-duty military. Resources may be limited, but the generosity of our American Legion Family is always in abundant supply. It’s just another example of why I am proud to be a Legionnaire.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Your Washington-based staff has been communicating regularly with the Department of Veterans Affairs. During a conference call yesterday, VA reported that screening is happening at its facilities and patients are limited to one visitor. No visitors under age 18 allowed. These rules might be difficult for families to accept but they are necessary for the safety of all concerned.

VA also says it has the capacity to meet demand for increased testing. The estimated period to obtain results is two-to-eight days.

The American Legion repeatedly says VA offers great care. During this crisis, VA will be tested like never before. I believe Americans will have a new appreciation for this System Worth Saving.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

I saw an interesting Facebook meme that reminds people that not all heroes wear capes. Many don’t even wear uniforms. They wear scrubs. I couldn’t agree more.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Despite some notable and well-publicized exceptions, The American Legion has long-believed that the Department of Veterans Affairs offers the “best health care anywhere.”

Under normal circumstances, VA is for veterans. However, during this national emergency, VA is a crucial player in our nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. Delegates to our 2016 National Convention in Cincinnati wisely passed a resolution urging Congress to provide VA with the necessary funding to enhance its ability to respond to national emergencies.

Media outlets report that VA is preparing to request more than $16 billion in new funding to respond to the threat. Given the stakes, we hope the request is given serious consideration.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

In a Department of Defense COVID-19 Update provided early yesterday, the military reported 49 cases of coronavirus among its uniformed members. By the time you read this, it has undoubtedly gone up. Maybe by a lot.

National Guardsmen were providing support to civil authorities in 22 states. These citizen-soldiers do amazing work on our behalf through every major crisis, disaster and emergency. As do the personnel on Navy hospital ships, which are deploying on both of our coasts. Remember that members of every branch have family at home that they also care deeply about and are as much at risk as the rest of the general public. But yet, our servicemembers still continue on with mission. Just as they always have, throughout our history.

Pray for our military. They are America’s true treasure.

18 March 20, afternoon

The American Legion believes there is strength in numbers. We emphasize growth in membership and participation in our great programs.

However, public safety requires the opposite approach for now. Our numbers must continue to grow, but our gatherings should not. President Trump and his team of health care experts are advising Americans to avoid crowds of more than 10 people. Let’s be smart about this. Video-conferencing and telephones are options for us to continue meeting and bonding as Legion Family members. Our comradeship will continue even if there is some social distancing required. And just like every other crisis that our world has faced, this too shall pass.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

18 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Channeling the late Mr. Rogers, actor Tom Hanks recently tweeted about “helpers,” the people who are assisting others as we all face this global crisis.

Our organization is full of helpers. A recent Instagram message from Raymond Bernucho, a Legionnaire from Post 38 in Baton Rouge, La., caught my attention. It stated, “I’m a long haul driver with U.S. Express working (a) dedicated route for Walmart. Since this crisis has begun all of the drivers delivering to all the stores, no matter what type of store…Walmart, Target, etc., have been working to keep up with the demands of the people of this country so that (it) can survive and make it thru this world pandemic.

“I feel as though I’m back in the Army, serving this country once and again and it truly feels good for me to be of service not only to my fellow Legionnaires but to the people of this country. So let’s take some time out to get on our knees and pray for all of this to be taken away by God’s mercy. Let us also take time to go help our elderly brothers and sisters who are not able to get…food, medicine or need a ride to their doctor.”

Raymond, I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you helper.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, afternoon

Buddy Checks. This outreach program intended to check on the wellbeing of our fellow veterans is more important now than ever before. Health officials tell us that seniors are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of the coronavirus. They also remain some of the toughest Legionnaires that I have known. Some of them survived the Great Depression and World War II. They should be first on our list of buddies to check on.

We have to be creative. Nursing homes have wisely stopped visitation. Talk to administrators about whether they are assisting patients so they have access to Facetime, Skype or other video-calling technology. Even a simple phone call will do. American Legion Post 330 in Hayfield, Minn., for instance, has collected toilet paper for the elderly. There are many other posts that are stepping up during this crisis. That’s what we in The American Legion do.

--Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

You will be receiving many regular updates from me throughout the coronavirus crisis. I previously announced that The American Legion has suspended all official travel of our national officers and staff through the month of April. Though I am home in North Carolina, I am still actively engaged and plan to communicate with you regularly.

National Headquarters has received numerous requests from American Legion departments and posts who are concerned about closures and curfews. My advice: be patient. Mistakes will be made, but your safety is what is motivating national and local authorities to take these measures. The Preamble to The American Legion Constitution includes the pledge, “to maintain law and order.” We are a law-abiding organization.

It will be tough, but we will get through this. If you need motivation, think about our World War II veterans. They were tough as nails and survived the Great Depression. I will have more to say about them later. We will talk soon.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

Buddy Checks a calling for Pennsylvania Legionnaire

In January of 2019, then-American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad called on posts, districts, counties and departments to coordinate teams to call Legionnaires and former members simply to see how they are doing. Buddy Checks, Reistad said, were an opportunity to “ask if there is anything The American Legion can do for them.”

Department of Pennsylvania Legionnaire Leroy T. Lippi Jr. began doing something similar in 2018 – and has kept on doing it. Lippi, the service officer at Robert H. Hoke Post 272 in Linglestown, said he’s made 1,683 Buddy Checks since then. Including in that number are 438 since the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation and started stay-at-home orders and social distancing across the nation.

Lippi has made so many Buddy Check by phone that many veterans on the receiving end know it’s him before they answer the phone. “Believe it or not, they have my name and numbers in their phone,” he said. “When I call: ‘Oh, Lee Lippi, hello. How are you? It’s good to hear from you again.’ The gratitude they have for this is astounding.”

Lippi was first approached by then-Post 272 Commander Ken Stambaugh about calling the post’s 850 members to see how each was doing. Lippi said it initially was an “enormous challenge” and he started by developing a script for the phone calls. Each call started with an introduction and mention that the call was on behalf of the post’s entire American Legion Family.

Lippi would ask if there was anything the member needed, including help with Department of Veterans Affairs. Lippi left each Buddy Check with his phone numbers and email address “should a future need arise.” He also thanked each veteran for his or her service, and offered a “welcome home” to Vietnam veterans.

Making the calls in groups of 25 or so, Lippi said the normal reaction ranged from a pleasant surprise to “awestruck” that someone from the post had reached out. Before the national Buddy Check program began Lippi had made 850 calls. Of those, 63 were referred to the Department of Pennsylvania headquarters for further benefits assistance and other questions.

Lippi is especially pleased that he’s received 250 return calls from the Buddy Checks from Legionnaires requesting additional information or assistance. And over the course of all of his calls, he’s connected people with care at the Lebanon VA Medical Center, checked on members living in nursing homes and even “taken people here and there for doctor’s appointments.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lippi has been hard at work making calls, but he said he’s not alone. According to Lippi, Post 272 Commander Rod O'Connor has made another 162 calls. Their efforts, Lippi said, resulted in finding out no one in Post 272’s Legion Family have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms.

“My main goal in all of my calls is to ensure upon them that if they need assistance in any way … I just want to let them know that we are out there for them and for their needs,” Lippi said. “If we can provide the service, I’m going to do that.”

Lippi’s efforts have earned him the department’s Post Service Officer of the Year Award, as well as the opportunity to speak before the Department Executive Committee in January of this year. He’s also made Buddy Check presentations within the state on multiple occasions.

“It’s amazing how the people respond to this: our Legionnaires and their families,” Lippi said. “It’s just incredible to me. And that’s what keeps me going. I love our Legionnaires and their families.”

Disabled veterans could get left out of stimulus money, lawmakers warn

Dozens of lawmakers and advocates are concerned that a “significant” number of disabled veterans and surviving family members will never receive the direct payments Congress approved as part of a sweeping bill to support Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their concern is for disabled or low-income veterans and surviving family members who receive monthly compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs but don’t normally file tax returns or benefit from Social Security.

The Internal Revenue Service is using the addresses or direct deposit information on file from Americans’ 2018 or 2019 tax returns to send the stimulus checks. For some, the VA payments are their only income. Those payments are not taxable, so the IRS lacks payment information for many veterans and families – potentially millions, advocates said.

“Unfortunately, this approach will leave out a significant number of people who have little or no income and are not required to file a federal tax return, including many seriously disabled veterans and their survivors,” reads a letter from 12 veterans organizations to government leaders. “While there may be logistical or even legal obstacles to overcome, it is critically important that you and your departments work together to prevent potentially millions of disabled veterans and their survivors from losing this financial support.”

Congress approved a $2 trillion stimulus package March 27. The bill, intended to jolt the economy, includes direct payments to Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, loans to small businesses and a lending program for companies hurt by the pandemic.

The legislation provides direct payments of $1,200 to many Americans. The payments will decrease for Americans earning more than $75,000, and payments end for individuals making more than $99,000. Married couples that collectively earn up to $150,000 will receive payments of $2,400. Families will receive an additional $500 per child.

In an attempt to ensure disabled veterans and family members get their checks, 41 senators and three congressmen sent letters, urging the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Treasury Department and the IRS to collaborate. The letters went to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Andrew Saul, commissioner of the Social Security Administration; and Charles Rettig, commissioner of the IRS.

The senators said they want the payments to go to veterans automatically, without requiring them to file tax returns.

“Treasury should not require people with disabilities, low-income seniors and veterans to file a form to receive stimulus payments when the federal government already has the information it needs,” the senators wrote.

Government and elected officials already found a solution for Social Security recipients who don’t normally file tax returns. Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul said the IRS would use direct deposit information from his agency to send those Americans their checks.

“Regrettably, the law did not include a similar provision for disabled veterans or their survivors, so unless new action is taken. … These nonfilers will only receive a recovery rebate if they file a tax return,” the veterans organizations wrote.

Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, AMVETS, Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Fleet Reserve Association, Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Blinded Veterans Association signed the letter.

Filing a tax return would be a significant burden for many of those affected “especially during this health emergency,” the groups wrote.

They want the VA to provide the IRS with a list of VA beneficiaries don’t work and don’t receive Social Security, along with their direct deposit information.

One of the names on that list would be Mark Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran in Fresno, Calif., whose only income is his monthly VA disability payment. Gomez, 46, has kidney disease and is unable to work. He’s been self-isolating during the pandemic, leaving the house only for dialysis treatment, he said.

"I want to be included, if everyone else is,” Gomez said. “I figured they rushed it – they didn’t dot the I’s and cross the T’s, but it’s kind of ridiculous if they’re not going to fix it now.”

For Gomez, the $1,200 check would be a needed boost.

“It would guarantee that I’m going to eat during this lockdown period,” he said.

The Treasury Department was expected to send the first stimulus payments in the next two weeks.

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.

12 questions and answers about the coronavirus

There is so much information floating around about the coronavirus pandemic. Where should I go to get the most up-to-date and accurate information?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the most current and reliable information for the virus, including symptoms, what to do if you are sick, the use of masks, development of vaccines and much more. Visit the CDC web page here. The World Health Organization website is another good resource. Additionally, check your local and state health department for further guidelines.

For information about The American Legion’s activities, programs and other interests, this special web page has all the updated information.

For questions related to VA benefits, policies at VA medical centers, etc., the Department of Veterans Affairs website has lots of information.

My understanding is that the national commander is not traveling now. What is he doing to lead The American Legion forward at this time?

National Commander Bill Oxford is following stay-at-home directives but he is still leading the nation’s largest veterans service organization. For example, he is publishing twice-daily updates on Legion activities related to the coronavirus.

Additionally, the commander recorded some video messages about key initiatives going on at this time. They include a new project called Month of Hope. During April, The American Legion is spearheading a program to generate awareness toward its Veterans and Children Foundation. As the pandemic deepens, V&CF will be a critical way in which the Legion can continue to support the nation’s veterans, servicemembers, their families, and children and youth.

With almost every state instituting stay-at-home or other social distancing directives, how does my post, district or department conduct business?

All states have different laws and statutes that post, districts and departments must follow. Department adjutants have been asked to contact their department judge advocates so they can review state regulations and advise on how to best proceed with elections, department conventions, etc.

The best way for post and district officers to proceed is to work with their department judge advocates on what is required to conduct business during the pandemic.

For contact information for your department, please visit www.legion.org/departments.

Our post wants to help other veterans in our community — from a safe distance. What do you recommend?

The American Legion’s Buddy Check program is perfect for this type of community outreach. In fact, a new toolkit to help American Legion posts touch base with veterans in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic is now available. Download “How to Perform a Buddy Check During the Coronavirus Pandemic” for guidelines on how to reach veterans who may be sheltering in place to find out if they need assistance.

The toolkit explains how to assemble a Buddy Check team and how to acquire the names of Legionnaires, past and present, so they can be contacted. The kit also has sample scripts for Buddy Check callers.

I heard that all American Legion summer youth programs have been cancelled. Why not wait until closer to the time so that the youth can enjoy these activities?

Yes, for safety reasons, all national summer youth programs have been cancelled. That includes American Legion Baseball’s Regional and World Series tournaments, Boys Nation, the oratorical contest and the Junior Shooting Sports championships. These decisions have not been taken lightly. The coronavirus presents an elevated risk to program participants, volunteers, judges or referees, parents and chaperones, and others. And CDC and other health officials believe that the United States has not seen the virus peak yet. Therefore, The American Legion made the difficult determination to cancel these programs, putting safety first.

I am a blood donor and want to donate again but I am concerned about my safety, as well as others. How are blood drives being handled now?

This is a critical time for collecting blood, as the Red Cross has deemed the need to be “urgent.” Across the nation, American Legion posts are stepping up to host and assist with blood drives, while adhering to safety protocols established to halt the spread of the deadly virus. In fact, the American Red Cross has established new standards at blood drive locations, including procedures to adhere to “social distancing.”

The Red Cross is strongly recommending that donors schedule an appointment, instead of just showing up.

I miss my American Legion brothers and sisters, and learning about our post. While I am riding this out at home, what can I do to become more engaged with the Legion?

The American Legion’s Basic Training course is available during the pandemic. It allows participants to learn about the Legion while working from home, serves as a distraction from cabin fever and remains free of charge.

I am away from my regular residence or unable to go to the post office to get my American Legion Magazine. How can I access it?

A digital copy of the magazine will be published around the 20th of each month and be accessible via your MyLegion account. So the June issue would be available on or about April 20. Past issues have already been published there.

I’ve heard National Headquarters shut down. Who do I contact with a question?

Nearly all American Legion staff members are working from home. Key personnel are available by phone and email. For assistance, please reference the contact us page to find who is best suited to answer your question.

I’ve heard that Congress has passed a stimulus bill to cover some of the economic fallout from the pandemic. Is there anything in it to specifically help veterans?

The $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, signed by President Trump, allocates just under $20 billion to VA. That additional funding is to be used for essential medical services, including vital medical and protective equipment; testing kits personal protective equipment, and medical supplies to support growing demand for health-care services at VA facilities and through telehealth services.

What do the stimulus plan payouts mean for retirees who are no longer in the workforce?

The Internal Revenue Service is developing procedures for issuing the stimulus payments to Americans, as called for under the CARES Act. The details are still being worked out and are subject to change. However, on April 1, the IRS and the U.S. Department of the Treasury said Social Security recipients will not be required to file a “simple” tax return to receive their stimulus payments. That reverses a March 30 statement by the IRS that indicated individuals who hadn't filed federal tax returns for 2018 or 2019 would need to file a simple return to receive the stimulus payment. Many Social Security recipients aren't required to file tax returns based on their income levels.

What do I need to know about shopping at nationwide retailers?

Many major chains including Walmart, Target and Costco have enacted measures to reduce the number of shoppers inside at any given time. This follows earlier changes in which the retailers scaled back their hours but established times during which they would allow only senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions to shop. Check the retailers' websites or your local outlet for specific information.

 

American Legion recognizes 2020 department oratorical contest winners

The decision to cancel The American Legion's 83rd National Oratorical Contest, which was scheduled for April 17-19 in Indianapolis, was made last month following the outbreak of the coronavirus. The cancellation followed recommendations issued by local, state and federal authorities to reduce the growing number of coronavirus cases with a stay-at-home order.

The American Legion is recognizing the 48 high school students for their efforts of speaking on the U.S. Constitution and winning their respective American Legion post, district and state-level Oratorical Contest to earn a spot at the national level. Of the state winners, eight would have been returning from 2019 – California, Delaware, France, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.

Click here to see a list of the department winners.

Michigan Legion post sees, then fills, critical need

As is the case in several states across the country, American Legion Post 110 in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., has been forced to shutter its normal activities because of a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And like many other American Legion posts, Post 110 has decided to do something to help slow the spread of the disease. For the past two weeks, the post’s American Legion Family has been teaming up with VFW Auxiliary Unit 3033 and members of the community to provide cloth masks for local healthcare providers.

Three-term Post 110 Commander Rich Young said word got back to the post that staff at McLaren Central Michigan were running low on masks. The suggestion was made to team up with Unit 3033 to collect the necessary materials to construct the masks and then solicit assistance from the community to sew them.

Young said Post 110 deciding not to help out in some way during the pandemic “is not us. We’re a community organization. We saw a need and we stepped up.”

Through Project Protective Masks 2020, Post 110 solicits donations for the materials needed to put the masks together. “We’ve had a credit union in town donate. We’ve had a bank donate,” Young said. “We’ve had two insurance companies, and we’ve had individuals just come up and bring a $20 bill. Someone today gave me $100.”

Young said craft and sewing businesses in the area, including JOANN Fabrics, have been selling materials to Post 110 at or near cost.

The fabric is cut into the right size for the masks and then is placed with the other necessary items – elastic and thread – in kits that each have enough materials to sew 30 masks. One day a week the VFW Post 3033 serves as a distribution center for the kits to be picked up by volunteer seamstresses; the completed masks are dropped off the following week at Post 3033. Young said both the Isabella County Commission on Aging and 4-H have provided volunteers to sew the masks, along with volunteers from the community and members of Post 110’s Legion Family.

In two weeks the project has produced close to 900 masks, with another batch of materials for 1,000-plus masks going out this week. The feedback from the health-care workers “has been wonderful,” Young said. “We just hope we can keep doing this as long as we can get material and people to sew. This is turning into a real community project.”

Recently, the project also included providing masks to veterans in the area. Young said he’d love to see other American Legion posts take on a similar role in their own communities; any wanting to do so can call (989) 572‐0158 for advice on starting the program.

“If any other post anywhere could use this information to start helping their community – if they want to call and talk about how we did it and what we did, we’re more than happy,” Young said. “We don’t have to shut down. We can keep doing something.”

Getting through what is a historical crisis in U.S. history will take “community and helping each other,” Young said. “We kind of say ‘one team, one mission.’”

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