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THE AMERICAN LEGION

DEPARTMENT OF MISSISSIPPI

Legion News

Department of Florida mobilizes to help those affected by Hurricane Ian

As Hurricane Ian struck Florida, the American Legion Department of Florida was mobilizing.

“We’re obviously no strangers to hurricanes, and our shared experiences have taught us a few things,” Carrie Kolze, the department’s creative services manager, said via email. “Letting our posts and members know that we’re there for them in these difficult times is a priority to us.”

On Wednesday, Department Adjutant Bruce Comer asked Kolze to get a message out to encourage posts affected by the hurricane to share details with the department headquarters, as well as reiterating to them the availability of grants from the National Emergency Fund (NEF).

Kolze created a form on the department website for posts to check in.

“If they were good, minimal information was required, and if not, the form gave them the ability to include more information and photos of the extent of damage and their needs,” Kolze said. “We then sent out an email to all of our posts and post leadership, encouraging them to check-in and reminding them about National’s NEF program, as well as keeping receipts and documentation that may be required.”

The department also shared the information on its social media platforms.

“Within a couple of hours, we had more than 60 posts respond,” Kolze said. That number had grown to over 100 by Friday morning, three of which reported heavy damage: Post 25 in Lake Placid, which reported its smoking room was destroyed, front overhang was gone, and flashing destroyed; Post 303 in Bonita Springs, whose entire interior was destroyed when the storm surge sent five feet of water into the building; and Post 11 in Arcadia, which was almost completely underwater less than four years after reopening in the aftermath of flooding brought on by Hurricane Irma the year before.

“We expect with power outages and the sheer devastation, it may take time before some of our most affected posts are able to communicate,” Kolze said Friday.

Kolze said the department’s disaster relief committee is scheduled to meet next week to determine how to disseminate assistance from the department’s hurricane relief fund. That fund was created in 2017 to distribute donated funds for disaster-related expenses, such as water, food, paper products and more.

Resources for those impacted by the hurricane and ways to donate to the Department of Florida’s Hurricane Relief Fund are available at https://www.floridalegion.org/resources/hurricane-relief/.

The American Legion stands ready to assist eligible Legionnaires, American Legion posts and Sons of The American Legion impacted by these and other natural disasters.

Grants from the National Emergency Fund (NEF) are available — up to $3,000 to Legionnaires and SAL members displaced due to damages to their primary residence from declared natural disasters, and up to $10,000 for Legion posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community have been impacted.

Click here for the NEF grant application.

For assistance in completing the application, click here for a video presentation. And this video illustrates how disaster relief teams were set up in Illinois following a tornado outbreak.

NEF grants are made possible from the generosity of donations to the fund. Donate here

In addition to the requirement that an emergency declaration be made for a natural disaster, applicants must be current on their membership prior to the disaster and at the time of application submission, and must provide photos, receipts, insurance paperwork, and FEMA statements if possible.

The Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program is also available to assist American Legion eligible veterans with minor children in the home who need financial help to pay for shelter, food, utilities, and medical expenses.

For TFA information on eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit legion.org/financialassistance.

Legion post in Philippines sponsors feeding program for children

American Legion Allen "Pop" Reeves Post 123 sponsored their first feeding program for the Children’s Better Life Feeding Program of the Northville Resettlement area in Angeles City, Philippines, on Sept. 3, 2022.

This program is run by Milo Hernandez and Belle Damasco. Post Commander Chuck Conners, with the assistance of Post Adjutant/2nd Vice Commander Larry Wade, was able to feed 175 to 200 children a hearty breakfast of sopas (a type of Philippine soup with noodles, vegetables and meat), a banana and a juice drink. Also, a special big thank-you to John and Abby Dibble for their generous donation of 4,000 Philippine pesos for this feeding program.

Post 123 will sponsor the first Saturday of every month for the feeding program with a donation of P4K for their post general fund. Post 123 hopes to sponsor a Christmas special feeding/party for these needy kids in the month of December.

Navy, Air Force meet on football field Saturday

Football is more than a game to those who attend the nation’s military academies. It is the embodiment of the values, work and commitment that is the foundation of academy training and life. And there are three games that matter most. This trio of contests forms the basis of the struggle for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy.

Established in 1972, this round-robin competition between the squads from Air Force, Army and Navy starts its 51st season on Saturday when Navy travels to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force (12 PM EDT kickoff, CBS network nationwide).

For the three academy teams, the object is simple and direct – beat your two opponents. Do that and you get your institution’s name and year engraved on the three-sided silver trophy that stands 2.5-feet tall and weighs 170 pounds. Winning the trophy outright also earns an academy the honor of possessing and displaying the award for the next year, and the team also usually gets an invitation to visit the White House and meet the president. If no team scores two victories, the trophy is retained by the last team to win it (and there is no White House visit).

Air Force has won the trophy 20 times followed by Navy (16) and Army (nine). It has been shared five times, including last year.

Traditionally, Air Force and Navy play on the first Saturday in October, Air Force faces Army on the first Saturday in November, and Army takes on Navy on the second Saturday in December. This year, CBS will broadcast all three games over its terrestrial network of stations.

The 2022 Navy-Air Force game appears to be a physics problem: what happens when an unstoppable force (Air Force’s nation-leading running game which is averaging a whopping 412.3 yards per game thru four games) meets an immovable object (Navy’s fourth-ranked run defense which is allowing a stingy average of 96.0 yards per game thru three games)?

The Falcons (3-1) lead the all-time series 32-22, including a 23-3 win last year at Annapolis. This year, they have a powerful offense that has scored at least 41 points in the three victories while the 17-14 loss at Wyoming was at least partially the result of five key players sitting with injuries while 50 players saw game action despite dealing with the flu. Rarely have the hosts finished a drive without scoring.

The dominating running attack is led by a pair of seniors – fullback Brad Roberts and quarterback Haaziq Daniels. Roberts has started the last 20 games for Air Force and this year he ranks ninth in the nation with a rushing average of 116.2 per game and has 12 career games of 100 yards rushing – just two games short of tying the all-time air Force record. He scored three touchdowns against both Nevada and Colorado.

Daniels is averaging only 44.8 yards per game, but his masterful direction and execution of the triple-option offense has kept opposing offenses off balance. Daniels doesn’t get to throw the ball often – completing 11 of 27 attempts for 2018 yards and 3 TDs – but this year his passes have been particularly effective; his average of 24.8 yards per completion is ranked third in the country. That threat of the big-yardage completion has kept opponents honest about covering the Air Force air attack and opened up the running game.

The Falcons’ defense has been just as effective, allowing just 16 points per game (21st nationally). Junior linebacker Alec Mock (22 tackles), fourth-year junior free safety Trey Taylor (21 tackles) and junior corner Michael Mack II (18 tackles) lead the Air Force defense. Fifth-year senior linebacker T.D. Blackmon seems to anticipate opportunities, recording 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and forcing a fumble. It all adds up to Air Force averaging a time of possession of 36:38, second-best in the country.

Navy (1-2) stumbled out of the blocks with losses to Memphis and Delaware, but bounced back with an emotional 23-20 double-overtime victory over East Carolina. Senior kicker Daniel Davies was the feel good story of the win. The third string kicker who usually was the holder on PATs and field goals, Davies found out just two days before the game that injuries to others meant he would be kicking against East Carolina. Davies had never attempted to split the uprights for Navy, but he drilled two PATs and field goals of 37, 43 and 29 yards to seal the Navy win.

The Midshipmen are in a rebuilding mode, with just four seniors are at the top of the depth charts for the 22 positions. Leading the way are junior quarterback Tai Lavatai and sophomore running backs Maquel Haywood, Anton Hall and Daba Fofana. Lavatai has settled into the triple option offense and has demonstrated his individual nimbleness and durability (51 rushes for 101 net yards), along with a solid arm, completing 15-30 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns. Haywood is a triple-purpose threat, logging 149 rushing yards, 77 receiving yards and 115 kickoff return yards. The East Carolina game saw the emergence of Hall, who had career highs in carries (22) and yards gained (57). Another new face, Fofana, ran for 47 yards against Delaware and 44 against East Carolina.

While the offense is still improving, the defense challenges against all comers. Senior striker and captain John Marshall leads by example, averaging 9.3 tackles per game (27th in the nation). He also has 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two QB hurries and one pass break up. He made a career-high 15 tackles in Navy’s loss to Memphis; it was the most by any Navy defender since 2013.

Navy ranks 10th in the nation with 10 quarterback sacks this season after recording just 16 in 12 games last year. Junior defensive end Jacob Busic leads the team with three sacks, followed by Marshall with two and eight others with at least a half a sack this season. Sophomore linebacker Tyler Fletcher recorded his first career interception in Navy’s win over East Carolina. The stout defense has helped Navy to an average time of possession of 33:58 per game, which is 10th best nationally.

Beyond the statistics of the sport, the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy games mean far more than the final score.

“This game is everything,” said Ken Niumatalolo, now in his 15th season as Navy head coach. “As long as I have been here, getting that trophy has meant everything. Being at Navy, all the talk is about (beating) Army, which I get. But for us, beating Air Force is the first leg of it. You can’t get the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy unless you beat Air Force. As far as being at the Naval Academy, this game means everything.”

In Colorado Springs, a question about the game’s significance brought a lump to the throat of the Falcons head coach.

“It is (a reminder) about sacrifice,” said Troy Calhoun, now in his 16th season as head coach at Air Force. “The dedication and commitment of the cadets and the midshipmen to our country, to go serve. There’s just so much respect involved.

“Golly, if you’re 17 or 18 years old and, I won’t say you have the pick of the lot as to where you want to go to college, and you say I’m going to raise my right hand and I’m going to take an oath to go fight for our constitution…I can tell you what it does to my heart – it gets a little bigger. I think that’s pretty darn cool.”

 

‘We’ve lost a good one’

While on his way to his 16th American Legion Legacy Run in August, longtime Kansas Legion Rider Dave Schoonover was involved in an accident. He succumbed to his injuries later that day.

Five and a half weeks later, hundreds of fellow American Legion Riders from all over the nation came to Hutchinson, Kan., to honor Schoonover and show their support for his wife Millie.

Schoonover, a member of Lysel Rishel Post 68 in Hutchinson and a longtime presence on the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee, was remembered during a celebration of life that included a memorial ride and flag line. Riders from as far away as Virginia, Georgia and New York were among those in attendance.

“It was amazing,” Millie said. “Dave didn’t want to have anything like this, because he was afraid nobody would come. Originally, I wanted it to just be friends and family and stuff like that. But (Department of Kansas Commander Jeremy Ehart) was telling me that he was getting calls from other states … and I told him, ‘You guys run with it. Open it up to anybody who wants to come is more than welcome.’

“So it went from nothing to something incredible.”

George Guthrie, a South Carolina Legion Rider and Georgia resident, made the 34-hour round-trip trek with his wife and fellow Rider Cindy to take part in the celebration of life.  

“He’s been a good friend to many people,” Guthrie said. “It’s hard to describe. He’s my good friend. We’ve become family. Everyone that was (at the celebration of life), it’s like your family.”

Guthrie also said he wanted to be in Kansas to support Millie. “She wasn’t involved in what (the Riders) were doing directly, but she supported Dave to be able to do what he did. She’s basically extended family.”

Millie said Dave – a U.S. Army veteran and Patriot Guard Rider – was passionate about the POW-MIA issue, getting updated numbers to share those with fellow Riders. When the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial came to Kansas, Dave and Millie put together a list of POWs/MIAs, along with short stories about each, and shared them at the memorial.

“I took one full drawer of information out of his desk and gave it to the Riders strictly for the POWs/MIAs,” Millie said. “That was one thing he was adamant about. I don’t know what got him started on it. Once he did, he was like a bulldog. He didn’t turn lose.”

Millie used to ride on the back of Dave’s motorcycle because back issues for her put a stop to that. But she continued to be involved with her husband’s Riders work in other capacities.

“Once he found out where they were going to start (the Legacy Run) and where they were going to finish, we sat down and found all the highways that were the best road to take,” she said. “All the food places. All the fuel stops. We turned that in every year.

“He’d say, ‘I need you to find this for me.’ Somehow, I always managed to get involved in all his stuff. I couldn’t get out to do stuff with him, so it was always, ‘Honey, I need your help doing this.’”

Schoonover had participated in every Legacy Run, the road captain for Flight D, though he was limited to just riding through his own state on one of those. “He’d broken his tailbone, and he’d done it like two days before the ride,” Millie said. “So he just went across Kansas. He came home and he was in tears because he was hurting so bad. But he said, ‘I made it across Kansas!’”

Guthrie said as a flight captain on the Legacy Run, it’s his job to make sure everyone in the flight feels safe. That was something Dave excelled at while on the ride.

“You want to make everybody comfortable, and everybody want to come back,” Guthrie said. “(Dave) was always there trying to make people comfortable, and he was very big on awareness.

“And he had a lot of good ideas going on that was he was implementing up there in Kansas. We’ve lost a good one.”

Proposed legislation could expand education benefits, veterans’ access to commercial driver’s licenses amid trucking shortage

Two senators have introduced a bill that would allow schools with trucking programs to expand veterans' access to commercial driver's licenses as the trucking industry faces a shortage of drivers across the country.

The proposed legislation introduced by Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., would permit a new secondary campus with the same course of study as its primary accredited school to provide licenses to veterans if the campus is approved by a state agency.

At least one in 10 truckers are veterans, according to a census report from 2019. Nicholas Geale, vice president of workforce and labor policy at the American Trucking Associations, a national trade group, said in June that the trucker driver shortage is expected to double by 2030. The trucking trade group reported the industry was short 80,000 drivers in 2021.

While the industry needs long-haul drivers, Geale said the opportunities in the trucking industry fit every kind of schedule and work-life balance a veteran might desire.

"Many truck driving jobs have drivers on a regular schedule and home every night and/or weekly," he said. "Trucks these days have state-of-the-art technology both for driver safety and security and quality of life when they are on the road."

While veterans can utilize their G.I. Bill benefits to obtain a commercial driver's license, law requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny accredited schools' new secondary campuses to receive G.I. Bill benefits for two years. The law was implemented to help prevent veterans from being scammed by bogus schools.

The proposed legislation will expand the G.I. Bill by exempting trucking schools' new secondary campuses from the law and allowing them to accept education benefits.

"This bill not only supports our veterans by expanding work opportunities it would also help keep goods moving throughout our nation as we continue to face supply chain challenges," Padilla said in a prepared statement. "It will expand veterans' G.I. Bill benefits to help veterans pursue educational and career training opportunities while maintaining strong accrediting standards for institutions."

The secondary schools must submit a yearly report to the VA to ensure the curriculum is the same as that of the primary schools, as well as to ensure the curriculum does not exploit veterans or provide fraudulent courses.

Service members and veterans are 40% more likely to be exploited by financial fraud, including robocalls, suspicious texts and scam offers than their civilian counterparts, according to a recent AARP survey. More so, four out of five service members and veterans surveyed in 2021 reported they were targeted by scams directly related to their military service or benefits. In addition, the survey found one in three reported they lost money because of those scams.

AARP also reported that scams targeting G.I. Bill education benefits are one of the more common ones facing veterans. Twenty percent surveyed said they lost money due to education scams.

"This bill ensures that schools that have already demonstrated their commitment to quality training at reasonable prices for veterans should be able to provide that service without waiting two years in the event a veteran wants to use their benefits," Geale said.

In April, the White House took action to recruit veterans and troops leaving the service into some of the tens of thousands of vacancies in the commercial trucking industry by establishing a new task force.

Called the Task Force Movement: Life-Cycle Pathways for Veterans and Military into Trucking, the task force is a partnership between the trucking industry and leading veterans service organizations to develop an action plan to attract veterans and service members into the industry, as well as figure out how to retain them in trucking jobs.

Geale said the bill was already in development when the task force came together, and it is one issue the group is considering. He said ATA and task force members told him that a key component for veterans considering their post-service career in trucking is the local availability of quality training programs amid a six-month transition period before leaving the service. Their area of residence is another factor.

"Veterans leave the military with the skills and leadership qualities that our industry is built on, including valuing teamwork and service to the country as well as safety and attention to detail," Geale said. "Truck drivers earn a family-sustaining, middle-class wage and work independently, but they are also part of the team for the nation's supply chain — keeping us all fed, clothed and otherwise supplied with necessities."

He also said there are positions for military spouses and veterans who might not want to drive a truck, such as dispatchers, logistics experts, warehouse management, software designers, mechanics and technicians.

"Few such positions require a college degree with the debt that comes with it, and the industry has a long history of promoting from within with many executives having come from driver, dispatcher and junior management positions," Geale said.

He said the task force is assembling its report, including recommendations, and expects to release it on or near Veterans Day.

"Veterans have already given so much for our country — the last thing they need is more frustrating red tape that prevents them from pursuing a career that is essential to our modern economy," Fischer said in a prepared statement. "These technical changes will reverse unnecessary regulations and allow more veterans to take advantage of their G.I. benefits."

Johnson making a ‘pivot’ from full-time INDYCAR driver

Jimmie Johnson saw a headline on Monday that said he was “retiring” from racing. The Sons of The American Legion member couldn’t help but laugh.

What Johnson wants to do in 2023 is the farthest thing from retirement. In fact, he wants to create a “Bucket List” of races that includes a number of NTT INDYCAR Series, a couple of NASCAR Cup Series races, a chance to drive on the winning team of the Rolex 24 at Daytona Sports Car race and a chance to compete in the famed 24 Hours of LeMans in France.

“I saw the word ‘retirement’ too and sort of chuckled, mainly because I tried to retire once and it didn’t work out,” said the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who just completed his second season in INDYCAR. “To see it up there a second time is like the ‘Boy that Cried Wolf.’ I really don’t feel like this is the end of driving for me. It’s a chance to pivot, run in marquee events and have these amazing experiences that any driver would want to have. Carvana is very interested and expected to continue on in INDYCAR with me.

“The situation I’m in, I don’t think the word retirement isn’t correct, but it is certainly a pivot to less. Slowing down or part-time, I wore a rookie hat in INDYCAR and now maybe I should wear a part-time hat.”

Johnson is in the midst of putting together a schedule for next season that will allow him to compete in marquee events.

And fear not INDYCAR fans, Johnson plans on driving some of major races on the schedule, such as the 107th Indianapolis 500 and the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“I honestly could get really excited about all of them or any of them,” Johnson said. “Street courses provide such unique opportunity and clearly the street course at Long Beach has so much sentimental value to me. The ovals, I was much more competitive than on the street courses, especially the ovals that had multiple lanes. My NASCAR background came into play, and I was really competitive on the two-lane ovals.

“Road courses, to drive at Road America and Laguna Seca, those are amazing marquee race tracks to run on. I could honestly get excited about any of it, and it depends on what opportunity will develop.”

Johnson has the opportunity to pick and choose the races he wants to compete in. When he retired as a NASCAR Cup Series legend who won a record-tying seven championships along with 83 races, he was tired of the grind of a 36-race schedule. But he still wanted to challenge himself and compete in other forms of racing. At the top of his list was IndyCar, the series he dreamed of racing when he was a teenager in El Cajon, Calif., in the 1990s.

He competed in 12 of the 16 races in 2021 and made the decision to become a full-time competitor in 2022.

Johnson recently turned 47 and still has a competitive drive, he just wants to enjoy the experience of racing at this stage of his career.

“INDYCAR is certainly on the list,” Johnson said. “Clearly with the relationship I have had with Chip Ganassi (team owner), there have been more conversations INDYCAR-related.

“(Monday), in making this public knowledge now gives me the opportunity to speak to other teams, look at other opportunities in other series. I just recently made this decision and haven’t had any time to explore other options. I believe in the next month or so, I should know what opportunities are out there for me. I’m in a good place in the budget cycle for corporate dollars and for the potential to bring Carvana along, and any other interested parties. My timing is in a good spot, and we’ll see what the coming weeks bring.”

Johnson said being competitive certainly makes racing more fun. Although he wasn’t that competitive in INDYCAR statistically, he made dramatic improvement from his first race in April 2021 at Barber Motorsports Park to his most recent IndyCar race at Laguna Seca on Sept. 11.

He finished 16th that day, matching his career-best on a road course (also 16th at Mid-Ohio on July 3). Johnson’s best finish came on an oval, fifth at Iowa Speedway on July 26.

“What I’m doing now isn’t result-driven, it’s about the experience,” Johnson said. “Of course, I want to run well and I will apply myself. I do take it very seriously. I’m not trying to start a second career here. I’m trying to have meaningful experiences with teams that have meaning, individuals behind it that have meaning and tracks and races that have meaning as well.

“It is a few degrees different than what I spent the bulk of my career doing. That allows me to open up the runway and gives me more time to experience this.”

Johnson doesn’t see this as the end of his INDYCAR career, he’s just taking a different direction to see where it leads him.

It’s all about the experience.

“Carvana came up with this tagline, ‘No Finish Lines,’” Johnson said. “Most people want to believe that’s reality and would like to challenge themselves and start a second career and pivot in life, but it’s tough to do. I have discovered these last two years how many fans and racers identify with what I have done and want to do that in their lives.

“Sure, I’m competitive and want to win races, but at the same time, I was willing to get uncomfortable. I can sit here and say I’ve had the most amazing two years. Even though I wasn’t winning races and was qualifying at the back of the field in all these road and street races, I was having the time of my life. You can pivot and get uncomfortable and have an amazing experience doing so.”

He has also left a positive impression in INDYCAR, including his many contributions to The American Legion. From serving as the point man on the Legion’s “Be the One” campaign to help prevent veteran suicide, to the many times he has met past national commanders and other VIPs from the Legion, to signing autographs at the Legion’s activation unit at INDYCAR races, Johnson was honored to be involved with the service organization.

That was never more apparent than at The American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee in August, when Johnson was inducted into the Sons of The American Legion. He then stunned the crowd by pledging $1.5 million to The American Legion from himself and his wife, Chandra.

The Legion’s involvement with Chip Ganassi Racing and Johnson also helped create an opportunity for INDYCAR to make the Legion an official charity in a multi-year agreement.

The Legion also helped support other drivers at Chip Ganassi Racing. Tony Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion Honda to an impressive third-place finish in the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29. Johnson was named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year for his impressive “Month of May” performance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Alex Palou, the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, drove the Legion livery on his No. 10 Honda in five races in 2022. Those included the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, the Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Chip Ganassi’s hospitality motorhome also entertained numerous VIP’s and officials from The American Legion throughout the season.

Johnson has made many new friends with fans and fellow competitors in the INDYCAR SERIES. He recently attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed with Chip Ganassi Racing’s six-time series champion Scott Dixon and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti the weekend of Sept. 16-18.

That weekend, Johnson believes those two drivers helped his decision become clear.

“It maybe wasn’t a light-bulb moment, I’m always very conscious of my head space,” Johnson explained. “As the season wore on, what it takes to be a full-time driver in the INDYCAR SERIES, I knew I was up to my limit of what I could commit to it.

“I didn’t want to make a decision in the moment. I took some time and had Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon as a bad influence in the UK for the Goodwood race and a few beers in. In that process of being away, letting go and relaxing with the help of Scott and Dario, I was able to return home and really feel what I wanted to do and the decision I wanted to make.”

In Johnson’s rookie season in 2021, he started off slow, but made dramatic improvement by the end of the year. During his first full season in 2022, Johnson led laps, finished sixth at Texas Motor Speedway in March, finished a career-high fifth at Iowa Speedway in July and scored two 16th-place finishes on proper road courses at Mid-Ohio in July and Laguna Seca in September.

That gave Johnson the satisfaction that a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion could switch gears and prove that he could do it in the completely different form of racing in INDYCAR.

“My decision to not return was based on the feeling I have after running a full season, after experiencing the last two seasons, that the experience I was trying to achieve, I was able to achieve it,” Johnson admitted. “That was the bulk of my decision.

“Now that I’m pivoting, there are things to get excited about, but the bulk was feeling fulfilled and having the experience that I wanted to in INDYCAR.”

Johnson will be putting together his schedule for 2023 in the coming weeks. Now that he is a Sons of The American Legion member, he will continue to support the Legion’s efforts and programs.

Legion Baseball flashback: Honoring 1 of Shelby’s champion sons

When Loy Paige and his teammates on the Shelby, N.C., American Legion Post 82 baseball team were enjoying one of the greatest summers of their lives, they shared local and national newspaper headlines with news from the other side of the world.

Paige, 94, is one of two surviving members of the 1945 American Legion World Series championship team that set its history while the world was focused on military endeavors of World War II in Europe and Japan.

“Obviously there was a lot going on that summer,” said Paige, who was honored during the 2022 ALWS. “We were just young kids enjoying the game of baseball and chasing a championship.”

The news of the world was celebrated by fans during their championship run as Paige still remembers hearing cheers in Sumter, S.C., while his team was playing at Riley Park in an American Legion Baseball regional.

“There was a lot of hollering when we were playing a game and (Shelby head) coach (B.E. “Pop”) Simmons was asking us, ‘Why are they rooting for Shelby down here in South Carolina?’” Paige said. “We told him, ‘No. It’s because the war’s over!’ He was so wrapped up in coaching us that he didn’t think about anything else.

“The best news is that we went on and won the game.”

Simmons, like many in the world, was looking for a release from the grueling nature of World War II.

Paige was motivated enough to support the effort as he enlisted in the Naval reserves.

He never did see active military service and in the summer of 1945, he served the Shelby community by helping the local American Legion Baseball team win its first and only national championship.

“Baseball has always been part of my life and I’ve always enjoyed it,” said Paige, who was the left fielder on the 1945 Post 82 team. “We had a great group of players and we played really well together.”

When Shelby began its historic season in June of that summer, Germany had surrendered just a few weeks earlier on May 7.

By the time the season ended on Sept. 1 with a Post 82 ALWS title, Japan had surrendered as well — 17 days earlier during Shelby’s regional playoff game in Sumter, S.C.

In between, Shelby rolled to a 36-6 overall record that included a season-ending 15-game winning streak. After winning the South Division of North Carolina Area IV with a 7-1 league record, Post 82 advanced to a Western North Carolina finals series by virtue of a 10-2 second-round record.

Shelby would defeat Charlotte Post 9, 4-1, in a best-of-seven Western finals, then swept Laurinburg 4-0 in the state championship series.

Three straight victories in a regional in Sumter, three straight victories in a sectional in Charleston, S.C., and three straight victories in the ALWS in Charlotte followed as Shelby became the eighth of 19 teams in ALWS history to go unbeaten in national tournament competition.

“It seemed like we’d always have guys come up with a hit at the right time and got good pitching and things worked out real well,” Paige said. “As kids, our parents worked at the mill and they would bring yarn home and we’d get it and make a ball and use a broom stick. We had a lot of ballgames out in the street.”

In 1945, American Legion Baseball was celebrating its 20th season. In Shelby, where Post 82 first sponsored a team in 1931, local support was extraordinary.

“The people that lived in Shelby followed us throughout the year,” Paige said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know my teammates did too.”

Crowds of 9,000 jammed Charlotte’s old Griffith Park for the first two ALWS victories before 10,250 came to the 4-2 championship game victory over Trenton, N.J.

Since Shelby’s population in 1945 was 14,000 and so many of them were in Charlotte to see the ALWS, Simmons and his assistant coach Lloyd Little cracked jokes about the town they’d left behind.

“I doubt if there are enough people left in Shelby to put out a fire,” Simmons said.

Little added: “I doubt there are enough people left to start the fire.”

Nowadays, Paige and pitcher Harry McKee (who lives in Georgia) are the only surviving members of the team. At the 2022 ALWS, Paige even showed American Legion officials the glove he used to play left field for Post 82.

“It’s a great memory for me and I’m happy that people still remember that team,” Paige said.

Though he frequently has gone to local American Legion Baseball games ever since he played, Paige makes a point of getting to Shelby’s Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium annually.

“It’s really nice to have the World Series here in my hometown,” Paige said. “I enjoy being able to come and watch games every year.”

 

Michigan post’s Legion Family forming friendships through Arc dances

For around the past six years, the American Legion Family of Devereaux Post 141 in Howell, Mich., has hosted dances every two months for users of The Arc of Livingston’s programs. The Arc provides advocacy, information and referral and support services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

And while the dances are meant to be enjoyed by the Arc citizens, they’ve also become a highlight for Post 141’s Legion Family, serving as a collaborative effort between the Post, Auxiliary Unit, Sons of The American Legion and the Legion Riders that brings smiles to all their members’ faces.

“It’s a huge deal for not only all the members of Post 141, but their families, too,” said Sons of The American Legion Squadron 141 member Reg VanWulfen. “This dance is not just a party. It’s life experiences, even for the Legion members. In the Sons, we have a family that comes in, and they have young sons: 9, 12 and 14. And they help out. They learn to help people. They do it as a family.

“We enjoy it. We have fun. And we don’t just have the Arc come in and have dances. We have members that get up and dance, party, joke, do different things to interact and talk. Social acts. It’s very unique.”

Post 141 had hosted similar dances years ago before they stopped. They were resumed around six years ago under then-post commander and current finance officer Jim Grimes. The pandemic brought a halt to them temporarily, but they resumed this year.

Post 141 Commander Bobby Brite, who also is a Legion Rider, said the success of the Arc dances is a credit to the teamwork of the post’s Legion Family and the view each brings to the project.

“The Legion, we have one perspective of looking at things. The Sons have a totally different perspective, and of course the Auxiliary bring a totally different perspective,” Brite said. “There are no egos involved here. It’s just a meeting of minds. We allow our veterans and our family members to come up with the best ideas to move forward on things.

“We utilize all of our resources and all of our talent to create the same type of party atmosphere that we do on every other event. That family atmosphere that we push at our facility, it's just a natural progression for the Arc citizens to come in and enjoy it with us.”

SAL Squadron 141 Commander and Chapter 141 Legion Rider Chris Jones said as a part-time driver for a community transportation system, he deals with many of the Arc citizens on a regular basis. “I get to hear a lot of conversations,” he said. “The No. 1 they talk about when it comes to these dances is they say they get to come and get to see their friends. We have made it to (where) it’s not just a place where they come. We’ve made it a place where their friends are at, and they get to hang with their friends.”

This year, at the urging of Jones, the Riders became involved. Chapter 141 members staged their motorcycles outside of the post that the Arc citizens were able sit on during the event.

“We want to make it better for them each time they come visit with us,” Jones said. “One of the concepts was that let’s get involved more members of the Legion Family. So I reached out to the Riders to see if they were willing, and the Riders came out.”

For Past Auxiliary Unit 141 President Terrie Harter, the Arc dances are special because of their effect on both the guests and the members. “The smiles on the kids’ faces are the best things, though,” she said. “You get out there and dance with them. They talk to you, and they want to take pictures together. We just become one big happy family. And the smiles on their faces when you’re out there dancing together, it melts your heart. It’s just breathtaking. I love every minute of it.”

Jones said the dances give the Arc citizens an opportunity to interact with people who view them simply as friends. “Let’s be honest: with some of their disabilities, they can’t just walk out … and visit people. They can’t go some places because of their limitations,” he said. “With that being said, when they come to our place, we do not look at them as any kind of special needs people or with disabilities. We look at them as our friends. They get to spend three hours not being stereotyped by our members. Our members truly want to be there and enjoy their time there.”

Philly Legion post gets big assist in renovation efforts

A generous grant from the City of Philadelphia will allow one of its American Legion posts to go back to being a hub for the community in Southwest Philly.

William P. Roche Post 21 recently received a $100,000 revitalization check from the city. The check was presented by Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who was able to secure the grant in the city’s fiscal 2023 operating budget.

“I have known of William P. Roche Post 21’s mission and service to the community for years,” Johnson said via press release. “We share the same mission and dreams for creating safe environments for the community and providing a place that veterans can call home.”

Post 21 Commander Melvin James said the money will allow the post to make some much-needed repairs to its aging facility.

“It’s going to mean a lot for the post,” said James, a member of the Legion for nearly 20 years. “It’s going to help the post out and getting the post back together because we’ve been down for two years because of the pandemic. It means a lot, trying to get this post back to where it belongs.”

During the pandemic Post 21’s membership began some renovations, using their own funds and some donations from others. But other issues need addressed within the facility – which has been the post home since its founding in 1920 – including the plumbing and the post’s main hall.

Burt despite its facility needing work, Post 21 has continued to assist those around it. “We are a very big part of this community,” James said. “People come and patronize us. We give out donations and have food drives. \We’re getting ready to have a Thanksgiving canned food drive. We have toy drives and food drives around Christmas, and the local band students come to practice here.”

Many of the families that have been helped in recent years have experienced gun violence; Johnson sits on the city council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.  

“This is something that is very dear to me,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be here for a long time, and I want to make sure that things are easier for them. I pushed very hard to get the grant for this job, and I’m happy to see that it came through.”

For James, its an opportunity to improve a building that already has a special place in the Legionnaire’s heart. “It meant a lot to get this grant from Kenyatta’s office,” he said. “It will help us with the hall and with the community. This old building means a lot to me because I’ve been here many a year. So I’m trying to straighten it out and get it done. I love that post. It means a lot to me.”

Ways to promote the oratorical speech contest among youth

During the American Legion Oratorical Conference with department program chairmen on Sept. 24, Department of North Carolina Oratorical Chairman Joseph Reale Sr., shared a few ways to promote the Legion’s Constitutional speech contest among high school students.

“We need to reach out to all the various school systems that are out there. And try to get in the door with all of them,” he said. For homeschool students, Reale said each county should have a homeschool point of contact. “You can reach out to that individual and they have the rosters of all the homeschool students in that county. We need to use every means available to get into every type of school system that’s out there.”

Reale shared the following ways that can help promote the program:

·       Visit high schools at the beginning of the year and bring Oratorical Contest flyers or brochures to history, English and speech educators. And discuss the scholarship money that students can earn through the program to help with college education – scholarships are available at the post, district and department level. The national competition awards over $203,000.  

·       Introduce yourself to the school principal, counselors and JROTC instructors.

·       Invite educators to your post oratorical competition. “They get to see it live, hopefully feel good about it, and they will then become your spokesperson at the high school level and get more interested in it,” Reale said.

·       Advertise in the school newspaper and the local paper and radio.

·       Attend PTA meetings to share with parents the scholarship benefits of the oratorical program.

·       Invite oratorical winners to speak at your post about their experience with the program. “Use them as your best sales representatives at the schools that they come from,” Reale said. “No one is going to be more enthusiastic than they are to tell their friends and other students what this meant to them.”

·       Invite other civic organizations to your post to meet oratorical winners and disseminate program information. Or take your oratorical winner to other organizations to speak, like the Kiwanis.

Attendees had an opportunity to share their best practices as well. They were to:

·       Use social media to promote the program, including creating a separate LinkedIn profile just for the oratorical contest.

·       Attend eighth grade graduations where parents will be to speak about the program, so they are aware of it as their child prepares for high school.

·       Ask high school student government presidents to read a quick blurb about the oratorical program during morning announcements to generate more interest. This is what Department of Florida Oratorical Chairman Mary West has done in Jacksonville.

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