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THE AMERICAN LEGION

DEPARTMENT OF MISSISSIPPI

Legion News

Tony Kanaan to race Indy 500 in sponsored American Legion car

Tony Kanaan has one last battle within him, one more battle to fight, one last mission to accomplish. That is why he is reenlisting for one more tour of duty with The American Legion and Chip Ganassi Racing for the 106th Indianapolis 500.

TK is back at the Indy 500 for one last time and he will once again be driving a Honda sponsored by The American Legion. The announcement was made by the team Monday morning at INDYCAR’s “Content Days” at the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.

Kanaan drove for The American Legion in the 105th Indianapolis 500 last year in the No. 48 Honda and the popular driver made many new friends in The American Legion. This year, he hopes to make one last ride into Indianapolis 500 glory and is prepared to take The American Legion all the way to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kanaan will get his third chance for his “final” Indianapolis 500, as the 2013 Indy 500 winner returns to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2022.

Two-years ago when he was driving for AJ Foyt Racing, Kanaan announced the 104th Indianapolis 500 would be his final race on the big stage, and it was a chance to say farewell to all of his fans. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world in 2020 and that year’s Indy 500 was held without spectators.

Kanaan got a reprieve when team owner Chip Ganassi needed a driver to share the No. 48 Honda when seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson originally agreed to a street and road course schedule in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Kanaan drove the No. 48 Honda in the four oval races in 2021 including the 105th Indianapolis 500. Kanaan was impressive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he was among the fastest drivers every day in practice and made the “Fast Nine Shootout” that determined the first three rows of the 33-car starting lineup.

Kanaan’s qualifying speed was the fifth fastest, and he started last year’s race in the middle of Row 2. He went on to finish 10th in the race in a car sponsored by The American Legion.

Kanaan finished 11th in the first race of a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway and 15th in Race No. 2 on the 1.5-mile high-banked oval. He closed out the oval season with a 13th place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

After showing steady improvement in a completely new form of racing, Johnson has decided to run the full NTT IndyCar Series season in 2022, including the 106th Indianapolis 500. Ganassi had promised Kanaan that he would still compete in the Indy 500 and on Monday morning, that became official.

Kanaan will drive a Honda sponsored by The American Legion. Car livery and other details will be announced later.

That gives team owner Chip Ganassi five entries in this year’s Indy 500.

It will be Kanaan’s 21st Indianapolis 500, where he is one of the most popular drivers in recent Indy 500 history because of his fierce and tenacious racing style.

In 20 previous starts, Kanaan has led a combined 346 laps in the race. After so many great races and close calls to winning the 500, Kanaan finally won it in his 12th attempt in 2013 for KV Racing Technology in a Chevrolet. He led 34 laps and had “the best restart of my life” on the final restart to jump from fourth place to the lead entering Turn 1 to go on to score his only Indy 500 win.

Thanks to Ganassi and The American Legion, Kanaan will have once last charge left in his career in the 106th Indianapolis 500.

 

Order U.S. flags early because of delays

With U.S. flag orders from American Legion Emblem Sales, current supply chain issues and ongoing production setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic are causing order shipment delays. As worn, tattered American flags need replaced, or as American Legion posts need flags to place on veterans' graves for Memorial Day, Emblem Sales advises to order early and please be patient with time of delivery due to the setbacks. Emblem Sales is shipping flag orders as soon, and quickly, as production is received.

The purchase of gravesite flags, as well as other outdoor American, military, POW/MIA and state flags, flagpoles and accessories can be made through American Legion Emblem Sales at americanlegionflags.com.    

More American Legion flag resources

- Visit legion.org/flag for information on flag FAQs, myths, flag-folding procedures and videos.

- Sign up for the Flag Alert e-newsletter at legion.org/newsletters for notification when the U.S. flag is to be displayed at half-staff.

- Subscribe to the Flag Alert text notifications. First, text Flag to 534466. You will receive a text asking for a valid email address for the two-step authorization. Once that is complete, you will receive the text alerts.

SAL Convention Committee seeking convention memorabilia

The SAL 50th Convention Committee is seeking memorabilia from past conventions in advance of this year’s milestone event. All SAL members are welcome to donate or lend items to SAL Historian Bill Towns. He can be reached at docbill@neo.rr.com.

The committee is looking for:

·       Pictures of PNCs both in office and after office.

·       Convention activities.

·       Convention badges, VIP badges, pins and coins.

·       Convention newsletters, programs and documents.

·       Any other memorabilia related to any of the past SAL national conventions.

The committee also has a special request for photos from The American Legion’s 60th national convention of members posing to form the number 60.

In addition, all SAL PNCs are asked to complete a questionnaire about their term. The fillable questionnaire is available for download at this link. Please return the completed questionnaire to Towns at docbill@neo.rr.com.

 

North Carolina Legion post part of effort to honor Black veterans

As part of celebrating The American Legion’s 100th birthday in 2019, members of Whitehurst-Ware American Legion Post 539 in New Bern, N.C., spent time cleaning the World War I monument located in front of the Craven County Courthouse. In doing so, they came to realize that the names of many soldiers – mainly Black soldiers – who died during the war were not featured on the monument.

Research by the post led to identifying the names of close to a dozen veterans, which were then added to the monument and led to a rededication ceremony by Post 539. But the effort led to the post’s next mission: the find out where those 12 Black veterans were buried. That took Post 539 members to New Bern’s Greenwood Cemetery, a predominantly Black cemetery established in 1882. There, the Legion Family members found dozens of veterans’ headstones covered in moss and mold, some vandalized, sunken, fallen over or lost amidst overgrown vegetation. A previous effort by the Daughters of the Revolution had discovered 41 veterans’ gravesites as well.

Post 539 again decided to right a wrong, spending a day last October marking each grave with a surveyor flag, photographing the gravesites and then cleaning each headstone. But that effort led Post 539 Finance Officer Mark Sandvigen – a member of the New Bern Historical Society and the vice president of the Craven County Veterans Council – and others to wonder something: who the people buried in those gravesites were. Not just names, but the lives they’ve lived.

So members of Post 539 and the Historical Society, along with other community members and organizations, have set out to learn what they can about those veterans, whose service to the nation spans from the Civil War to the Persian Gulf War.

“The Civil War veterans, these were all volunteer (U.S.) Colored Troops,” Sandvigen said. “We have a couple of guys who were escaped slaves, enlisted and then enlisted in the Army and came back to serve with the Union. That’s important, and people don’t know that.”

Other veterans buried in the cemetery fought in highly decorated units throughout other wars, often in segregated units. “And they did a hell of a job,” Sandvigen said. “They stood up and went.”

Sandvigen said the Black community has become involved in the project in helping learn more info about the veterans – specifically, Carol Becton, whose father was a Navy veteran and is buried at the cemetery. A member of the Historical Society, Carol told the New Bern Sun Journal she hopes others will step forward with information.

“I’m hoping that the older people that I know will recognize some of these names as well,” she said. “I hope this will stir something up in the African American community, that they will become more interested in this history and want to participate.”

Sandvigen said getting that perspective is critical to tell the complete story of those veterans. “I think that when you have white people telling a Black story in the history books, it’s got quite a bias to it,” he said. “Here’s living proof that bias is incorrect. There’s a different story here. This is a story of when the country called, they served. They didn’t shirk. They didn’t pretend it wasn’t their country. They all went.”

Sandvigen, Becton and others will be speakers at a Bern County Historical Society Lunch and Learn during Black History Month on Feb. 16. The program, “I, Too, Served America: The Stories of Greenwood Cemetery’s Veterans”, will provide biographical stories and photos of five Black veterans buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

“These veterans didn’t bury themselves,” Sandvigen said. “When their families buried them, they made sure they had a veteran headstone. That’s why I think this is important.”

Decades after adoption, Camp Humphreys commander’s wife returns to Korea and a past nearly forgotten

Tara Graves celebrates her birthday Saturday in South Korea, her first since she was born here more than 45 years ago.

Graves, 46, a personal fitness trainer and the wife of Camp Humphreys commander Col. Seth Graves, is among tens of thousands of South Koreans adopted to families around the world in the decades following the 1950-53 Korean War.

In 2020, the Army sent the Graves family from Brussels to South Korea, where Seth took command of the largest U.S. military base overseas.

The new assignment hit home for Tara Graves: She had not been in South Korea since she was adopted at 6 months old, she told Stars and Stripes in December.

Although she saw the move as an opportunity to reconnect with her birth family and Korean culture, it required her, like many adoptees, to reopen emotional scars.

“It’s almost like opening a box full of trauma,” Graves said. “You don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.”

‘Difficult childhood’

In 1975, Graves’ adoptive parents selected her from a catalog of children’s pictures and flew her from South Korea to New Jersey before her adoptive father’s job with manufacturing company 3M took them to Minnesota.

“It was a very difficult childhood growing up in Minnesota,” she said. “In the small town that we lived in, everyone was sort of predominantly Caucasian.”

As children, Tara and her younger brother, also an adopted Korean, were bullied and teased, she said. Her Minnesota upbringing fostered what she described as a “a very scary situation” due to her ethnic background in a predominantly white neighborhood.

“Being 5 years old and having older kids chase me down at the bus stop, throwing rocks at me, for what I looked like was very difficult,” she said.

At age 16, Graves, with her adoptive mother’s help, started a search for her birth family, she said, “because I wanted to know what happened.”

Through South Korea’s social services, she discovered a note left at an orphanage by a family member, hoping Graves would receive it and contact her birth family. She eventually reached her birth mother and exchanged photos and translated letters.

Graves said her birth mother refused to explain to her what transpired "until she saw me in person and that I learned how to speak the native language.”

Two years later, Graves “let it go” and stopped sending letters.

“I think I realized that the older that I became, I didn’t have this void of needing to go back to the motherland; to be whole; to know my whole story or meet my biological family,” she said. “I didn’t let that identify me. It wasn’t my identity, being a lost Korean American adoptee.”

Tara Graves poses between her husband, Army Col. Seth Graves, right, and her birth brother, Kim Hyung-bae, during a recent reunion in South Korea. (Kim Hyung Bae)Healing

Graves ultimately decided that reconnecting with her family may “heal that part of me that hasn’t healed.”

After moving to South Korea, she contacted one of her six Korean siblings and made plans to meet at a café in Pyeongtaek, where Humphreys is located roughly 40 miles from Seoul.

It was an “extremely emotional” reunion, she said. Seth Graves and Jena, the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, also met their extended family members.

“She just looks like her sister,” Tara recalled one of her siblings saying.

Seth Graves said Tara and her birth family were “all very excited to finally meet each other” and described it as “very emotional.”

"I think it’s a very special moment for her,” Seth told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. “Had she and I not met, she may have never made it back to Korea and had the opportunity to meet her family.”

Seth added that Tara’s birth family “took her in with open arms” and also accepted him and Jena “as part of the family.”

While discussing her birth family’s history with her siblings, Graves discovered the true story behind her birth and adoption, a story that conflicted with what was passed down to her.

“All of that was not true,” she said.

Her siblings told Graves that her birth mother divorced her father and left all of their children in his care. When her father died several years later, the eldest brother, who had recently graduated from high school, took care of his five siblings.

"He remembers me being born and then feeding me, and everyone being happy,” Graves said of her brother. “And then, all of a sudden one day, I disappeared.”

‘Nothing to forgive’

While life in South Korea drastically improved in the decades that followed the Korean War, much of the population was still experiencing economic difficulties throughout the 1970s, Kongdan Oh, a former senior Asia specialist at the Institute for Defense Analyses, wrote in an analysis published by the Brookings Institution.

Kim Hyung-bae, the eldest son and a manager of an elementary school in Gangwon province, explained that their parents wanted another son and because “we are folks who experienced poverty” they put Tara up for adoption.

“Men are blind in their own cause,” Kim told Stars and Stripes. “I asked our parents where she went but heard nothing from them. They were answerless.”

Kim said his siblings were too young to understand the concept of adoption, he said, but he felt guilt later on.

“I once thought that adoption is better for her,” Kim said. “I also felt bad for her and thought [she] should be in the U.S. … even just that she should eat well and live well there.”

When the siblings first met, Kim asked Tara Graves for forgiveness, she said.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” Graves said. “But for him, it was very important that he had my forgiveness.”

About 22 years ago, Kim and his siblings exhumed the remains of their immediate family and reinterred them in one grave. Tara Graves’ siblings engraved their names on the tombstone.

Among those names was Kim Eun-sook, Graves’ Korean name.

“I thought we may see her again some time,” Kim said. “And I wanted to prove that Tara has a family in South Korea.”

Department of California adjutant stressing community involvement in growing organization

As adjutant for the Department of California, Barbara Lombrano helps veterans throughout the Golden State get connected with American Legion service officers.

To Lombrano – a member of Post 502 in Moore Park – community involvement is one of the most important aspects of The American Legion. That has been one of her main missions since she became department adjutant in January 2021.

“It’s been important for me to make sure the Legion is out in the community to make sure the community knows what we are about, and we are out there helping those in the community,” Lombrano said at last September’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. “As important as membership is, we have been able to connect veterans with our department service officer for services they need to get their benefits in filing claims.”

According to Lombrano, many veterans are often afraid or hesitant to request all of the benefits they are entitled to because they are under the impression, they will have to hire an attorney.

That is where The American Legion comes in.

“They ask us, ‘What does the Legion charge us to do it?’” Lombrano continued. “We charge them nothing. I was a veteran service officer through the Legion in the Los Angeles area. Our service officers are able to connect them with the resources and help them file their disability claims, or maybe they have already had a service-connected disability and they have never filed for some things or get an increase in their rating or different things like that. And, their family members, too.”

Being a veteran and a member of the Legion is something that gives Lombrano great pride. It’s part of her family heritage.

Her grandfather served in both world wars. He was a “Doughboy” in the Army during World War I and a Seabee in World War II. Both of Lombrano’s parents served in the Navy, where they met and were later married. Every one of her mom’s brothers were involved in the service, including one who was a Green Beret in Vietnam.

Lombrano’s son served in the U.S. Army for six years and is a now a trauma nurse.

Lombrano joined the Navy from 1983, when she started on the USS Jason as the yeoman for the Engineering Department. Some routine dental work put her on a different path when one of the dentists talked her into becoming a dental technician from 1984-1988. She came off active duty at the Coronado Naval Base and entered the reserves.

She was later recalled when the Gulf War began in 1991. Lombrano became a hospital corpsman and went over to the Middle East with the Marines for nine months.

She has 13 years of active duty all together and has taken that experience to The American Legion.

“At that time, what females were allowed to do in the Legion was very limited,” Lombrano said. “It’s come a long way, but in regard to females, it has a long way to go. We need to do better getting more females involved in the Legion. Even for myself, when I was in the military and got out, I didn’t consider myself a veteran. Everyone when they think of a veteran thinks of a male sitting in the bar telling war stories.

“In the Legion itself, we are trying to rebrand ourselves. There is nothing wrong with sitting in the bar having a drink and that comradery, but we are so much more than that. To me, it’s very important for us to be out in the community, for them to see what our missions are. We need to get better at patting ourselves on the back and say this is what we are doing for our citizens and youth, Americanism, all of these different things.”

Lombrano, along with many other members of The American Legion at national offices and the various departments around the world, hope to encourage younger veterans to become members.

“We have to have things that are more family oriented,” Lombrano said. “The younger veterans have families and are working trying to raise their family. They want stuff to do. They don’t want to just come to meetings. We need to have more events that interest them and collaborate with these other service organizations.

“We also have to become more diverse. It’s very important. Just like anything else, diversity is what helps grow membership. Anything in life, the more diverse you are, the better solutions you come up with. We need to be more diverse.”

The State of California is rich in diversity with a strong military history. Lombrano believes there are many veterans within the massive state that could help the Legion grow, simply by becoming members.

“Here in California, we have so many veterans and so many military bases that it astounds a lot of us how many veterans we could be reaching out to that we could get them involved in becoming members,” she said. “I haven’t experienced much negative. Most of the people seem to be very appreciative of veterans and the sacrifices they have made and continue to make on a daily basis.”

Lombrano was one of a dozen members of the Department of California that set up a display booth and spread The American Legion’s message at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca last September. The following week, Lombrano and other Department of California members also spread their message at the final race of the 2021 season, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Lombrano believes the combination of The American Legion with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Chip Ganassi Racing and Jimmie Johnson have given the veteran’s organization a highly visible platform to share its message.

“I’m originally from the south so I grew up watching racing,” Lombrano said. “When this was offered to us at The American Legion, it was really exciting. I like the sport, but more importantly, it gets us out in the face of the community.

“I think it’s awesome that Jimmie Johnson and the Legion have gotten together. I hope it’s something that continues for years. I think it’s a great shot in the arm. I think it can help promote us. It can help promote Indy. It’s a win-win situation.”

Basic training from your home

The newest incarnation of The American Legion's official training program for officers, members, Legion College applicants and those who simply want to expand their knowledge of the organization is now available online or via a mobile device.

The former American Legion Extension Institute, the source of the training, is now the American Legion Education Institute, and the course itself is now “Basic Training.” First introduced as a correspondence course in 1948, the material was adapted from that offered at the national Legion College. The 2022 version has been rewritten, updated, streamlined and enhanced with videos, digital photos, clickable links, a historical timeline and additional features, but the structure has continued roughly the same, revolving around what the Legion does, its history and today’s Four Pillars, with a quiz after each section: History & Organization Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation National Security Americanism Children & Youth Course Conclusion Final Exam

From the beginning, the course was open to any Legionnaire who wanted to purchase it from Emblem Sales. When the Extension Institute was first introduced in American Legion media at the end of 1946, then-National Commander Paul H. Griffith stated, “I urge all posts of The American Legion to encourage the enrollment of as many Legionnaires young and old as possible in this course of study." In 2012, it transferred from booklets to an online module with a fee. In 2017, it was updated, made free and opened to all American Legion Family members, as it remains today. The cost for non-members is $9.95. The course can be stopped and started as needed, but is designed to be completed in around two hours. Get started at www.legion.org/alei, and see more American Legion training options at www.legion.org/training.

NY Legion post brings VA benefits info to local veterans

Since Kevin Arnold became commander of Osco Robinson American Legion Post 617 in Marathon, N.Y., in November of 2020, the post’s Legion Family has conducted fundraisers and undergone a “massive clean-up” of its facility, Arnold said. “I had help from members, non-members, Sons (of The American Legion) and Auxiliary in getting all this cleaned up.”

But Arnold didn’t want to just accept help. “One of the things that struck me was, OK, everybody is helping us out,” he said. “But how about helping them?”

So Arnold reached out to Cortland County Director of Veterans Services Tom Tedesco and invited him to speak at a post meeting. It was then that Arnold suggested hosting a larger meeting, inviting area veterans to learn about possible benefits and services available to them.

Fellow Post 617 member agreed, and on Jan. 8, the post opened its doors to Legionnaires from other posts, other veterans service organizations and representatives from veteran agencies for a counseling forum and workshop.

“I thought Jan. 8 would be good in that it was right after Christmas,” Arnold said. “There’s probably some stress involved with people trying to come up with money for the Christmas presents they bought. I thought this might be perfect for that. It was … just trying to figure how to get veterans more aware of the benefits they have coming to them and how to get them. And have a place where they could talk and feel comfortable doing that.”

Both Tedesco and Kyle Milk – a Peer Specialist based out of the Syracuse VA Medical Center – attended the workshop. Tedesco was able to share info on benefits and how to apply for them, while Milk discussed support for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Around a dozen veterans showed up for the event, where they were able to learn about Department of Veterans Affairs and state benefits, as well as just interact with other veterans with shared experiences.

Also attending were past American Legion Department of New York Commander Mike McDermott and New York 6th District Commander Richard Price. Arnold said he was thrilled to see that kind of support from outside of Post 617.

“It was awesome to get that,” Arnold said. “Having those people there was really important. And at the end, everybody just sat around … talking and listening and finding out things that they had no idea were available or how to go about (getting them). So it was really cool. That was probably the highlight of the whole day.”

Arnold said plans already are in place for another similar workshop. “This was not a one-time deal,” he said. “Spring will be too soon, and in the summer people will be out and about doing vacations and everything. So we’re looking probably in the fall to doing this again.

“I know a couple people didn’t show up because they felt sick and didn’t want to take a chance on catching or spreading anything. But I think the second time we have a better chance of having more people attend, simply because of how effective it was for the people that showed up this time. Hopefully people will realize that this is for their benefit.”

SAL 50th convention coin to be combination of submitted designs

The Sons of The American Legion’s 50th Commemorative Convention Committee has opted to use a number of submitted designs for the challenge coin celebrating the milestone convention.

SAL PNC Joe Gladden, the committee chairman, said the committee is using pieces from several designs and concepts to create the challenge coin.

“We are going to place everyone that submitted a design in a drawing and the winner will receive two tickets to the (convention) banquet,” Gladden said. The two tickets have a total value of $100. The winner will be notified.

The SAL 50th National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 26-28 in Milwaukee, with the banquet scheduled for Aug. 27.

Texas Legion youth program delivers holiday cheer to deployed servicemembers

Members of the American Legion Earl Graham Post 159 Junior Shooting Sports Program in Bryan, Texas, brought Christmas cheer to local servicemembers deployed to the Texas-Mexico border with its Operation Christmas Cookie Border Run.  

In a matter of 10 days, Post 159’s JSSP youth, parents and Legion Family members collected 600 Christmas cards, 400 candy canes, nearly 900 homemade cookies, thousands of store-bought cookies, and $125 for its Troop Box program.

James Andrews, Post 159 second vice commander, and Joshua Hamm, an Afghanistan combat veteran and a parent of a JSSP participant, delivered the cookies and care packages a week before Christmas to nearly 200 Bryan-based servicemembers deployed with the 1-112th Cavalry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard.

It was short notice that Post 159 learned of an opportunity to bring holiday cheer to the deployed Texas Army National Guardsmen from Bryan.

The JSSP team discussed the cookie idea at a Monday night practice. And by the following Monday, team members promoted the cookie drive by creating and distributing flyers, making phone calls, sending emails, publicizing on social media, and hosting two collection events. 

“Operation Christmas Cookie Border Run reflects the veterans still serving approach of The American Legion,” Andrews wrote. “This Legion post’s youth program taking a leadership role in supporting and encouraging local servicemembers away from their friends and families for the holidays reflects the desire of Legionnaires to impart in youth the values of service and appreciation for duty to community, state and nation.”  

 

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