True meaning of Memorial Day: to remember the sacrifice for freedom
U.S. Marine Capt. Matthew Tomkiewicz lost his life on March 18, 2022 near Bodo, Norway, when his aircraft crashed during training for NATO’s Cold Response 22. He was 27.
In honor of the most recent Indiana servicemember to pay the ultimate sacrifice, the bell from the World War II sunken USS Indianapolis tolled in his remembrance on Friday, May 26, during The American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service in Indianapolis.
“We take this time to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives for this great country,” said American Legion National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial, where the ceremony was held. “Let us reflect on their courage, their sacrifice and their dedication to a cause greater than themselves. And let us recommit ourselves to the cause of freedom, justice and democracy, so that the legacy of our fallen heroes will live on for generations to come.
“We continue to mourn their loss, but most of all, we celebrate their lives.”
Prior to the outdoor memorial service, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb presented to the family of Tomkiewicz a Certificate of Honor during a private Gold Star Family service inside the Indiana War Memorial.
Members of the U.S. Armed Forces “potential act of sacrifice is what separates us civilians from those true, heroic authors that have literally changed the course of history,” Holcomb said to 500 Festival Memorial Service attendees. “Our sense of gratitude must be equal to the never-ending sense of that loss. Today we honor fallen patriots not just with our words, but, like Lincoln said, ‘with our resolve to continue the great tasks remaining for us so that their sacrifice was not in vain.’ Today and every day we are filled with gratitude for those who gave their all.”
A Gold Star banner also was presented to the wife and parents of Tomkiewicz at the Gold Star Family service from Brig. Gen. Marcus Annibale.
The true meaning of Memorial Day is “to remember the uncommon courage of all who sacrificed their own lives to protect others and secure freedom,” Annibale said. “Matthew gave his life playing a critical role alongside 30,000 NATO troops operating in Norway when his MV-22 Osprey tragically crashed. Today we honor him and all Hoosiers who have made that sacrifice for our nation in so many locations around the globe. Each one of our fallen first answered the call of duty and then finally gave that last measure of devotion to protect and defend our way of life.”
The month of May in Indianapolis kicks off with one of the largest half marathons, the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. About 1,200 participants wear a Gold Mile bib that displays the name of a fallen hero. Gold Star Family volunteers greet these participants along the Gold Mile, a mile-long motivational stretch at mile six of race.
“The men and women who serve and their families deserve our sincerest gratitude,” said Sara Fisher O’Gara, chairman of the 500 Festival Board of Directors, in her remarks. “Today and every day, the 500 Festival says thank you for your service and support.”
Memorial Day weekend ushers in the end of a school year for students across the state and the beginning of a summer of freedom. “It is fitting that we celebrate such a season by acknowledging the men and women who gave their lives for that freedom,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joseph Hogsett, whose daughter is graduating from high school. “There is no better city in which to participate in that celebration than Indianapolis – home to The American Legion headquarters, home to the nations first monument dedicated to the common solider – the Soldiers and Sailors Monument – in a city that second only to Washington, D.C., in the amount of space we dedicate to honoring nation’s wars and those who served in them.”
This holiday weekend in Indiana is also associated with “a defining Hoosier annual event,” Hogsett added, the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500. “But again, it is only because of the sacrifice of those that we honor today that we can enjoy the race as we do. To veterans, to active-duty military joining us, on behalf of the City of Indianapolis, we thank you for your service. To family and friends of departed servicemembers today, we reflect on your sacrifice as well.”
The American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service ended with a wreath-laying to remember the lives of fallen Hoosiers, the playing of taps and a flyover after the performing of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the 38th Infantry Division Band.
The American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service will be aired Monday, May 29 on WISH-TV from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and on MyINDY-TV23 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. without commercial interruption.
Palou on leading Indy 500 field in No. 10 American Legion Honda: ‘It’s going to be extra special’
Two years ago, Helio Castroneves passed Alex Palou with two laps to go to win the Indianapolis 500 – making him one of just four four-time winners of the race.
A year later, Palou qualified second for the same race and was leading before a penalty forced him to do a restart on lap 77, dropping him to 30th. He rebounded to finish ninth and wound up leading 47 laps, second only to Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR)teammate Scott Dixon.
Now, Palou is starting this Sunday’s 500 from the top spot on the grid, having done so with a record qualifying four-lap average of 234.217 miles per hour in the No. 10 American Legion Honda. And he’s learned lessons in the past two years that he thinks can help him bring home a victory this weekend.
“Knowing that we have a really fast car, honestly, we need to try and control the race as much as possible,” said Palou, who leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points standings. “What I mean by that is to not be out of the race early by trying to play too aggressive. Hopefully we can have a more controlled race, and at the end of the day the all-important lap that you want to lead is the last lap. Hopefully we can make that happen. We know we have the car and team to do so.”
Palou’s car features The American Legion’s “Be the One” message, a suicide-prevention initiative aimed at destigmatizing asking for mental health help. He’s not the only driver carrying American Legion branding this weekend. CGR teammate and defending Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson also will have the Legion’s branding mark on his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda as he starts from the 10th spot.
Palou – who earlier this month won the GMR Grand Prix in the same car, the Legion’s first INDYCAR victory – said leading the field in the No. 10 American Legion Honda will add something to the experience.
“It’s going to be extra special,” Palou said. “Leading the Indy 500 must be really special with a normal sponsor that sells products. But with a sponsor that has so much meaning for the veterans and is intended to save lives, it’s extra special. And hopefully that pushes everybody to cheer for us, and that energy we get hopefully makes us go a little bit faster and better. And at the end of the day, the target is to get that No. 10 American Legion car into victory lane.”
And what will it feel like winning the 500 in the car? “I think it’s really tough to imagine that,” Palou said. “We can think that it’s 100 times better than what we felt at the (GMR) Grand Prix and winning the (500) pole. But it’s hard to imaging the exposure we’re going to get for the ‘Be the One’ initiative after that. That’s the goal, and we’re going to do everything we can to do it.”
It's been quite a month for Palou, one he hopes carries over to Sunday. “It's been two perfect weeks so far,” he said. “And we can continue going because we have the confidence and the willing to do it. Hopefully, if we can continue to do it, it’s going to be our best stretch so far.”
Ericsson comes into the race third in the INDYCAR point standings and won the season opener in St. Petersburg. He turned in the fastest lap during Fast Friday prior to qualifications and likes where his car is right now.
“I think we’ve had a good preparation, a good month so far,” Ericsson said. “The car has been feeling good out there. I think we had a solid qualifying weekend. I’m looking forward to it. I think we’re going to be in the mix. I’m real excited about Sunday.”
Ericsson said while there may be some added pressure being the defending champ, but that doesn’t bother him. “I see it as like a good added pressure, because it means that people are expecting you to be up there. People are expecting you to fight for the win. I see that as something to be happy about. That gives me confidence that there are expectations on the No. 8 car.”
Ericsson raced in Formula One for five years before coming to INDYCAR. He said this weekend is unlike any other in auto racing.
“I think the Indy 500 is something unique in the racing world,” Ericsson said. “The history of the race. The speeds that we’re doing here. The whole build-up over a whole month, it’s just such a unique event. For me, there is not a single race like it in the motorsports world, and I feel like you have to come here and experience it to really understand what it means.”
When asked how it will feel to be introduced on race day as the reigning Indy 500 champ, Ericsson didn’t hold back. “It’s going to be incredible,” he said. “Race day here in Indy is always the best day ever. I can’t wait to go out there for driver introductions and get my name announced and sort of wave to the crowd and look out over the crowd. Because that feeling is always a highlight for me. I can’t wait for it.”
· 10:30 a.m. – Cars to the Grid
· 11:47 a.m. – Driver Introductions
· 12:14 p.m. – Indy 500 Pre-Race Ceremonies
· 12:29 p.m. – “Drivers to Your Cars”
· 12:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
· 12:45 p.m. – 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (200 laps/500 miles), NBC/Peacock
Indy 500 Notes (via INDYCAR)
· The Indianapolis 500 will be the 107th 500-mile INDYCAR SERIES race conducted on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval. Ray Harroun won the inaugural race in 1911. Marcus Ericsson won the race in 2022.
· Nine drivers entered have won the Indianapolis 500. Helio Castroneves has won the race four times (2001, 2002, 2009 and 2021) while Takuma Sato (2017 and 2020) has won twice. Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Alexander Rossi (2016), Will Power (2018), Simon Pagenaud (2019) and Marcus Ericsson (2022) are the other former winners in the field.
· There have been five different winners in the first five NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season. Marcus Ericsson (Streets of St. Petersburg), Josef Newgarden (Texas Motor Speedway), Kyle Kirkwood (Streets of Long Beach), Scott McLaughlin (Barber Motorsports Park) and Alex Palou (IMS road course) have won races in 2023. The record for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
· Four Indianapolis 500 rookie drivers qualified for the race: Agustin Canapino, RC Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.
· Alex Palou won the NTT P1 Award with the fastest four-lap average for a pole winner at 234.217 mph. Twenty-one drivers have won the race from the pole – most recently Simon Pagenaud in 2019.
· Team Penske has 18 wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most of any team. Andretti and Chip Ganassi Racing have won five times while A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Rahal Letterman Racing have won twice. Meyer Shank Racing has one win.
· Alex Palou has a chance to join Will Power and Simon Pagenaud as a winner on both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the famed 2.5-mile oval in the same season. Power accomplished the feat in 2018, while Pagenaud did it in 2019 – both sweeping the Month of May.
Ganassi drivers, Extreme E program manager make surprise visit to Speedway Post 500
For 46 years, Brett McQuern has attended the Indianapolis 500, starting as a 6-year-old. He was born in Indiana and now lives in Marco Island, Fla., but he’s maintained a Sons of The American Legion member at Speedway Post 500, just across the street from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
McQuern and his wife Jody, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 135 in Naples, Fla., are in Indianapolis for Sunday’s “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and stopped by Post 500 to relax Thursday.
And they had a pretty nice surprise during their time there, which included a surprise visit from Indy 500 pole sitter Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) teammate Marcus Armstrong and U.S. Navy SEAL veteran David Berkenfield, team manager for CGR’s Extreme E program. In addition to signing autographs, shaking hands and getting their pictures taken, the trio talked about the upcoming race, answered some questions and discussed the importance of the Legion’s “Be the One” program.
Brett said he and his wife heard a commotion from the back of Post 500 as the trio entered club room. “I looked up, and I heard someone say it was the drivers,” he said. “I could see it was Alex Palou, and I looked at (Jody) and said, ‘Holy cow, that’s Alex Palou.’ It’s pretty amazing.”
Brett said he got choked up watching Palou’s Firestone Fast Six qualification effort last weekend. “It’s hard to explain how I felt. I’m proud of the Legion for sponsoring that. And the cause – the issue we’ve got with suicides and veterans – and to understand that both of these drivers know of that and can speak to that, that’s good.”
Both Palou and Armstrong talked about the importance of “Be the One”, with Palou also thanking those in attendance for their support.
“We have a good opportunity coming up on Sunday, starting on pole with The American Legion car,” he said. “Obviously, this wouldn’t be possible without you guys. The American Legion has been a good supporter for us, an amazing supporter. Hopefully we can spread the ‘Be the One’ initiative even more and even further.”
Armstrong is driving the No. 11 Honda for CGR on road and street courses and currently leads INDYCAR’s rookie standings. He’s driven The American Legion car this season already and told Post 500 attendees, “I’m so happy to be representing The American Legion ‘Be the One’ initiative. For one, the car looks unbelievable. You guys know that. But also, I’m not representing (a corporation) or something like that. I’m representing a truly great cause.”
Wayne Yankovich, commander of American Legion Post 510 on the east side of Indianapolis, was at Post 500 for the visit. He was impressed that Palou and the CGR group stopped by the post during one of their busiest weeks of the year.
“I think it’s pretty nice on their part to spend time here when they’re in the middle of a lot of preparation for the race. To take their personal time to come over and say hi to us,” Yankovich said. “I was extremely excited when (Palou) won the (GMR) Grand Prix (May 13). And the campaign that’s been going on for more than a year now, ‘Be the One’, the way it’s being promoted is very, very nice.”
Speedway Post 500 Commander Johnette Lawson said seeing the success of The American Legion car this month has been fun to watch. “I can’t explain in words how exciting this is for us,” she said. “It gets The American Legion out there for the public. People are going to ask, ‘What is The American Legion?’ The American Legion is here to help our veterans that need help. And to help the community and children of the veterans.”
Terri Hannon, the chaplain at American Legion Auxiliary Unit 500, was stationed near the front door of the post, where she was managing a display of American Legion-branded clothing and other items. Her husband John, who passed away five years ago, was a past post commander.
Hannon said that Palou securing the pole “was so awesome. It would be great if we could win. We’re very proud. Our aim is to help veterans in any way we can. This helps that.”
Top 5: the price of freedom, a moment of silence, pay the Coast Guard
1. The price of freedom remembered
Memorial Day is a special yet solemn day as it reminds veterans and civilians alike of the immense price we pay for freedom. As Americans, we owe a debt of gratitude for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The American Legion wants to honor those who you will be remembering this Memorial Day. Visit our Legiontown web page and select the Memorial Day category to share a story, photo or even upload a video about whom you will be thinking about and honoring on this sacred day.
Find your veteran: The National Cemetery Administration announced Monday an expansion to its Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) – 27 Department of Defense managed cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery, are now added to the VLM. This is an addition of 300,000 veteran pages on the platform for family members of veterans to remember their loved one. Find your veteran on VLM and submit memories at va.gov/remember.
2. Help ensure our Coast Guard gets paid
U.S. Coast Guard personnel are vital to national security, but they serve in the only military branch working without pay during government shutdowns. A bill in Congress would ensure that Coast Guard members receive their pay during a government shutdown, a key legislative priority of The American Legion.
“Coast Guard members are part of the military, just like those serving in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Space Force,” National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola said. “They should be paid whether or not their funding comes from DoD. It’s a national security issue. We must take care of our servicemembers and their families. This bill is a necessary step to do so.” Support Troiola’s message by contacting your member of Congress today to call for passage of the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act.
Make your voice heard: The American Legion’s Grassroots Action Center offers information to stay informed on the issues and tools to communicate online with lawmakers and the media about the organization’s priorities.
3. A moment of silence on June 2
Two years ago, Major League Baseball began an annual tradition of observing Lou Gehrig Day on June 2 to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and those afflicted with the debilitating disease that affects the nervous system. Gehrig, a Hall of Fame first baseman with the New York Yankees died on June 2, 1941 — his 37th birthday — from ALS. MLB will celebrate Gehrig with special events on June 2, and American Legion Baseball programs are encouraged to do likewise. A speech is available for American Legion Baseball teams to use for Lou Gehrig Day events. The speech is available here.
Did you know? Over 80 American Legion Baseball alumni have made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. See notable Legion Baseball alumni and Hall of Famers.
4. Mental health at the forefront
This week’s episode of The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast welcomes Terri Tanielian, special assistant to the president for Veterans Affairs. Tanielian discusses the Legion’s Be the One veteran suicide prevention initiative, how the White House is supporting servicemembers, veterans and their caregivers when it comes to mental health, and the death by suicide of her father, a Navy veteran. In her role at the White House, Tanielian’s number one priority is the veteran suicide issue. “I’m really grateful for the work The American Legion is doing through this (Be the One) program,” she said. “I think it’s going to be the game changer we need.”
Go deeper: There are nearly 180 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on iTunes, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites.
5. Tune in next Tuesday
The American Legion Internal Affairs and Membership Division's Training Tuesday session on May 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern time will welcome Brian Mohlman of Post 257 in Battle Creek, Mich. Mohlman will discuss how posts can make an impact in their community by engaging with creative solutions and adapting to changing circumstances. Don't miss this opportunity to gain valuable insight on how to increase membership in your post. Click here to register and join the Training Tuesday session.
Read an example of success: American Legion Department of Puerto Rico has surpassed its membership goal for 2023 at over 103% with 3,324 members and a 94% renewal rate. How did they do it? By sharing the good work of the Legion on a radio and news station.
A Vietnam Seabee’s Vow Part 4: A war finally over
In the fourth and final episode of “A Vietnam Seabee’s Vow,” longtime American Legion officer David O. Warnken recollects his response to a national television reporter’s question when he didn’t want to be disturbed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and an eerie moment on his first visit to the grave of his fallen chief.
The chief was Donald J. Barnes of Philadelphia. Barnes and Warnken, his administrative aide, had become close friends in Vietnam. When orders came for their unit to ship out to Khe Sanh, Warnken expected to be alongside Barnes.
“What do you mean I’m not going?” asked the young man from Kansas.
“You didn’t tell me your wife was pregnant,” Barnes replied. “I’ve seen my five kids. I want you to see yours.”
Barnes drove off and less than two weeks later lost his life in a rocket attack. Warnken may well have been with him if Barnes had not held him back. “I’ve always thought, maybe he saved my life.”
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the war finally ended for Warnken, who vowed then to never forget Chief Barnes nor any of the others he knew and served with in the Vietnam War.
This special Memorial Day weekend video wraps up the series produced by American Legion Media & Communications Division visual arts specialist Hilary Ott. Each Friday through May, episodes trace Warnken’s journey from the family farm near Hutchinson, Kan., to the Vietnam War, back home again and, finally, the Wall and Arlington National Cemetery, where Barnes and other of his fellow Seabees are laid to rest.
The episodes may be viewed on The American Legion’s YouTube channel or at legion.org/legiontv. Visit the following links to see them on legion.org:
Growing up a Kansas farm boy, and married at the height of the war, he never expected to serve. Uncle Sam had other ideas.
“Vietnam,” he soon discovered, “… was bizarre.” For Warnken, that meant much more than building bases amid enemy fire; it meant going AWOL to save his own arm from amputation, followed by an unforgettable moment when he awakened all of I-Corps at the sound of a bugle in the distance.
The war had changed him, but he didn’t talk about it. Those at home nearly never asked. It was just back to work and staying busy enough to prevent combat memories from invading. Someone later asked, “Why don’t you join The American Legion?” He didn’t know why he should belong at that time. In the years ahead, he would discover what it meant to be among his fellow veterans, serving purposes once again that are bigger than oneself.
Abrams tanks for training Ukrainians arrive in Europe, Pentagon hopes to begin F-16 pilot training soon
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that more than 30 American-made M1 Abrams tanks for training Ukrainians have arrived in Europe, so they are prepared for when the battle-ready versions arrive later in the year.
The United States is still working on sending nearly three dozen battle-ready M1 Abrams tanks in the coming months, which are being refurbished with defense contractors.
“Earlier this month, 31 M1 Abrams training tanks from the United States arrived at Grafenwöhr in Germany,” Austin said at the start of a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a collection of about 50 nations that convenes regularly to decide what equipment Ukrainian forces need to fend off invading Russian forces.
The meeting of the Ukraine group is expected to cover some new issues, such as the recent international agreement to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter jets, including the U.S.-made F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced the United States will support a joint effort with allies to train the Ukrainian pilots. Austin said Thursday that the Pentagon hopes that training will begin in “the coming weeks.” The U.S. has not yet announced any specific plans, however, to send any fighter jets for use in Ukraine.
"F-16s for Ukraine is about the long-term commitment to Ukraine," Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, told reporters this week. "These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming [Ukraine] counteroffensive."
Earlier this year, the Pentagon committed 31 battle-ready Abrams tanks to Ukraine after contending for weeks that they were too sophisticated and too difficult to maintain to be used in its war with Russia. The tanks require regular field maintenance and typically run on jet fuel.
When Austin and Biden chose to send the M1A2 version of the tank, the most sophisticated version, it was decided to build them through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — a program that procures from industry rather than pulling them from Pentagon stocks. By going through that program, it takes equipment months longer to reach Ukraine.
Defense officials originally said the final battle-ready tanks would arrive in Ukraine in late 2023 or early 2024, but the Pentagon later shaved a few months off that estimate by changing the plan and going instead with the slightly older M1A1 Abrams.
“This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” Ryder said when the change was announced a few weeks ago.
Roughly 250 Ukrainian troops will arrive in Germany this week to begin training on the tanks, according to a report by Voice of America.
The State Department also announced it has approved a possible sale of weapons and equipment including a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, to Ukraine for $285 million.
“Ukraine has an urgent need to increase its capabilities to defend against Russian missile strikes and aircraft,” the State Department said late Wednesday in a statement. “Acquiring and effectively deploying this capability will enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend its people and protect critical national infrastructure.”
The sale of the missile system to Ukraine includes one 3D radar system, canister launchers, GPS receivers, code launchers and other elements of logistics and program support.
The principal contractor will be Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Congress has been informed of the sale by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The U.S. has given nearly $37 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The aid packages have included various weapons, air defenses, millions of munitions and ammunition rounds, armored vehicles, drone systems and field equipment.
‘On Sunday, we will be all Ganassi’
Kimberly Boring has watched the Indianapolis 500 since she was a child. She remembers rooting for Roger Penske’s drivers, iconic names like Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan. Later, it was Helio Castroneves wearing the Team Penske brand.
But this weekend, there is no doubt where Kimberly and her husband, Reed, will focus their allegiance during the 500: on Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) and, specifically, team owner Chip Ganassi and polesitter Alex Palou in the No. 10 American Legion Honda.
“It was pretty easy (to switch allegiance to Ganassi), seeing his efforts to help veterans,” said Kimberly, who is a member of American Legion Unit 34 in Lancaster, Pa., where her husband is the post historian. “I will confess I’m still a Penske girl in NASCAR. But on Sunday, we will be all Ganassi.”
Reed said he and Kimberly were moved by Palou winning the pole last weekend, the exposure given to the Legion’s “Be the One” initiative featured on Palou’s car – and team owner Chip Ganassi thanking The American Legion and the nation’s veterans during comments he made afterward on the national television broadcast.
“We just lost it. It was absolutely amazing,” Reed said. “And the first thing we said to each other was, ‘Look at all the people who are going to be looking at that car and looking up online this Be the One. What’s Be the One all about?’ I can’t think of any way better to get the word out. And I’ll tell you what. Listening to Chip Ganassi talk about how important this is to veterans, he’s got a life-long fan now.”
Kimberly said Ganassi’s remarks left an impression on her. “It was incredible,” she said. “Reed and I looked at each other, and we both had tears in our eyes. It was so touching that a man in his position would take the time to say that. He just put his car on the pole of the Indianapolis 500, and he’s thinking about our veterans. I thought that was incredible.
Wanting to let CGR know what the win and the comments meant to her and Reed, Kimberly sent the following email to CGR Public Relations Manager Will Erickson:
Dear Chip Ganassi Racing,
I am so excited to see Alex Palou and the American Legion #10 car on the pole for the Indy 500! There was very much cheering and shrieking from our living room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Thank you so much for your partnership with the American Legion and its "Be the One" campaign. My husband and I are Legion members and this campaign is especially important to us. Our family has lost two precious members to veteran suicide. I can't think of a better way to get the "Be the One" message out than to have it displayed prominently at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing! Mr. Ganassi's interview after qualifying brought tears to our eyes. We so appreciate his comments and dedication to our veterans, a group so often overlooked by society and who often are hesitant to reach out for help.
I have watched the Indy 500 since I was a little girl with my dad, but I must confess, we rooted for the Penske boys – Rick, Danny, Emerson and Helio. From now on, however, our family will be wearing our "Be the One" shirts and disrupting the neighborhood by cheering for Alex and Ganassi Racing!
Hoping for milk-chugging,
Proud Veteran Wife and Mother
Chip Ganassi Convert
“I was raised that when you’re grateful for something you say, ‘thank you,’” Kimberly said. “I didn’t expect any kind of response at all. And then it went crazy.”
When Alex found out about Kimberly’s email, he recorded a response in which he told her he’d drive to get the No. 10 American Legion Honda into the Winner’s Circle this weekend, “to try to help as many people as possible.”
It made Kimberly’s week.
“When Alex said, ‘Hey Kim,’ I couldn't believe it,” she said. “Surely, he has 1 million things to do this week and he took the time to send ME a message? I don't think either Reed or I breathed as we watched Alex's message. When it finished, we were both in tears. This young man cares about the Be the One message and I just wanted to hug him. I was in disbelief, I was off-the-charts excited, and I was incredibly humbled. I still can't believe it.
“Now I've gone into Mom Mode and I want him to be safe on Sunday. He is the same age as my kids and now I feel obligated to fret that he is going 234 miles per hour. But I do tell people that I am on a first-name basis with the Indy 500 pole sitter.”
Reed and Kimberly were “Be the One” supporters well before last weekend. The pair learned about the program online. “I said, ‘This is exactly how we want to get involved,’” Reed said. “This is something that we can cling to and hopefully make a difference and jump-start the conversation. That’s the most important thing: People talking to each other. Talking to veterans. Seeing how they’re doing. Checking on them. Doing whatever we possibly can to get people help that need help. That’s the key to this campaign.”
Reed already has received permission to form and head up a “Be the One” committee at the post, while Kimberly wants to be a part of it through the Auxiliary. They also plan on reaching out to other posts in the area that host motorcycle events to see about setting up a “Be the One” display at those events.
“It’s such a simple message, but it’s so extremely powerful. And it doesn’t require someone to give money, or a whole lot of time or effort,” Kimberly said. “It’s a simple solution to a very troubling problem, and we need people to be aware it’s a problem. The more people who know veterans are going through this, the more they will be willing to reach out and just check on folks.”
Suicide has hit close to home for Kimberly and Reed, who has lost a cousin and an in-law to suicide. “We’ve seen how it affected the families,” Kimberly said. “And to be honest, we have (an Air Force veteran) son who struggles with some mental-health issues, and we have to check on him. So, it’s important to us that other families don’t have to go through what members of our family have.”
The pair will be rooting for Alex on Sunday, loud enough, they joked, that they may cause a disruption in their neighborhood. Reed said a win would be a major milestone for “Be the One.”
“If he can make it to the Winner’s Circle, we’re going to hang our hat on that,” he said. “It is such a great vehicle to promote this program. And I don’t remember any kind of program like this before being pushed as a sponsor. It’s been sodas and food and paints and things like that. It’s never been a campaign to help prevent veteran suicides. This is a first.”
Biden taps ‘butt-kicking’ fighter pilot Gen. CQ Brown for Joint Chiefs chairman
President Joe Biden on Thursday officially nominated Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, the Air Force chief of staff and a career fighter pilot with extensive command experience, as his choice to serve as the nation’s next top military officer.
In a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House, Biden highlighted Brown’s intellect, his experience commanding troops in Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific, and his even-keeled manner as he formally introduced the general as the nominee to become the 21st chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Brown, who is the first African American to lead a U.S. military service, appeared alongside the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the announcement.
“Gen. Brown is a proud butt-kicking American airman — first and always. He’s gained respect across every [military] service from those who have seen him in action and have come to depend on his judgment,” Biden said. “Gen. Brown has built a reputation across the force as an unflappable and highly effective leader — as someone who creates an environment of teamwork, trust and executes with excellence.”
If confirmed, Brown, 60, would replace the often-brash Army Gen. Mark Milley, who has served as Joint Chiefs chairman since October 2019 and is slated to retire in October. He would become the second Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The late Army Gen. Colin Powell was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, though he never served as Army chief of staff.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation’s top military officer charged with advising the president and defense secretary on military and national security issues. While the chairman is not in the direct chain of command and is not charged with commanding troops, he is instrumental in shaping Pentagon policy and planning U.S. military operations worldwide.
In Biden’s remarks Thursday, he also highlighted Brown’s composed nature by sharing the story of how the general’s F-16 caught fire during a training mission over Florida in 1991.
“CQ had to eject at more than 300 miles an hour, landing in the Everglades,” Biden said. “I’ll tell you what — he was back in the cockpit the next week.”
Brown is a 1984 graduate of Texas Tech University and was commissioned through the school’s ROTC program. He has commanded a fighter squadron, the Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings, and he has served as an adviser to past top Air Force uniformed and civilian leaders. He also served as the No. 2 general for U.S. Central Command from July 2016 to July 2018, before taking command of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, his last assignment before becoming Air Force chief of staff, according to his biography.
He has a longstanding relationship with Austin, the first Black Pentagon leader, that dates back to Austin’s days in an Army uniform. The former four-star general told reporters Thursday that Brown was a good choice for Joint Chiefs chairman.
“He is an incredibly capable and professional officer,” Austin said at the Pentagon ahead of the White House ceremony. “What he brings to the table — to any table — is that professionalism, and that deep experience in war fighting — and I have personal knowledge of that.”
Brown was easily confirmed to his job leading the Air Force in a 98-0 Senate vote, but he could face some opposition in his next vote after making diversity and equity central issues while leading the service — a topic that has rankled some conservative Republicans in Congress.
After George Floyd’s killing in 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a nationwide reckoning on race, Brown released a video speaking frankly about the impact of racism on his military life.
“I'm thinking about some of the insensitive comments made by others without awareness,” the general said in the five-minute video in which he details often being the only Black officer in his units. “I’m thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers, and then being questioned by another military member, ‘Are you a pilot?’ ”
Biden referenced the video in his remarks Thursday, calling Brown “a fearless leader” for providing his unvarnished experiences for the world to see.
“It took real backbone to strike a chord not only with our military members, but with Americans all across the country,” the president said.
But a vote on Browns confirmation could be delayed. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has blocked votes on top level military nominations in an unprecedented move over his objections to a Pentagon policy that provides travel money for reproductive health care, including abortions, to troops stationed in states that have recently banned abortion access.
Milley, who endorsed Brown’s nomination on Thursday, implored “a speedy confirmation” by senators.
“He’s a great officer,” Milley said. “In my personal view, he has all the knowledge, skills and attributes to do this job, and he has the appropriate demeanor and he’s got a great chemistry with the president, the [defense secretary] and others.”
The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee applauded Brown’s nomination in statements issued Thursday.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the committee’s chairman, labeled Brown a “trailblazer.”
“I look forward to convening a confirmation hearing to discuss his vision for addressing key challenges and leading our military into the future,” Reed said. “America needs highly qualified, effective leaders like Gen. Brown. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will review and consider this nomination based on the merits.”
The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said Brown was “exceptionally qualified” to be chairman.
“I have … known him to be a thoughtful advocate of accelerating innovation so that our armed services can be ready to defend our country and deter potential threats, especially those from the Chinese Communist Party,” Wicker said.
Brown’s experience commanding all Air Force troops in the Pacific in recent years will prove critical to his role as chairman as the Pentagon has made countering Chinese military ambitions in the region its top priority. As Air Force chief of staff, Brown also has been instrumental in efforts to train and supply Ukrainian forces in their fight against Russian invaders.
He has also made modernization, especially in the nuclear enterprise, a top priority for the Air Force. The service is now working to upgrade the two aging legs of the nuclear triad that it is responsible for — the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles program and its long-range, nuclear-capable bomber fleet.
Most importantly, Brown has a long reputation for providing leaders unedited feedback, Biden said.
“I'll be able to rely on him as a thoughtful, deliberate leader who is unafraid to speak his mind, someone who will deliver an honest message that needs to be heard, and will always do the right thing when it's hard,” he said. “That's the No. 1 quality a president needs in the chairman.”
Brown, when he was sworn in as Air Force chief of staff in 2020, said he never intended to make the service a career, and he could have never foreseen rising so high in the military.
He almost didn’t join the military, he said. Brown was set to quit the ROTC program at Texas Tech after just one semester, but his father, a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam, talked him into staying in the program. Even after commissioning into the service in 1994, Brown said he only planned to serve four years.
But Brown fell in love with flying fighter jets. During his career, he’s flown some 20 different airplanes and helicopters, primarily F-16 Fighting Falcons, racking up some 3,000 flight hours including about 130 hours in combat, according to his service biography.
“I can think of no one better suited and … more qualified to lead our force through the challenges and responsibilities ahead,” Biden said. “And I look forward to having you on my side, advising me as the next chairman — helping keep the American people safe.”
Appropriations bill a ‘responsible first step’
Lawmakers released an appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) last week that exceeds VA’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. If passed, the appropriations will provide $337.9 billion in funding to VA, the Department of Defense and other related agencies.
American Legion National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola praised the progress.
“The proposed appropriations bill, as it stands, demonstrates a responsible first step in the process of funding the Department of Veterans Affairs fiscal year 2024 budget,” he said. “While this is a positive sign, The American Legion will continue to monitor ongoing negotiations over specific funding lines. We encourage both parties to engage in a collaborative and bipartisan process to ensure that the interests of our nation's selfless veterans are met."
Here are some highlights of the current proposal:
Department of Defense:
• $17.6 billion in discretionary funding for DoD military construction projects, about $1 billion above the budget request from the White House.
• The funding targets infrastructure in the Pacific theater, barracks and other projects intended to improve quality of life for military personnel.
• $152.4 billion of discretionary funding allocated for VA programs, nearly $18 billion above fiscal year 2023.
• $138.1 billion for veterans’ medical care, matching the White House budget request.
• $43.6 billion in mandatory advances for FY25, including an increase of $34.6 billion for compensation and pensions and an additional $3 billion for readjustment benefits.
• $9.5 billion for homeless veterans treatment costs.
• $471.7 million is set aside for the American Battle Monuments Commission, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Armed Forces Retirement Home Trust Fund, and Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery.
• An additional $88.6 million is included to complete the southern expansion of the Arlington National Cemetery.
• An extra $80 million is granted across the active and reserve components to address small-scale infrastructure deficiencies.
Legion assists in pre-Memorial Day cleanup at Vietnam Wall
The American Legion joined about three dozen members of Congress and others Thursday morning cleaning the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
The event was a prelude to various commemorations, remembrance services and tributes as the nation pauses to remember fallen heroes this Memorial Day Weekend.
American Legion Executive Director of Government Affairs Chanin Nuntavong was among those participating.
"Honoring and remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice is a core value of The American Legion and all of our members," said Nuntavong, a Marine Corps veteran. "I was humbled to represent The American Legion and lend a hand in today's effort, as a way to honor those whose names are etched on the Vietnam Wall."
Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., is an Army veteran who opened the brief ceremony.
“This gets our minds right as members of Congress and reminds us of why we are here,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all Americans. And those brothers and sisters who have fallen are a stark reminder, a good reminder, of why we wake up every morning and do what we do.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., received the Purple Heart for his service during the Vietnam War where he served with the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade. He noted the 58,000 names on the Wall, representing people who he served with.
“I think it’s important to remember them and to thank them,” he said. “And to remember that this represents 58,000 parents who weren’t as fortunate as our parents were.”
Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., is an Army Vietnam veteran who received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
“I’m very proud of the people on the Wall back there,” he said. “I think Americans need to know what it takes to preserve our freedom and to preserve the things we hold dear. Today, we’re here, honoring those who served in Vietnam. I know there are others here today who served in other battles and we appreciate that. It’s a pleasure to be here and an honor.”