Lt. Col. Thomas W. Miller did not have a gavel when he assumed chairmanship of the Paris Caucus on March 17, 1919. So the former congressman from Delaware pulled from his pocket an 1873 silver dollar that he always carried and rapped it on the table. The final day of the first gathering of what would become The American Legion was under his command.
Ninety-eight years later, at the Masonic Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Reno, Nev., Miller’s grave was trimmed, cleaned and presented a U.S. flag, an American Legion flag, a United States World War I Centennial Commission coin and an American Legion 100th Anniversary coin.
“I think this is something that needs to be a regular tradition,” American Legion Department of Nevada Commander Yvette Weigold said at a Saturday graveside ceremony to remember Miller. “We need to pay him that honor.”
“This should be a place of pilgrimage for The American Legion and the Department of Nevada,” agreed Jack Monahan of Connecticut, a member of the United States World War I Centennial Commission. “This is one of the most historically significant American Legion sites in the state.”
Monahan, American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David K. Rehbein of Iowa and Denise Rohan of Wisconsin, leading candidate to serve as the next national commander of The American Legion, were among many dignitaries of the organization who participated in the commemoration.
“I met Thomas Miller and knew who he was,” said G. Michael Schlee, chairman of The American Legion’s National Security Commission. “I remember that he was a presence, every time he entered a room.”
Lt. Col. Miller was no ordinary doughboy.
A Yale graduate who took his military training at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., camp for college-educated men during the Preparedness Movement at the same time he was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1915, Miller was the son of a Delaware governor and had served as secretary of state there. Defeated in 1916 by 153 votes in his bid for a second term in Congress, Miller enlisted in the Army after the United States declared war in April 1917. Miller started out as a private in an infantry company but was swiftly made a corporal thanks to his earlier training. Initially passed up for combat service due to his eyesight, Miller persisted and was later commissioned as a signal corps captain. He made his way to France with the 79th Division in 1918 and fought in the Meuse-Argonne battle where he a received a Purple Heart and was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In March 1919, Miller was among the American Expeditionary Forces personnel still occupying Europe after the armistice that ended the Great War four months earlier. He heard about a gathering of troops in Paris who were talking about a new veterans organization and decided to check it out.
There, he met up with others who had trained in the Readiness Movement camp at Plattsburgh and with another World War I officer he knew through Washington politics: future U.S. Sen. Bennett Champ Clark, son of the former Speaker of the House. Clark, a Democrat, had selected Miller, a Republican, as chairman pro-tempore of the Paris Caucus. On the final day of the gathering, when such matters as the name of the organization and its constitution were discussed, Miller presided after Clark was called away for a meeting.
Miller went on to serve as the first national Legislative Committee co-chairman of The American Legion and was Delaware’s first National Executive Committee member. He and Luke Lea of Tennessee, Miller’s Legislative Committee co-chairman, worked together to obtain the organization’s federal charter on Sept. 16, 1919.
American Legion Past National Commander and Past National Adjutant Robert W. Spanogle remembers Miller and his passion for legislative issues. “At the end of every NEC meeting, he would always get up and talk about the importance of The American Legion Legislative Council,” Spanogle said. “That was always his focus.”
Miller had many roles in the beleaguered Warren Harding administration, including service on a committee to form the Veterans Administration, a seat on the American Battle Monuments Commission and as Alien Property Custodian. In that capacity, Miller was convicted and served 18 months in prison over the sale of German enemy property but was later pardoned by President Herbert Hoover and paid restitution.
Shortly afterward, he moved to Reno, Nev., where he oversaw Civilian Conservation Corps work camps and started the Nevada State Parks system and was a staff field representative of the U.S. Veterans Employment Service.
He served as commander of The American Legion’s Department of Nevada and was the department’s NEC representative for decades. At the 1968 American Legion National Convention in New Orleans, Miller was elected to the position of past national commander. He died in 1973.
“I learned a lot about him from the old timers who knew him,” said Bob Terhune, immediate past department commander for Nevada, who attended Saturday’s ceremony. “He was a character. He liked to have fun, but he became very serious when it came to veterans issues.”
“I will definitely keep him in prayer this Sunday,” said Department of Nevada Chaplain Dan DePozo, who spoke at Miller’s grave during the visit. “In reverse, I will ask for him to pray for us.”
The National Center for PTSD has six operational priorities. One of the most critical of those is trying to predict potential sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder before they actually do.
The center’s executive director, Paula Schnurr, told members of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission that the Department of Veterans Affairs center is trying to establish biomarkers for PTSD “to predict who develops PTSD, to diagnose PTSD, to predict treatment outcome and measure treatment response,” Schnurr said. “(PTSD-caused suicide) is a crisis in this country. It’s the highest clinical priority of (VA Secretary David Shulkin).”
Schnurr said the center is trying to develop effective PTSD treatments. “We’re trying to develop strategies to enhance the effectiveness of existing treatments and to enhance treatment engagement,” she said. “Treatments only work if you engage.
“We actually have a lot of effective psychotherapies. We have two FDA-approved medications, and they only work so well. So novel medications are something that we care about.”
The center has created several apps and other materials to assist those suffering from PTSD and their family members. The center’s PTSD Coach app has been downloaded 275,000 times in 98 different countries.
“If you try to think about what we are, we’re an information business,” Schnurr said. "We generate information. We collate, synthesize, disseminate and promote the implementation of the best information on PTSD. It’s critically important that all veterans, their family members (and) the nation as a whole have the best information to inform whatever decisions they make.”
Addressing the commission, Past National Commander Bill Detweiler – chairman of the Legion’s Traumatic Brain Injury/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Ad Hoc Committee – said the Legion will continue to push for alternative treatments for PTSD.
“We are looking to see what we can do as an organization to urge the VA, to urge the military and … to get congressional funding to find the funds necessary to do the studies (on alternative treatments), even though the studies may be hard,” Detweiler said. “Let’s take a look at things that are available that maybe are not used but could be used – not to hurt somebody, but to maybe give them a better quality of life. On our end, that’s what we’re all about.”
The commission also received an update on the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a VA effort to collect genetic information from 1 million veterans in order to build a database of genetic, military exposure, lifestyle and health information.
The purpose of the MVP is to learn more about how a person's genetics affects their health so that doctors can better understand diseases and design future treatments specific to an individual's molecular body composition.
MVP Program Director Sumitra Muralidhar said 590,000 genetic samples have been collected. Included in the database are 50,000 women veterans and 108,000 African-American veterans. “Our goal is to partner with veterans to create one of the largest and most comprehensive databases … and open that up for research,” Muralidhar said. “We are now currently the largest. There are many such databases around the world, but no one in the world has as comprehensive as an electronic health record as VA does.”
Jennifer Deen, who works on recruitment, engagement and public relations for MVP, said opportunities exist for Legionnaires to stage events to raise awareness about the program. “In your areas we can connect you to our local site teams,” she said. “If there’s a facility around you, they can come out and give talks at your posts. We can arrange events. There’s a lot we can do with you guys.”
More than 70 Legionnaires from across the country joined The American Legion’s National Security Commission on a field trip Aug. 18 to explore the Navy’s premier one-stop air warfare training facility – Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon.
The trip, held in conjunction with the Legion’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., included an oral presentation and group tour led by NAS Public Affairs Officer Zip Upham. Upham began the tour inside the air observation deck, wherein the group saw a bird’s eye view of the NAS Fallon's runway, aircraft fleet and geographic landscape encompassing multiple air spaces for training operations.
“The Navy has been out here since 1942,” Upham said. “The reason the Navy is in the middle of the Nevada desert is for two primary reasons. The first of which is we tend to have excellent weather over 300 days a year – that involves the air here at the air station and also the air mass out over the ranges. The ranges that we have out to the east are some of the most critical real estate to the Navy. The other reason the Naval base is here in northern Nevada is because we have relatively few neighbors.”
According to the commander, Navy Installations Command website, NAS Fallon traces its origins to 1942 when the Civil Aviation Administration and the Army Air Corps began construction of four airfields in the Nevada desert. As the war in the Pacific developed, the Navy recognized a need to train its pilots in a realistic environment using all the tactics and weapons currently being developed.
NAS Fallon was later commissioned on Jan. 1, 1972, when the Navy upgraded the base to a major aviation command. New hangars, ramps, housing and other facilities were added to give the installation new and greater capabilities.
Over the next 30 years, the air station grew to become one of the premier training sites for Navy/Marine Corps pilots and ground crews. Aviators around the world now recognize NAS Fallon as the pinnacle of air warfare training thanks to its:
· Four bombing ranges;
· Massive 14,000-foot runway which remains the longest in the Navy;
· Electronic warfare range;
· Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center;
· Fleet Readiness Center;
· Fallon Range Training Complex;
· Explosive Ordinance Disposal; and
· Strike Fighter Wing.
“We have airspace going out 125 miles and we cover 13,000-square miles of sky,” said Upham, a former Naval intelligence officer. “We can generally go out and fly, fight and practice in that airspace and disturb relatively few people on the ground – something we can’t replicate anywhere else.”
During the 1980s, NAS Fallon experienced dramatic growth as a state-of-the-art air traffic control facility. The Naval Strike Warfare Center was established in 1984 as the primary authority for integrated strike warfare tactical development and training. It quickly became the graduate level training evolution that air wings go through during their inter-deployment training cycle, according to CNIC.
Moreover, the air station received the Tactical Aircrew Combat Training System in 1985 to aid in its aircrews training. This system provides visual graphic displays of missions for squadrons, carrier air wings and students from the Naval Strike Warfare Center.
“When we do training like that, it is not initial training; we are not teaching people to fly their aircraft,” Upham said. “Here, we’re trying to make them experts at using them in combat.”
Upham said NAS Fallon’s mission has not changed since 1942. With unequaled air warfare training and integrated facilities supporting present and emerging National Defense requirements, the air station is integral to keeping America’s Naval forces ready now and into the future.
“I thought (Upham) did a real fine job in explaining stuff to us. The whole tour today was beautiful,” said 42-year Legion member Mike Landkamer, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy. “It’s interesting to see how some things have changed for the better. It’s a lot more high-tech than what we had back then.”
Landkamer recalled a visit to NAS Fallon in April of 1974, when he was a member of Fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) and had an opportunity to work on a new combat aircraft called the F-14 Tomcat. He was delighted to see a model display of the fighter jet during the Legion’s visit.
“I just want to go back and treasure my Navy days,” said Landkamer. “To me, serving one’s country means doing what you have to do. I was happy to do so in aviation with the Navy.”
Military service runs deep in Landkamer’s family. His dad was a World War II veteran, and grandfather was a World War I veteran. Having had the honor of also serving for The American Legion as a past national vice commander and state commander for the Department of Nebraska, Landkamer said it’s an obligation to join his Legion family in learning about NAS Fallon’s history.
“This determines the layout and what the Legion is going to do next year. It’s all very, very important,” he said.
The tour concluded with an outside presentation of non-flying aircraft models from Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Joe Vincent, followed by lunch at the Silver State Officer’s Club. Upham received an award plaque and goody bag for his role as the tour guide.
To learn more about Naval Air Station Fallon, click here.
One of the outstanding events of each American Legion national convention is the Color Guard Contests, where units are judged on everything from precision to artistry.
On Friday, Aug. 18, six units from across the country took the stage at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to compete in three classes: Advancing/Retiring of Colors, Military and Military-Open. Two units - Post 21 from Independence, Mo., which accompanies the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City, and Post 224 from Easthampton, Mass. - were competing for the first time. Down a member due to illness, Post 224 performed as an exhibition, but according to member Keith Buckhout it's just the beginning. Plans for the Reno competition came together recently; it was only two months ago that they decided to go for it.
"This was to get our feet wet," Buckhout commented. Competing on the national stage for the first time is about "all the little things you don't pick up on" from watching videos or otherwise from a distance. Feedback from the judges will help them in future competitions. And they already have their sights set on the 2018 convention in Minneapolis, where - as befitting the kickoff of the Legion's Centennial Celebration - they hope to perform in real World War I-era attire. They are currently collecting pieces from helmets to leg wrappings.
Scores from the classes were:
Advancing/Retiring of Colors
Newport Harbor Post 291, Newport Beach, Calif.: 94.3
Harrisburg Post 472, Houston: 93.5
SAL Detachment of California District 12: 93.0
George Whiteman Memorial Post 642, Sedalia, Mo.: 86.7
Post 21, Independence, Mo.: 86.5
George Whiteman Memorial Post 642: 88.85
Newport Harbor Post 291: 93.2
Harrisburg Post 472: 92.7
Newport Harbor Post 291 repeated as overall winner. National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, who presented the awards, commented, "You all make us proud."
Many of the units will also march with their departments in the National Convention Parade on Sunday.
The wreckage of USS Indianapolis has been discovered on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean by a team of civilian researchers.
The Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945, and sunk in 12 minutes. Of the nearly 1,200 crew members on board, 300 went down with the ship. The remainder faced cold, oily and shark-infested waters. Only 317 were rescued after four-plus days in the ocean.
The wreck was discovered 5,500 meters below the surface by the expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned by philanthropist Paul Allen.
"To be able to honor the and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling," Allen said, according to a release by the U.S. Navy. "As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming."
The 13-person expedition team on the Petrel is surveying the site and will conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks.
Their work is compliant with U.S. law, respecting the sunken ship as a war grave and not disturbing the site. USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy.
Plans are underway to honor the 22 surviving members of the ship, as well as the families of all those who served on the highly decorated cruiser.
Days before the attack, the ship had secretly delivered the components for the first atomic bomb.
Paul Norton gets both a rush and a bit of therapy from working with plants, trees and flowers. So he was right at home Friday during The American Legion family’s annual service project during the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev.
But it wasn’t just therapy for Norton, a member of The Historic Fort Benjamin Harrison Post 510 in Indianapolis. It was also a chance to make an impact on the town hosting the Legion family for the next seven days.
“The American Legion likes to leave a good, lasting impression in the community,” Norton said. “We’ve been doing (service projects) for several years. So when we leave, we’re going to leave it a little bit better and nicer, and we’re going to help the local community have something to remember us by.”
Norton and more than 20 other Legion family members spent Friday morning spreading road base along one of the main trails, as well as clearing sagebrush away from the trail, at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno. Reno had a record-breaking winter, and many of the park’s trails were washed out.
Washoe County Park Ranger John Keesee said volunteer efforts like the one carried out by the Legion family make a big impact on the county’s parks. “It’s really huge to have volunteer groups come in and give us a hand, especially after this last winter,” he said. “The other day we had a volunteer group of 10 guys who came up and did some trail restoration. Those 10 people worked for two hours, so that’s 20 hours. Right now we’re sort of short-staffed, so they just saved me a half a week worth of work. It’s huge.”
American Auxiliary Past National President Sharon Conatser, who took part in the project for the fourth time in five years, said such projects show the scope of what the Legion family does. “It’s important (for) the community that we have our national convention in to realize who The American Legion family is and the good work that we do,” she said. “Not only do we work for our veterans, we work for the community.”
Conatser also said it was nice to see the Legion family working so closely together. She stressed the Legion family last year as the Auxiliary’s national president.
“I’ve lived (the Legion family) all my life,” she said. “It’s really important to me for us to be a family because that is what our younger people want today. They want things they can do as a family. By showing that we are an American Legion family, we feel that will be a draw (for prospective members).”
Department of Illinois Executive Secretary Christy Rich, a member of Auxiliary Unit 56 in Bloomington, Ill., helped remove some of the sagebrush and relished the opportunity to contribute. “I just love volunteering,” she said. “I love to do anything to help out.”
Norton, who retired from the Air Force after 38 years, said he struggled a bit after leaving the military. To help himself, he became certified through Purdue University’s master gardener program.
Now an advanced master gardener, Norton said projects like the one at Bartley Park are therapeutic. “One of the things I’ve seen with (those) working with me here today – when we leave today, a lot of us are going to be pretty pumped up,” he said. “It’s going to be an adrenaline thing. They get the same euphoria that I get when they’re doing this. They believe that they’ve done something greater than themselves.”
Georgia Legionnaire Greg Guthrie has been on what he thinks is 10 American Legion Legacy Runs. He’s made friends that he considers some of his best, which makes the end of every Legacy Run more than a little difficult.
“I look forward to this all year long,” said Guthrie, a member of Post 337 in Grovetown, Ga. “I don’t want it to end. But at the same time, I’ve got to get back to work and pay the bills."
This year’s USAA-sponsored Legacy Run traveled more than 1,400 miles over six days, raising money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund in the process. The fund, which provides scholarship money for children of military personnel killed on or after 9/11, as well as those children whose parents are rated 50 percent or more disabled from their military service, hits close to home for Guthrie.
“My wife, her brother was killed (while serving) and left behind four (children),” Guthrie said. “They were 6 years old, 4 years old, 3 years old and 9 months old. It hits real close.”
Guthrie said he stays in constant contact with the people he’s met on the ride. “The people out here I talk with more than I do (with the people) in my local area. It’s because we all have something really in common. It’s one thing to go to a Legion (post) and know that you’ve got the camaraderie and all that.
"But it’s a whole different game out here. They see things the same way. We can butt heads, but we always get back up and go. That’s what it’s all about.”
Thursday’s final stop in Reno, Nev., saw plenty of hugs being exchanged and emotions running high. Several Riders shared how the close of the Legacy Run affects them
• Debbie Bickel, a member of Post 97 in Auburn, Ind.: “I’m going to miss a lot of these people. I’m sorry if I get emotional. It’s a big family reunion every year. We do this for the cause and we do this for the kids. This year I’m doing it for my granddaughter, Annalyce. My oldest son is currently serving in the U.S. Marines, so I know if something happens to him in the future, that she will have money to continue her education. So this means a lot to me.”
• Theardies “T-Man” Fisher, a member of Post 4 in Wichita, Kan.: “Here we are, getting ready to shut it down. The reunion’s almost over. Every year we look forward to coming back and seeing our friends from Texas, from Virginia, from Georgia, Florida. We just come together. Year after year we see each other. It’s a family.”
• Van Land, a member of Post 192 in Evans, Ga.: “I can smile because of the memories. You create new friends. There’s a greater camaraderie. It’s an experience of everyone working together for a common cause.”
Emotional rollercoaster for ride captain
Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan wasn’t even sure he was going to make the ride this year after his close friend and Legacy Run Chief Road Captain and Co-Planner Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident the week before the ride.
Convinced by Abbott’s wife that Abbott would have wanted him to go, Sussan led the ride for the fourth straight year. And he said signs of Abbott were everywhere.
“The range of emotions went from people telling me, ‘There were two doves flying by.’ And that there was a rainbow coming down that hit the BMW sign. Verlin rode a BMW. The sheriff at one of our stops looked at his radar to show the rain, and Route 50 – where we were driving – went right through the middle of it – no rain. We dedicated a memorial in Green River, Utah, … and he was buried the same day.
“I can’t tell you how many times I broke down to myself on the ride, just thinking I was seeing Verlin, hearing Verlin. So we did it, and I knew that he would have wanted me to do it.”
The Riders collected $3,200 to donate to Abbott’s wife and presented the money to Sussan Thursday morning. Abbott’s wife wants the money to go to the Legacy Run. “I was just so touched,” Sussan said. “It was a special ride.”
Dave Schoonover, a Legion Rider from Post 68 in Hutchinson, Kan., presented the money to Sussan. “(Abbott) was such an integral part of the ride,” he said. “We miss seeing him buzz by us on his BMW and keeping us safe. It was an honor to get that much money for him.”
A coveted vest, stuffed animal
A few years ago a group of Royal British Legion Riders took part in a few Legacy Runs. On one of them they left one of their vests behind. Since then, the vest has been auctioned off every year, with the winner keeping the vest for one year and then returning it the following Legacy Run. The money to “buy” the jacket goes to the Legacy Fund; it’s raised more than $6,000 after the Department of Alabama paid $1,000 for it this year.
Mike Harper and ALR Chapter 97 in Auburn, Ind., paid $1,600 last year to keep the vest. “It makes me proud (to wear the vest on the ride),” Harper said. “It’s all for the kids.”
And California Legion Rider Michael Cash donated $1,000 to the Legacy Fund to "buy" Mojo, a stuffed toy dog, for the year. Mojo wears a Riders vest; Cash will keep it for a year and then bring it back to the ride next year to be auctioned off again.
Finals stops in Carson City and Reno
The ride had a lunch break in Carson City, where Battle Born Harley-Davidson provided lunch. The final stops was hosted by Elks Lodge 597. The lodge’s Esteemed Leading Knight, Jim Stewart, also doubles as the Department of Nevada American Legion’s Americanism and Boy Scouts chairman.
Sussan praised the Riders for their performance on the Run, while National Commander Charles E. Schmidt – who rode part of the ride – offered his own view of the Riders’ dedication. “You all are special,” he said. “You came here on your time and on your own dime. But you came here with your heart … to take care of our buddies, remember them and to take care of their children. You guys are special.”
Donations made during the day totaled $84,252.68, including $15,133 from Post 133 in Millbrook, Ala. “This wasn’t just the Legion Riders,” ALR Chapter 133 Director Jeff Boles said. “This was from the hard work our entire Legion family put in.”
Thursday’s contribution raised the ride’s total to $551,568. More donations will be made on the national convention floor on Aug. 22.
Shrewsbury, Mass., Post 397 won the American Legion Baseball's Northeast Regional tournament to earn their first appearance in the American Legion World Series (ALWS).
While on the field last week at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., Shrewsbury claimed their first ALWS win against Midland, Mich. But their following two appearances on field were a loss to Henderson, Nev., Post 40 (2017 ALWS champions) and Omaha, Neb., Post 1 (2017 ALWS runners-up).
Although Shrewsbury went home without the championship trophy, players and coaches from the team "could not have been more proud to have represented our town, our zone, our state, and our region. What an amazing experience throughout this entire ride," Frank Vaccaro Jr., Shrewsbury Post 397's assistant and third base coach, tweeted. "We made history and had a blast every step of the way!"
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt attended the World Series and saw the impact one of the Legion's premiere programs is having on youth, and the important role Legionnaires play in that impact.
"As Legionnaires we build opportunities in our communities across the country, and our youth programs are a result of that – Legion Baseball being one of them," he said. "Every year Legion posts give Legion ball players the opportunity to ascend to the American Legion World Series, and have done so for the last 92 years. Legionnaires ought to be proud of what they do in their communities to give young people an opportunity to not only participate in our youth programs, but also learn about patriotism, respect, and an appreciation for veterans who are still serving America. Legionnaires should be proud."
That appreciation was evident in Vaccaro's tweet.
"American Legion Baseball not only breeds great ball players, but it shows young men how to compete while respecting the game and country," he wrote. "We learned life lessons and how to come together as a team and play for a common cause."
Over the past two years Vaccaro said Shrewsbury Post 397 has been able to check off four accomplishments: winning a state and regional title; earning a first ALWS win in the team's history; and "making memories no one can take away."
And it's Legionnaires who are helping players and teams like Shrewsbury Post 397 make these lasting memories.
"This is what happens when we support the programs," Schmidt said. "Regardless if this is your team, or if you didn’t have a team, you should be proud of what we do and the results of what we do.
"Despite not making it to the final game, (Shrewsbury, Mass., Post 397) learned something more valuable than playing baseball, and according to the assistant coach, that’s what they’re taking home."
Telehealth continues to become a bigger part of Department of Veterans Affairs health care. Using teleconferences, the program allows veterans to connect remotely with their caregivers.
That makes The American Legion’s donation of four high-definition televisions to the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System (VASNHCS) even more valuable.
The TVs were part of an Operation Comfort Warriors donation made during the Legacy Run’s Wednesday stop at American Legion Post 16 in Fallon, Nev. Two of the televisions will go to community-based outpatient clinics, while the other two will be used in the health-care system’s drug and mental health programs.
“Telehealth is really important right now in reaching out to our rural sites,” said Leslie Bennett, VASNHCS’s Telehealth, Telemental Healthy and Rural Health program manager, as well as the system’s chief of staff. “Having those new (TVs) will give us some extra ability to provide more access to the veterans.
“When we get a donation from the community like this, and our veterans know that people went the extra mile, it means so much to them. They feel they care about them.”
In addition to the TVs, other items included in the donation were exercise equipment, darts and other games, and toiletries.
Post 16 Chaplain Cliff Fargse helped shop for the items. “I love it,” he said of being able to help facilitate the grant locally. “I’m retired Navy myself, and I see the veterans that are not doing really well. They appreciate the items that they get through this organization and through this particular program.”
The Legacy Run lost a dear friend a week before it started this year when longtime Chief Road Guard Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Legion Rider David Heredia, a member of Post 128 in Aberdeen, Md., also suffered a personal loss. His mother passed away last Saturday. But on the ride, Heredia has felt both comfort and support from his fellow Riders.
“What these Riders, once they found out, how they came to me to give their condolences, that’s something that you don’t get anywhere else,” said Heredia, who serves as one of the ride’s chief tail gunners. “Not only are we doing it for the children … somehow we’re doing it for ourselves to give back to them. All the friendships that I’ve made throughout all the (ride) is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“The fellowship that I get from all the Riders – my brothers and sisters – is something that I had … when I was in the military.”
Weathering the weather
At the start of Wednesday’s leg the temperature was sitting at 59 degrees. It stayed in the 60s most of the way but began heating up as the Run got closer to Austin, Nev., hitting 77 in the Toiyabe National Forest area.
That was nothing. Midway between Austin the final stop in Fallon, Nev., the temp had risen to 91. It was 94 when the ride arrived at Post 16 – a 35-degree difference from the start.
Days like that require preparation, said Alabama Legion Riders Adjutant Tony Berenotto. On his fourth Legacy Run, he has learned what to do and not to do in preparation for weather shifts.
“That is one of the biggest challenges, especially with the elevation changes,” Berenotto said. “You need more coverings because of so many different climates. The topographic of it: With the elevation changes, the temperatures can even change on one leg, which is a big thing.
"The biggest thing to prepare for it is to pack as much as you can in what limited space we have. And (use) layers: jackets that can be multipurpose. Use your rain jacket as a windbreaker. And then remember that you’ve got to take that off at the next stop, because even if you’re chilly for 20 minutes, you don’t want to sweat and overheat by the end of that leg, which is a distinct possibility – especially on a day like today. The temperature changes are going to be drastic. When all of us got up this morning it was in the 40s. So I’ll wear the jacket. A lot of guys have got their chaps on. By that first stop they’re going to want to remove them."
Berenotto’s first Legacy Run was in 2014 to Charlotte, N.C. Torrential downpours plagued the ride over its first two and a half days. It was a learning experience for the Legion Rider. “I found that I had stuff in my bags I didn’t need,” he said. “What else did I learn on that ride? Listen and cooperate. And from that ride on I wanted to do it every year.
“Talk about wanting to do this: I’m supposed to have some pretty major back surgery, and I asked my neurosurgeon to put it off until after this. So I am having some pretty significant reconstruction done on the lumbar spine Sept. 27.”
For Jim Sigmond, a member of Post 32 in Greenville, Miss., the heat was nothing new. “It gets hot in the Mississippi Delta where we’re from, too,” Sigmond said. “As long as you’re moving, everything is all right.”
Warm welcome in Fallon
Post 16 rolled out the welcome in a big way for the Run’s night stop, standing outside to greet the Riders as they parked and then served a spaghetti dinner. Watching 230 motorcycles pull up – and knowing why they are riding – was powerful for Auxiliary Unit 230 member Kathy Lancaster.
“It makes me want to cry,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me. I didn’t know what The American Legion was all about until I came to work here five years ago. It’s very emotional.”
Post Commander John Ezzell said the post’s Legion family had been preparing food since Monday and had also been busy cleaning up the post in preparation for their guests.
“It’s really an honor, and I think my post members would agree,” said Ezzell, who still currently serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “To be able to be a part of one of the national fundraisers like this, it’s been a little tiring the past couple days. But the end result is worth it.”
More than $27,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Fund at the post, including $15,000 combined from the Legion Riders and the post from Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis.
This year's ride has brought in more than $467,000 so far for the Legacy Fund.