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Veteran museum’s mission: Honor, connect, inspire and educate

Ret. Col. Thomas Moe has been involved with the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, well before ground was broken in 2015. Moe has carried the museum’s message nationwide, including speaking at The American Legion’s 99th annual National Convention in Reno, Nev.

Moe, a member of The American Legion, served 30 years, mainly as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, after a three-year stint in the Naval Reserve and the Seabees.

On Oct. 27, the 50,000-square-foot museum officially opens in downtown Columbus. In advance of the grand opening, Moe spoke with The American Legion about the museum and its role in telling the stories of America’s veterans, servicemembers and their families.

TAL: Tell me about your role for the museum these past few years.

Moe: The museum hired me as a spokesman so I’ve traveled around. As spokesman, I pass the word, and listen also. I can't stress that enough that when I'm out speaking to people, whether it's formally, like I did in Reno or informally, I'm listening and taking notes and passing those on. What museum visitors will see is a huge result of listening. How do people want to know what a veteran is and what we have done? Of course, a big part of that story are the veteran service organizations, very, very critical, and frankly, the VA. The VA is part of the story as well. I've worked to spread the word, to listen and to work with organizations such as The American Legion, of which I’m proudly a member, to make this the best that it can possibly be.

TAL: How did the National Veterans Museum evolve?

Moe: The idea germinated from an original idea that Ohio should have a veterans museum. A board was formed and the most prominent member on the veterans committee was John Glenn. He asked the question, “How does our museum interface or how do we work along with the National Veterans Museum? Or is there one?" Of course, the answer was no, there is no such an animal. Then we decided to make that our goal. It reached out from beyond there, from beyond Ohio, talking to people in Ohio, to reaching out across the country. That's where I played a big role because I was the traveling person.

TAL: What message do you convey when you speak about the museum?

Moe: We're not just telling the story of veterans who were presidents or senators or governors. Most of the veterans are good people who work at everyday jobs and then help each other, especially through the VSOs (veteran service organizations). One of my favorite photos that I’ve shown is a picture taken in the boondocks of Nebraska. It’s a buggy, a buckboard, actually being pulled by a horse or two. There's a flag-draped coffin in the back and there are two veterans following it with flags. We're telling that story as well because it's how we serve each other that's part of the veterans' story to take our loyalty to our country, our loyalty to our brothers and sisters, and to help them.

TAL: That photograph was by an American Legion staff photographer and appeared on the cover of our May 2017 magazine.

Moe: Lonely, but not forgotten if you know what I'm saying. It tells so much of what we do. How many times have we stood and buried some of our mates? Maybe a handful, maybe it's 50, maybe it's a hundred of our brothers and sisters, in the rain. We go back, rain or shine, night or day, back to our homes and go back to our jobs, but we don't forget.

TAL: Remembering the fallen is a common bond among veterans everywhere.

Moe: One of the stories I tell in that regard, in Reno and elsewhere, was about one of my colleagues. He was a member of the National Guard and was killed in Afghanistan. The governor sent me to Delaware to retrieve his body and the two others who were killed with him in a bomb blast. We landed in a huge rainstorm, one of the heaviest rainstorms I've ever seen. Not only was the governor standing, getting soaking wet and proud of it, but there were hundreds of veterans on bikes filling the area in front of the airplane. We unloaded the three coffins into three hearses and those bikers, guys and gals, veterans all, followed each of the coffins to the respective funeral homes. To me, this is my image of the U.S. veteran — we never forget each other. This is the message we preached, then afterward we listened and now we've arrived with what we have today in Columbus. It's just the beginning really.

TAL: What is the overall mission of the museum?

Moe: We want to honor. We want to connect civilians with veterans. We want to inspire people. When they leave, they feel wow. We want to educate, educate people of all ages, but especially young people. Let them know what the story really is of our veterans, our servicemen and women. Of course, part of the honor is we are memorializing those who didn't survive to be veterans, to enjoy the fruits of their service. Honor, connect, inspire and educate — those are the four key points.

TAL: When the museum opens there will certainly be veterans, but there will also be non-veterans who visit. What do you want them to feel or learn as they're going through the museum and afterward when they've completed their stay at the museum?

Moe: That's a great question because we've projected the story at the museum to hit who we believe are all the key audiences, of course, veterans and veterans' families. Their moms, dads, brothers, uncles, sisters, cousins, kids, but also very, very important is the non-veteran. We take them through the story. Service, training, death, the folks who didn't come home, the folks who did come home, and then retirement. In that period there's training, whether it's a pilot or a plumber or a rifleman. That is one of the most important messages that we have is to the person with very little, if any, contact with military people, military service, because that's your average citizen today.

TAL: Looking back over all the time you've spent working on this project, what will be going through your mind at the grand opening? And what do you think John Glenn would think about the museum?

Moe: That's also a very good question. I can imagine that what I'm thinking is the same thing that Sen. Glenn would be thinking, and that is not only a huge sense of satisfaction that so many people came together and are still coming together in support of a museum that we have produced a world-class facility, which is what our veterans deserve.

The American Legion Magazine featured an article about the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. Read it here.

Winners of Legion history contests announced

Part of the report of American Legion National Historian Fred Doten to the National Executive Committee on Oct. 18 was the announcement of the winners of the 2018 American Legion National History Contests.

Entries in the One-Year Narrative and One-Year Yearbook categories for both posts and departments were judged during Fall Meetings by a group of past and present department and national historians. There were a total of 42 entries across the four categories.

The 2018 winners are:

One-Year Department Narrative History Contest:

First Award, Plaque, Department of North Carolina

Second Award, Plaque, Department of Indiana

Third Award, Plaque, Department of Colorado

One-Year Department Yearbook History Contest:

First Award, Plaque, Department of North Carolina

Second Award, Plaque, Department of Nebraska

Third Award, Plaque, Department of New York

One-Year Post Narrative History Contest:

First Award, Plaque, Frierson-Nichols Post 8, Winter Haven, Fla.

Second Award, Plaque, Pony Express Post 359, Saint Joseph, Mo.

Third Award, Plaque, Madelyn LaCanne Post 539, Green Bay, Wis.

One-Year Post Yearbook History Contest:

First Award, Plaque, Women Veterans Of Southwest Missouri Post 1214, Springfield, Mo.

Second Award, Plaque, Warren F. Hoyle Post 82, Shelby, N.C.

Third Award, Plaque, Julius L. Shryer Post 430, Durant, Iowa

On Oct. 16, the historians gathered in the fourth-floor library at National Headquarters for the annual meeting of their organization, the National Association of Department Historians of the American Legion (NADHAL). Doten praised NADHAL members’ good work in collecting and preserving the records of what Legion posts and departments do each year for the future; in addition to his national office, he himself is still serving as historian at his post, Richard Springston Post 60 in Laughlin, Nev.

National staff reported on the status of the Legion’s Centennial Celebration, in the wake of the 15-month window opening in August at the 100th National Convention in Minneapolis. Reports were also given on the activities of the regional areas that make up NADHAL, and the possibility of accepting digital contest entries (study is ongoing).

Learn more about NADHAL at www.nadhal.org. Read the guidelines for composing a contest entry in the Legion’s Trophies, Awards & Ceremonials Manual. If you have never done one before, the Legion's centennial year is the perfect time to begin.

Homeless veterans effort in the 'closing stretch"

What started as hope has become reality for American Legion Post 107 in Hoboken, N.J.

After Post 107 was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Hoboken community, led by its Rotary Club, conducted fundraisers to help get the post back on its feet. Furniture was donated, and volunteers helped put up new drywall and paint the inside. The post facility reopened in early 2015.

But as renovations continued, the post was approached by Monarch Housing Associates, a nonprofit that, among other missions, works with consumers, providers and family organizations to develop, manage and operate permanent, affordable and supportive housing for the homeless. The thought was that funds available through Monarch could be used to help renovate Post 107 while adding housing for homeless veterans.

The thought is now reality. Ground was broken in October of 2017, construction began in April of 2018, and Post 107 Commander John Carey said the goal is to open the facility to house veterans in early 2019.

“We’re coming down the home stretch,” Carey said. “We’re hoping to finish by February and move six veterans into it. We get the rest of the money and we’ll be home free.”

More than $500,000 has been raised for construction so far, including donations from other American Legion posts and funding secured through state and local government agencies.

In addition to Post 107 and Monarch, the effort has included the city of Hoboken, Hudson (N.J.) County, The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Hoboken Rotary and the Hoboken Shelter.

Carey said that local support has been a big key to the project’s success. “They love it,” he said. “We’re next to million-dollar condominiums, and they had a public meeting about (the project). I thought they’d stop us. The biggest complaint was how many parking spaces we were going to lose.”

Carey said reaching this point was satisfying, especially considering where the post was following Sandy. “It feels great,” he said. “We’re the only post in the country doing anything like this. There have been posts given land to build homeless housing. But we’re going to be in the same building as these homeless veterans. We’re looking forward to finishing it.”

For more information on Post 107 and its project, click here.

Your guide to TRICARE dental changes

When it comes to military health care – for both retirees and active duty – this year is a little different. From Nov. 12–Dec. 10, 2018, retirees as well as those currently serving and their families will have an opportunity to change health plans. Additionally, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program ends on Dec. 31. The Federal Benefits Open Season runs concurrently and allows some TRICARE beneficiaries to add vision and/or dental coverage through the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP).

The overhaul of dental offerings caught my eye.While active-duty and reserve-component servicemembers and their families will continue to get dental care through their military clinic or the TRICARE program, retirees interested in having dental coverage – or those wanting to add it – will need to sign up for one of the 10 dental carriers available through FEDVIP.

Yes, 10 dental carriers … with 15 options! Because this seems a bit overwhelming, it had me scrambling to explore and understand some of the key differences in the plans. So let’s dig in. The numbers I’ll share below are based on the 2019 FEDVIP dental plan offerings in the San Antonio area.

Open season Long a part of the civilian benefits routine, TRICARE Open Season now offers the opportunity to enroll in TRICARE Prime or Select, sign up for TRICARE Reserve Select or enroll in TRICARE for Life. And this is the first year military retirees will have a chance to sign up for a FEDVIP dental plan as part of Federal Benefits Open Season. If you are an active-duty family member, you also will have a chance to sign up for a FEDVIP vision plan. To enroll in FEDVIP vision, you must be enrolled in a TRICARE health plan. Barring a qualifying life event - marriage, moving out of a service area, losing coverage, a new baby, etc. - this is the only time until next year’s open season that you can make these moves.

Premium Everybody is familiar with this monthly payment. If that FEDVIP premium is paid via payroll deduction, it will be a pre-tax deduction. FEDVIP dental plan premiums vary from plan to plan, but in my area they range from as little as $20 per month for individual coverage up to around $120 per month for a family.

Enrollment types With FEDVIP dental, there are three options. In order of cost: self-only coverage; self plus one (probably, but not necessarily, your spouse); and self and family coverage. The ability to limit coverage to yourself and your spouse is slick. To give you an idea, the FEP BlueDental, PPO-High came with premiums of approximately $40, $80 or $120 per month.

Standard vs. high Did you see the “High” in the plan name I mentioned above? Don’t miss this one. Standard plans come with lower monthly premiums but provide a lower maximum annual benefit and require you to pay more agreed-upon costs. For example, in my area the FEP BlueDental High plan is $37 per month more than the standard for a couple. However, the standard plan caps out individuals at $1,500 in benefits for the year, while the high plan has no cap. Furthermore, while both plans cover 100 percent of in-network preventive care (checkups, cleanings, etc.), if you need a filling or something more serious like a root canal, you’ll pay 15 percent less of the negotiated costs if you’ve got the high plan.

Health Maintenance Organization vs. Preferred Provider Organization Like health care, the FEDVIP dental plans come in what is typically a less expensive HMO package. These options usually have lower monthly premiums and fewer ongoing, out-of-pocket expenses. However, if you don’t use doctors that are part of the plan, barring an emergency you aren’t covered.

In-network vs. out-of-network In a PPO-type plan, you pay less if you use doctors in the provider network. You can typically choose any licensed doctor, but go out of network and you’ll likely have to dig a little deeper into your wallet. For example, if you visited a non-network provider, you are responsible for a larger percentage of the allowed charge and any amount the non-network provider charged over the plan’s allowed amount. This highlights the need to carefully select your dentist. Out-of-network annual benefit caps might also be lower.

Pre-certification Some plans require you to get approval prior to care. Procedures expected to surpass a certain cost threshold may need to be reviewed in advance of care. Certain services, such as crowns and bridges, may also need to be approved in advance.

You can learn more about this open season and the new FEDVIP dental options at tricare.benefeds.com. Dig into details of all the available plans using the tools and info there. If you’re not eligible for the FEDVIP plans or would just like explore other options, check out USAA’s dental offerings at usaa.com/dental.

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online at www.legion.org/usaa/focusonfinances.

Recovery from Hurricane Michael will be a long, slow process

The recovery effort in the Florida panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael will be a “long haul,” Stephen Shuga said.

The past commander of the Department of Florida is handling logistics for The American Legion’s relief efforts in the state after overseeing relief efforts following Hurricane Irma during his term as department commander last year.

Thursday morning, eight days after Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Shuga was on his way to Perry, Fla., to meet the rest of the Florida American Legion Hurricane Disaster Relief Team to load up supplies and begin supporting Legion posts and their communities in outlying areas directly affected by Hurricane Michael.

“What we’re attempting to do on this trip is to scout out locations for future points of distribution,” Shuga said.

He noted that it will be some time before they’re able to get into the areas most devastated by Michael; there’s still a curfew in Mexico Beach and many areas are still without power.

“The grid’s just destroyed,” he said. “… This is going to be a long activity, we need to pace ourselves.”

Still, Legion Family across the nation are reaching out to help those affected by Michael, and those still dealing with the aftermath of last month’s Hurricane Florence.

The Department of Florida has begun collecting donations from their website and many posts throughout the state have begun collecting relief supplies, Florida Assistant Adjutant Bruce Comer said. And he noted that a post in Ohio has committed to moving supplies their way once collection points have been set up.

Shuga added that Legion Family in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have also offered support. He said the major needs right now include water, insect repellent, canned foods, and tarps.

“When it comes down to it in a couple of months, the need will shift to building supplies, mattresses and bedding,” he said.

In McDonough, Ga., Post 516 Commander Alton Head helped organize a collection of bottled water to send to North Carolina, where they’re still dealing with flooding after Florence, which was exacerbated when Michael moved through the state as a tropical storm. As Head told WGCL-TV, “They said they’re still two feet underwater, and this last hurricane kind of put some more on them.”

The tractor trailer filled with bottled water left this week from McDonough, headed to Fayetteville, N.C.

In Spring Lake, north of Fayetteville, Post 230 is renovating for a second time after a hurricane. Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 flooded the post, and floodwaters from Hurricane Florence have again forced the need for repairs. Post Adjutant Mark Erskine told the Fayetteville Observer, “Some members had the attitude initially to just give up, but I said ‘No we can’t do that. We’ve started from scratch before and can build up.”

While Virginia and South Carolina have dealt with flooding after the hurricanes, departments in those states haven’t yet received requests for National Emergency Fund (NEF) assistance.

The National Emergency Fund is available for American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members who have been impacted by #HurricaneMichael, as well as Legion posts. The NEF provides up to $3,000 for Legion and SAL members with an active membership who have been displaced due to damages to their primary residence, and up to $10,000 for posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community are impacted. To apply for an NEF grant, please visit www.legion.org/emergency.

Homeless veterans in New Jersey receive care packages at stand down

Approximately 300 homeless veterans in Newark, N.J., received care packages which included clothing and hygiene products at a stand down event Oct. 13.

The care packages were made available by Operation Gratitude, which annually sends more than 300,000 care packages to servicemembers deployed overseas, to their children here at home, and to first responders, new recruits, veterans, wounded heroes and their care givers.

Bob Looby, the employment and education chairman for the Department of New Jersey, also serves on Operation Gratitude’s BRIDGE Council, whose aim is to bridge the divide between civilians and servicemembers.

“(Operation Gratitude CEO Kevin Schmiegel) contacted me about six months ago to be on the board,” said Looby, who worked with Schmiegel in his previous position at Hiring Our Heroes to set up the first HOH job fair in Toms River, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. “Our immediate answer was yes, there’s a great opportunity there.”

Conversations between the Legion and Operation Gratitude showed that the latter’s care packages would be a help to stand down events like the one in Newark, which is the oldest and largest veterans stand down in New Jersey and is managed by the GI Go Fund. Looby is on the event’s planning committee.

“They rushed out a couple pallets of their care packages” for the Oct. 13 stand down, Looby said.

He said the care packages are “another tool in our toolbox to help the homeless.”

Looby said care packages will also be distributed to 2,100 troops from New Jersey who will be deploying in January, and they’re working to offer packages to state troopers as well.

“One question from Kevin (led to this),” Looby said. “Now we’re going to spread the wealth.”

USAA Tips: Answer these questions before you buy your next car

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By J.J. Montanaro

About 10 years ago, I bought the sports car of my childhood dreams. Oops! After about a year of looking at it gather dust in the garage -- no, I didn’t want to risk any dings in a parking lot -- I sold it. And yes, I sold it for significantly less than I paid. When buying a car, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget about the finances.

To help you avoid a similar mistake, here are several questions to ask yourself before you buy your next vehicle:

Does it fit my budget? Obviously, that’s a question that will vary based on your situation, but if you can cap all your transportation costs at around 10-15% of your gross income, you should be on track. That includes gas, maintenance, insurance and the like. Yes, I know that can be a tall task, but the goal is to have less financial stress and more flexibility.

Can I afford what it’s really going to cost? Notice how I slid maintenance, gas and insurance into the auto budget discussion above? You should too. When you’re making the decision, factor in all the costs to determine if you’ve got a good fit. In the opening, I didn’t mention the hit our car insurance premium took when I parked that beautiful German rocket in my garage…ugh!

Am I getting a decent loan? Too often, I run into people with high double-digit interest rate car loans. In today’s interest rate environment that’s a problem. If your credit history keeps you from qualifying for anything but that type of loan, then you should buy nothing but bare-bones transportation while you work to put yourself in a better credit position.

How long will I be paying? Remember, the longer the term of your loan, the more you rack up in interest and the more likely you’ll be upside down. Yes, that means the eight-year loan you’re looking at to squeeze too much car into your budget is a bad idea. Shoot for a loan of five years or less.

Does this vehicle fit my lifestyle? I couldn’t even fit my golf clubs in the car, let alone my kids and dogs. Who was I fooling? Buy something that works for you (and perhaps, your family) and a vehicle you can drive for years to come, not something that you’ll regret in short order.

If you’re heading down the path toward a purchase and can’t answer all of those questions with a resounding “yes,” it may not be the right time or the right vehicle to buy.

Task force urges review of minorities' World War I valor awards

With American Legion support, a group of volunteers is proposing the first-ever review of World War I veterans who may have been denied a Medal of Honor due to racial or ethnic discrimination.

Established by the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, the Valor Medals Review Task Force is starting with the records of approximately 70 African-American soldiers -- in particular, those worthy of the nation's highest military award who may have been downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross or received a French Croix de Guerre with palm.

"We're not going in with any number in mind," says Jeffrey Sammons, professor of history at New York University and co-author of "Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality."

"We want this to be as unbiased and apolitical as possible, and to let the evidence lead us where it may."

The U.S. military conducted reviews of valor awards for minority veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all subsequent conflicts, but not those who served in World War I. The posthumous awarding of Medals of Honor to Cpl. Freddie Stowers in 1991 and Sgt. Henry Johnson in 2015 set a precedent for challenging the postwar review conducted in 1919, which resulted in zero Medal of Honor awards for black veterans and few for other minorities.

At its 100th National Convention in Minneapolis in August, The American Legion passed Resolution No. 109, which calls for legislation lifting statutes of limitation and other obstacles that may impede proper review of minority veterans' World War I records that support consideration for a Medal of Honor.

The initiative can be traced to a lecture given by Sammons at Park University in Missouri, home of the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War. Two years ago, Timothy Westcott, the center's director, invited Sammons to speak on Robb, a white officer with the 369th Regiment and 1912 Park University alum who received a Medal of Honor for leading an assault near Sechault, France, while severely wounded.

While examining Robb's personnel records and a Medal of Honor index sheet, Sammons discovered that Sgt. William Butler of Salisbury, Md., of the 369th was nominated for the award the same day as Robb. In fact, Robb had praised Butler for his heroism on Aug. 14, 1918, when he saved his commanding officer and other men from Germans who had raided their trench. Upon his return to the United States, Butler was cheered by a crowd of 5,000 at New York's City College.

As a history consultant to the World War One Centennial Commission, Sammons mentioned the case for Butler to be considered for a Medal of Honor, as well as Burton Holmes of Clemson, S.C. A private with the 371st Infantry Regiment, Holmes posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in France on Sept. 28, 1918. Badly wounded and with his rifle out of commission, Holmes took up another in the face of heavy German machine-gun and shell fire, and was killed.

Sammons is advocating for a broader effort -- one that goes beyond localized, individual campaigns to award a Medal of Honor to this person or that.

"I said, 'This is not right, to kind of cherry-pick our favorites,'" Sammons says. "Having done a book on the 369th, Butler is right there for me. But there has never been a systematic review of valor medals for African-Americans in World War I, like the Shaw University study for World War II (1994-1997), which recommended 11 cases, of which seven received Medals of Honor."

When he suggested such a review for black veterans of World War I, the commission agreed. It formed a task force that includes Sammons, Westcott, two retired major generals, a Medal of Honor historian and a supporting group of researchers.

Under Westcott's direction, Park University will do a "deep dive" into archival and genealogical documentation on each African-American who received the Distinguished Service Cross, Croix de Guerre or Medaille Militaire. He anticipates the project will last three to five years.

"We know there will be a limited few who will warrant forwarding to the appropriate agencies (for consideration for a Medal of Honor), but each of these individuals has a story to tell," Westcott says. "We are going to digitize everything we find so it's available to communities and family members who may never have known about them otherwise."

A Marine Corps veteran and member of American Legion Post 318 in Parkville, Mo., Westcott says it's important the nation does its due diligence in regard to minorities who served with valor in the Great War -- some of whom made the supreme sacrifice.

"The military has at times been a leader in social change," he says. "This project should hopefully continue that long tradition of righting a possible wrong."

Dwight Mears is a retired Army major and former history professor at the U.S. Military Academy. He's also the author of "The Medal of Honor: The Evolution of America's Highest Military Decoration," a definitive treatment of the award's complicated -- and at times contradictory -- history. Well-versed in the statutes and policies behind the medal, Mears will provide guidance on recommending which awards should be upgraded and legal models on cases where there may not be direct evidence of discrimination.

Until the 1990s, not a single African-American had earned a modern Medal of Honor. That seems statistically unlikely if you compare that to the numbers who were in combat, and the people most aware of that were African-Americans, Mears says.

"They assumed that outcome could not possibly have come about without some sort of discrimination, because in those conflicts they were treated abysmally," he adds. "It wasn't like any of them would say they were treated the same as whites. There's pretty much a historical consensus about that. So the African-American community had already formed an opinion going back decades that the Medal of Honor had become tainted by discrimination.

"Medals don't have a lot of value if you don't award them equitably. They're just trinkets you put on your uniform. And if you tarnish what that medal means to an entire segment of the nation, you significantly dilute the meaning of that decoration."

The task force will look at the records of other minority veterans, too, but is currently focused on African-Americans because of the legal structure of segregation at the time, Mears says. Discrimination as a matter of law means a stronger presumption that their awards were tainted by discrimination than other ethnicities.

"If this case can be made in a way that's scholarly and coherent, it ought to be done," he says. "That's the only thing that will repair the meaning and image of this decoration among at least that demographic and possibly others. If you don't, you're basically going to have to argue that either you're wrong about the discrimination or that the discrimination is not significant enough to disturb the status quo.

"I didn't know enough years ago to know one way or the other and would not have presumed either way. But now that I've looked at the evidence, I'm convinced that discrimination probably did taint a number of these cases."

Sammons says no group was singled out for condemnation and criticism like black soldiers, particularly black officers.

He cites Gen. Robert Bullard, commander of the Second Army, American Expeditionary Forces, whose memoirs described African-American soldiers as cowardly and inferior to whites. And in a famous letter to a Tennessee senator, Col. Allen Greer, chief of staff for the 92nd Division, wrote that black soldiers could do everything but fight and were "dangerous to no one but themselves and women."

A 1925 Army War College report formalized and institutionalized such slander, resulting in the near disappearance of blacks in combat roles between wars, Sammons says.

"I believe that if a Medal of Honor had been given to one or more African-Americans during the war, it would have been very difficult for Greer and Bullard and others to have said the kind of things they did about the African-American soldier, because it would have raised questions about the nation's highest military honor."

Instead, they suffered from a lack of recognition for their achievements in wartime. Henry Johnson, for example, died in 1929, in poor health and bad financial straits. William Butler died by suicide in 1947. Needham Roberts, who fought off a German patrol with Johnson and was unable to maintain steady employment due to his wounds, took his life.

"The fact that these men did not get the honors they deserved caused considerable mental and emotional harm to them," Sammons says.

At present, he knows of at least eight African-Americans who were nominated for a Medal of Honor: four from the 370th Regiment, one from the 366th, two from the 371st and one from the 369th (Butler). All were downgraded except Stowers, whose nomination was not acted upon. Though he has found affidavits for the nominees, Sammons says locating such documentation is not an easy process.

"It's not going to be done in months," he says.

Park University researchers have already requested any personnel files that survived the fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973. They'll also scour unit records, medal review committee records, pension records, newspaper articles and family documents as they're made available.

"This is largely about initiating an effort to help the military determine the merits on its own in a way it is not staffed to do," Mears says. "The military has historians in its employ, but it would be a major undertaking for them to tackle a task like this. What we're trying to do is serve up all the information needed to fix this problem, and ultimately it's going to be their decision."

The Valor Medals Review Task Force had an early success this year with the introduction of a bill by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., calling for the Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to the "Hello Girls" female switchboard operators of World War I -- also supported by an American Legion resolution.

Click here for more information about the World War I Valor Medals Review Task Force, including how to volunteer as a researcher or support the task force in other ways.

Anyone with information about African-American World War I veterans who received the Distinguished Service Cross or Croix de Guerre with palm, or who were recommended for a Medal of Honor but did not receive it, is requested to contact Zack Austin at zachary.austin@worldwar1centennial.org.

Impact of Legion’s work produces results for veterans waiting years for answers

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) the week of Oct. 8 began working appeals submitted through the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). Designed to streamline the appeals process, RAMP is part of VA’s Appeals Modernization Program. RAMP allows veterans to seek faster resolution when she or he appeals the decision of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) on a disability compensation claim.

RAMP is brought into effect under the bipartisan Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which was advocated for by the American Legion and ultimately signed into law at the American Legion’s 99th National Convention held in Reno, Nev.

“To fulfill our patriotic duties, we must take care of our great veterans,” President Trump told the convention audience. “One year ago at this gathering, I promised you that I would make it my priority to fix the broken VA system and deliver to our veterans the care they so richly deserve.”

RAMP provides veterans with the opportunity to choose one of three lanes that best fits her or his needs. The lanes include:

  • Higher Level Review at the office of original jurisdiction

  • Supplemental Claim with the office of original jurisdiction

  • Appeal to the Board

The announcement of BVA beginning to work RAMP appeals comes on the heels of VA’s announcement they adjudicated 81,000 appeals decisions of disability benefits in fiscal year 2018 — 28,000 more than the previous year — shrinking the backlog of approximately 470,000 pending appeals.

“The Board’s historic achievement delivering results to veterans and their families reflects VA’s hard work and commitment to getting it right for our veterans under the leadership of President Trump,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Together, we have achieved significant results for our nation’s veterans, as each of the more than 81,000 decisions produced by the Board can make a real difference in their lives and for their families.”

The VA is working toward full implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act, which is scheduled to go into effect in February 2019.

National commander: An urgent matter needs your help

Dear American Legion Family and Friends,

I had wanted my first email communication to you to be about Team 100 — my theme for this historic year as The American Legion transcends its first century of service into its next.

There will be plenty of opportunities in my year as national commander to discuss Team 100, pay tribute to the Legion’s century of accomplishments and celebrate our rise into the next 100 years.

But I learned of an urgent matter today that has a potentially significant impact on The American Legion and all its members. I am asking for your support.

The United States Postal Service has proposed a rule that would prevent The American Legion (and other nonprofits) from sending merchandise or goods like calendars, stickers, etc. in nonprofit marketing mail. Instead, the USPS would classify these mailings as first-class mail.

This is not a simple change in the category of how mail is sent. This change would eliminate the use of premiums in nonprofit fundraising mail — and would increase The American Legion’s mailing cost by 200 percent.

That significant increase would critically impact our programs dedicated to helping and advocating for veterans, mentoring children, assisting transitioning servicemembers, providing scholarships for students, comforting the afflicted throughout every community in our great nation.

We must quickly work together to let the USPS know this proposal is unreasonable. My team has prepared a sample templated letter. I encourage you to download the template, personalize it with your information and email it to the USPS (ProductClassification@usps.gov) with the subject line: USPS Marketing Mail Content Eligibility.

While the Nonprofit Alliance set a previous deadline of Sept. 14 for public input, the U.S. Postal Service has an extended deadline for Oct. 22 public comments. Please do not delay. Lets make our voices heard.

Thank you for your assistance, and for what you do every day on behalf of our nation’s veterans, servicemembers and their families.

#Team100.

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